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      In Defense of Mother Earth:
      Wet’suwet’en, Indigenous Rights & the Struggle
      Against the Coastal GasLink Pipeline

      By Alison Bodine

      “The Coastal GasLink project has never received consent though our hereditary governance system, our Bahlats, to proceed. The company's pre-construction activities have resulted in multiple violations of their existing provincial permits, and provincial negotiations have also proven ineffective to protect the health of our land and people. As a result, we have no faith in the provincial processes, or existing archaeological or environmental permits to protect our territories and cultural heritage. We must re-assert our jurisdiction over these lands, our right to determine access and prevent trespass under Wet'suwet'en law, and the right to Free Prior and Infirmed Consent as guaranteed by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” – Excerpt from the eviction notice sent to the CEO of Coastal GasLink from the Wet'suwet'en Hereditary chiefs. January 4, 2020.

      This eviction notice demanding that all Canada Gaslink (CGL) contractors and staff leave Wet'suwet'en traditional territory was issued days after the British Columbia Supreme Court issued a new injunction. The injunction, which makes a temporary injunction issued in December 2018 permanent, bans Wet’suwet’en people and anyone who opposes the LNG pipeline construction from blocking access to their territories by CGL.

      The decision of the B.C. Supreme Court, subsequent actions of the RCMP to attempt to enforce the injunction, and statements by BC Premier John Horgan have made it clear that the Provincial and Federal governments are taking sides with Canada GasLink. This is regardless of the violations of Indigenous rights and sovereignty, or the devastating environmental impact that construction of the CGL pipeline will bring.

      Natural Gas is Anything but Natural

      The Canada GasLink pipeline is a natural gas pipeline that is planned to bring fracked gas 670km from near Dawson Creek, BC to a new liquified natural gas export facility on the BC coast in Kitimat. Despite the name, “natural” gas, and the way that it is extracted from the earth, is anything but “natural.”

      At a high-level, hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves pumping massive amounts of water, sand and chemicals at high-pressure into the earth to release pent-up gases that can then be extracted and put into pipelines. This process itself releases methane gas into the atmosphere, threatens the clean water sources in the area and can even bring seismic activity. The CBC reported on this direct link in November 2019, stating “Scientists are delving four kilometres beneath the earth's surface to find out why hydraulic fracturing triggered a 4.5 magnitude earthquake in northeastern B.C in 2018.”

      Fracking is also devastating to human health. In 2018, Margaret McGregor, MD, CCFP, MHSc, a member of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) wrote an opinion piece in the National Observer describing the horrifying effects, “Fracking also releases pollutants and carcinogenic chemicals into the atmosphere. Studies demonstrate an increase in asthma and other respiratory diseases in people who live close to fracking operations, with higher rates of hospital admissions for heart, cancer, skin, nerve and bladder disease found nearby. More babies born with congenital heart defects and higher rates of pre-term births have also been observed among those who live close to fracking sites.”

      LNG Canada “Carbon Bomb”

      After the natural gas has been fracked out of the ground, CGL pipeline is planned to deliver it to LNG Canada - a gigantic new $40 billion liquefied natural gas export facility in Kitimat, BC. When fully operational, this facility will have the ability to produce 28 million tonnes of natural gas a year – natural gas that will burn and release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

      As Warren Bell explains in the National Observer, “LNG Canada is a 'carbon bomb' that will take up around a quarter of B.C.’s entire greenhouse-gas budget for 2030, and two-thirds of B.C.’s 2050 target. It would mean B.C. would have to dramatically decarbonize everywhere else.

      And in order to make the claim that LNG Canada can be built without undermining our goals, the government has had to employ a widely accepted but utterly perverse convention.

      This convention says that GHGs generated by the burning of fossil fuels outside the borders of a particular political entity – like the province of B.C. – do not count towards that entity’s GHG production.

      It’s absurd to think that the government isn’t aware that what burns in Asia effects the atmosphere over Canada — and climate change everywhere. But politically, it looks much better to say that British Columbia’s GHG output is much less by excluding all GHGs generated offshore. And so that’s what B.C.'s politicians say, because it makes them seem to be acting on climate change, when they're not.”

      The True Face of Premier John Horgan

      If BC NDP Premier John Horgan’s claim that LNG development is an environmentally friendly project isn’t two-faced enough – he has also taken a strong stance against the rights of the Wet’suwet’en people to their traditional territories, while at the same time promoting BC as “Canada’s first province to put the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into law.”

      On November 28, 2019, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples became law in British Columbia. The government of the province proudly announced, “The new law will recognize and protect the rights of Indigenous peoples. It will create a clear process to make sure Indigenous peoples are a part of the decisions that affect them, their communities, and their territories - and it provides a path forward for everyone.”

      So, what then happened to the part of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) that calls for calls for “free, prior and informed consent” of Indigenous peoples for projects on their territories? As described in a Press Release sent out by the Wet’suwet’en defenders:

      "At a time when the Province of British Columbia is celebrated for adopting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), the Wet’suwet’en people are actively denied the protections of UNDRIP on our own lands," the hereditary chiefs said. "When we enforced our own laws and required that industry seek Free, Prior, and Informed Consent for development on our lands, we faced a brutal display of militaristic police violence and an ongoing police occupation of our territories.”

      To this, Premier Horgan replies, “All the permits are in place for this project to proceed. This project is proceeding, and the rule of law needs to prevail in B.C.”

      The question is, just whose laws is he referring to?

      Doesn’t Coastal GasLink have the approvals that it needs?

      In BC, 95% of the land has never been ceded by Indigenous people. This means that for majority of BC, no treaties were ever signed that gave the government of Canada Rights and Title over the land. Despite this, in the eyes of the Crown, the question of what law (government of Canada or Indigenous) has jurisdiction over a territory is often left up to a court to decide.

      Although you wouldn’t know it by reading most major media coverage of the Wet’suwet’en struggle against CGL, in the case of the Wet’suwet’en territory, there is a legal precedent recognizing the Rights and Title of the hereditary chiefs.

      As Shiri Pasternak, a professor of criminology at Ryerson University and the research director of the Yellowhead Institute wrote in the Globe and Mail newspaper, “The most important case on Aboriginal title in Canada was fought in 1997 and won by the Wet’suwet’en (and Gitxsan) in the Delgamuukw decision. The court recognized that underlying title continues to rest with the Indigenous nation where treaties have not been signed. This interest in the land was found to be collective, unique and proprietary in nature. Note that it was the hereditary chiefs who brought the case to the Supreme Court and the hereditary chiefs whose authority to govern was recognized in the decision.”

      Coastal GasLink does not have the approval of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. What they do have is 20 benefit agreements with Indigenous Nations along the pipeline route. These agreements are made between the elected band councils of the Nations, which are a product of the government of Canada’s Indian Act that was imposed on Indigenous people as part of colonization.

      The way that the government of Canada and oil and gas corporations have designed their approvals and “consultation” processes to work to divide Indigenous people – putting the “elected” leaders of a governance system they imposed on Indigenous nations against the traditional leadership it attempts to minimize.

      Stand in Solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en

      Under the capitalist system, resource extraction projects always bring a cycle of a boom and a bust – and it is working, poor, oppressed and Indigenous people that get the bust. CGL and LNG Canada are no different. Hundreds of millions of dollars of tax-payer dollars are given away in government subsidies. Money that could instead be spent on improving education and healthcare in BC.

      Is the loss of our environment and the trampling of Indigenous rights worth this cost?

      For the past year, since the RCMP violently arrested 14 people at the Gidimt’en checkpoint for defending their territory, the Wet’suwet’en people and their supporters have continued to oppose CGL. This struggle is at a critical point once again, and it is crucial that poor, working and oppressed people in British Columbia and Canada who believe that climate catastrophe is not an inevitability support their struggle. For updates on how to support the Wet’suwet’en struggle against CGL visit https://unistoten.camp/

      CGL, TMX and Site C – Same Struggle, Same Fight!

      In December 2019 the United Nations committee on the elimination of racial discrimination called for a suspension of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, Site-C Dam and Coastal GasLink pipeline. The growing climate justice movement in Vancouver, BC and Canada must also make these same connections.

      The electricity that is to be generated from Site-C is expected to fuel the LNG industry. The massive Teck Frontier tar-sands mine in Alberta is planned to fill half of the capacity of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. Whether they have declared a “climate emergency” or not, the Prime Minister Trudeau and the government of Canada are pouring tax-payer dollars into resource extraction projects that are stealing the future of generations to come.

      Poor, working and oppressed people in Canada must fight in a unite front in the streets to demand sovereignty and self-determination for Indigenous nations in Canada, as well as an end to the heavily subsidized climate destroying projects that threaten the existence of humanity in Canada and beyond.

      Follow Alison on Twitter: @alisoncolette

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