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Wet’suwet’en peoples defend Wedzin Kwah river from imminent threat

I heard about the water that flowed in the Wedzin Kwah (otherwise known as the Morice River) long before I ever tasted it myself. For more than a year before I made the trip to the solidarity camp in July of 2015 with some comrades, people kept telling me that it was safe to drink the water right from the river there. I had heard about how it was common for people to bring jars and other containers so they could take some of the river water away with them. Two people who didn’t know each other told me that after a week or more of drinking river water, drinking treated water from their municipalities made them physically ill at first, and it took time for their bodies to readjust.

When I finally went to the Unist’ot’en camp myself, I couldn’t stop thinking about how strange it was to be having an experience so utterly natural and yet distinctly rare as drinking clean water straight from the source. I’d been warned since I was a child not to drink water directly from a river or stream because of the contaminants that might be present. So much of the fresh water on Earth is contaminated now, but not that long ago most fresh water on earth was drinkable.

I wondered how it was that we had gotten so far away as humans from such a fundamental part of being a living organism on this planet. How did we get to the point that lakes and waterways are commonly treated as tools of industry and dumping grounds for industrial waste and runoff? Why do people have to fight so hard to keep this river pristine, as rare as it is?

Every year since that summer in 2015 the Wet’suwet’en have been brutalized by police and industry and had their traditional and legal rights trampled on, along with sacred spaces and their ancestral lands. Now, after more than a decade of land defence and reoccupation by Wet’suwet’en peoples and direct opposition to the Coastal GasLink pipeline, TC Energy plans to drill under the Wedzin Kwah to continue constructing their pipeline.

The water that flows in the Wedzin Kwah and through Wet’suwet’en territory tastes like water should taste in its natural state. It’s time the Wet’suwet’en tasted justice.

What is Coastal GasLink?

Coastal GasLink (CGL) is a project by TC Energy. They are proposing a 670km pipeline in British Columbia that would carry fracked natural gas from Dawson Creek to Kitimat, where it would be processed in a new liquefied natural gas plant on the coastal shore.

A portion of the pipeline runs through Wet’suwet’en territories. This pipeline is enabled by deeply questionable permitting processes by the B.C. and Canadian governments. State violence has been used as a consistent tool to drive land defenders away from work sites, paving the way for corporate interests to steamroll Indigenous rights and sovereignty.

For years, Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs have been saying “no” to the CGL pipeline project, and the Council of Canadians has acted in solidarity with them. The right to say no to industrial activities is an essential part of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which British Columbia passed into law in November 2019. Last winter, a UN committee urged the federal government to withdraw the RCMP and immediately suspend work on the pipeline. Work on the pipeline continues today.

In addition to UNDRIP, the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs hold rights and title on ancestral lands that have been recognized by Canadian courts. Read more about Wet’suwet’en governance and its interaction with Canada and band council governments here.

CGL has already committed crimes against the people and the land. In 2019, the company bulldozed the Kweese war trail, a sacred historical site for the Wet’suwet’en peoples. Land defenders had this to say about the destruction: “The province has stood by and supported this destruction, despite the Wet’suwet’en repeatedly voicing concerns about the inadequacy of archaeological work on the territory. Both CGL and the province are complicit in the destruction of our cultural heritage.”

In 2020 the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office issued a non-compliance order to CGL after the company illegally commenced pipeline construction through numerous wetlands, and yet pipeline construction continues today under the sacred Wedzin Kwah. Clearly, provincial and federal governments are unwilling and unable to prevent corporate interests from harming these lands and the Indigenous people who depend on it.

Last year, there were major uprisings across Canada and internationally in support of Wet’suwet’en peoples’ right to govern their territories, and in protest of the criminalization and violence land defenders were experiencing. While CGL has not been formally or officially stopped, the constant presence of land defenders and the movements that support them have so far been successful in interrupting corporate attacks on the land and delaying the construction of this pipeline.

The Wedzin Kwah and its defenders are under imminent threat

Now, Coastal GasLink is actively preparing to drill under the Wedzin Kwah to construct their pipeline. The drilling could introduce pollutants into this pristine waterway, including industrial chemicals, and geological sediments.

Land defenders are resisting and disrupting CGL’s work on multiple fronts. Likhts’amisyu Chiefs and supporters upon entering their territory on Sunday, Oct 24th, 2021, were stopped by CGL workers. In response, land defenders have established a camp on the road where they were stopped.

Following this new occupation, police arrested Chief Dsta’hyl for disassembling industrial equipment that CGL brought into Likhts’amisyu territories without consent for the explicit purpose of drilling under the Wedzin Kwah river. The criminalization of Chief Dsta’hyl in this context shows which laws the police are willing to uphold – they are enforcing laws to protect corporate interests and the ability to extract resources for private profit, but not enforce the decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada which state that Wet’suwet’en peoples have rights and title to their territories.

Chief Dsta’hyl was released on October 28th, 2021.

What can you do?

Wet’suwet’en land defenders are asking for you to support them by:

Follow land defenders on social media:

Visit the Unist’ot’en and Gitimd’en camp websites for more information and ways to support.