Members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation allege RCMP officers threatened to arrest them Friday, hours after police publicly pledged to stand down amid tension over the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

The RCMP denied the report, saying it has “made significant efforts to document and record all decisions and interactions,” but declining to provide that evidence to National Observer at this time. The Wet’suwet’en say they have video of their own and are planning to make it public.

“They've ramped up their harassment and surveillance and intimidation tactics,” said Molly Wickham, also known as Sleydo, a spokeswoman for the Gidimt'en Clan of the Wet'suwet'en Nation.

“They're saying one thing and doing the exact opposite on the ground."

The hereditary chiefs of the remote northern B.C. First Nation, who have not consented to the pipeline running through their unceded territory, agreed Thursday to sit down with provincial officials to try to de-escalate the ongoing conflict.

The discussions — which will be known as “wiggus,” the Wet’suwet’en word for respect ⁠— will last seven days, during which time the RCMP said it would not take any action against the Wet’suwet’en.

But before the chiefs agreed to meet with the province, police had been pouring into the area, preparing to enforce a Dec. 31 court injunction to remove Wet’suwet’en from several camps in the territory, the RCMP confirmed Thursday night.

In an interview, Wickham said RCMP officers tried to enter tents and buildings at two camps earlier Friday, something they haven’t done before.

“They said if anyone impeded them from doing so, they would be arrested,” she added. “They're trying to provoke a reaction. They're trying to be intimidating so people will leave.”

Wickham said officers weren’t allowed into the tents and buildings, and the officers left without arresting anyone.

In a statement late Friday, RCMP spokeswoman Staff Sgt. Janelle Shoihet said it is “not the case” that officers threatened to arrest anyone. Shoihet said people at one of the camps asked the RCMP to come, and once there, “they talked about RCMP patrols, activities and protocols.”

Members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation allege RCMP officers threatened to arrest them hours after police publicly pledged to stand down amid tension over the Coastal GasLink pipeline. #bcpoli

Wickham said the Wet’suwet’en have been clear the RCMP is not welcome on their territory in any of the camps, and officers were not invited: “People told them that they were violating them and their safety and their privacy and that they were trespassing,” she said.

Shoihet said in an email the RCMP “documented and captured” all interactions with the Wet’suwet’en, and “a review has confirmed (the) same.”

“The RCMP continues to fully support the discussion table referred to by the Wet'suwet'en as ‘wiggus,’” read the statement, which referred to the camps as “obstructions.”

“We have not and will not take action to enforce the B.C. Supreme Court-ordered injunction.”

Shoihet declined to elaborate on how exactly the interaction was recorded, but said the RCMP is “fully prepared to participate in any public complaint process that may arise from our actions.”

Wickham said the Wet’suwet’en took a video of each interaction as well.

“They say they have evidence, but they will never ever show that evidence to anybody,” she said. "We know that they'll lie about absolutely everything... We know from experience that we have to document every interaction."

The RCMP previously denied reports it was running surveillance flights over Wet’suwet’en territory ⁠— until photo evidence surfaced earlier this month, as first reported by Vice.

“'They expect that people are going to believe them,” Wickham said.

“I hope that the public can see through that because they've proven they're untrustworthy."

RCMP have been blocking access to Wet'suwet'en Territory since Jan. 13, 2020. Photo from Wet'suwet'en Access Point on Facebook

‘The hereditary chiefs maintain their commitment to peace’

Members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation have set up several camps along the Morice West Forest Service Road, about 1,200 kilometres away from Vancouver, in an attempt to halt Coastal GasLink. The $6.6-billion pipeline project, owned by TC Energy (formerly TransCanada), would run through Wet’suwet’en territory to a shipping terminal on the northern coast of B.C.

Last January, heavily armed RCMP officers violently arrested 14 protesters at a checkpoint along the road, drawing international attention ⁠— documents show that, at the time, police had been prepared to use lethal force in “sterilizing the site” and instructed officers to “use as much violence... as you want,” the Guardian reported in early January of this year.

Concerned about safety after the raid, the hereditary chiefs struck a deal to temporarily allow Coastal GasLink to access the territory.

But tensions simmered in the year that followed, and began rising again on Dec. 31 when a B.C. Supreme Court judge granted Coastal GasLink the injunction. The RCMP set up a blockade along the forest road on Jan. 13 and have restricted access to the area ever since, prompting complaints from the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

If the RCMP does enforce the injunction, many in the community fear it will again result in violence.

The case of the Wet’suwet’en and Coastal GasLink exposes a stark divide between the traditional Wet’suwet’en legal system and Canada’s colonial legal system. Under Wet’suwet’en law, authority over the nation’s 22,000 square kilometres of unceded territory lies with hereditary chiefs from five clans, who oppose the pipeline. But TC Energy received approval to build the pipeline from some elected band councils, ⁠created by Canada’s colonial Indian Act, which have jurisdiction over reserve lands, but not the territory in question.

A 1997 Supreme Court of Canada decision affirmed that the provincial government can’t extinguish the hereditary chiefs’ right to their land. However, the court also sent the case back for a second trial that hasn’t yet happened, leaving key questions unresolved.

The Wet’suwet’en meetings with provincial officials come after weeks of requests for a sit-down with B.C. Premier John Horgan. Horgan declined, saying construction of the pipeline would go ahead, but offered to send Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Minister Scott Fraser in his place, an offer the hereditary chiefs declined.

In a press release Thursday, eight hereditary chiefs said they remain dedicated to preserving their culture, territory and traditions.

“The hereditary chiefs maintain their commitment to peace and will pursue all avenues available to achieve a peaceful resolution,” the statement read.

Wet'suwet'an videos are up on Instagram and it will make your palms sweat and your heart beat through your chest to listen to the oh so reasonably soothingly voiced bullshit of the RCMP endless, relentless and illegal to the wetsuwetan eviction notice harassment. They are the german shepherd attack dogs of power and doing exactly what they are meant to do --scare the shit out of anyone opposing the will of the corporations. Heil oil!!!

Am I the only one who is puzzled by the fact that not one story about this issue, in any media source, provides the names of the hereditary chiefs? I looked up the nation on good 'ol wikipedia and it says that there are indeed five separate geographical groups within the nation, five bands, with five band councils.

These councils seem to be disparaged by friendly accounts of the issue, as lacking legitimacy because the band-council structure is a creation of the settler-colonialist government...but on the other hand, they're democratically-elected. "Hereditary" is not that common a governance structure in even First Nations, where leaders are more often arrived at each generation by consensus, rather than being inherited like European thrones.

Wikipedia says there are 13 of these hereditary chiefs - without clarifying how these are distributed among the five groups. One article said that five of them are the ones opposed to the construction project; but I'm not clear if the article was just confusing five bands with five hereditary chiefs - because the ones for and against the issue are never named. All we've got here is the name of one spokesman.

And what of the internal politics here? Surely the elected band councils are not nobody in the nation; they must be respected people to, to gain those votes. Who, within the nation, are for and against?

Wikipedia again notes some 2447 members of the nation some years ago at last counting; if it's 2600 now, then each of 13 chiefs on the average speaks for just 200 people. It wouldn't be that hard - given the sheer amount of journalistic attention being given to this story, to simply survey all 2600!

Instead, we don't even have anybody's names. I'm just baffled.

For a start, two of them are named with photos at the beginning of this article. However, it would be useful for National Observer to produce a map of the lands in question, along with the names of the hereditary chiefs and the number of people they represent. For good measure include the reserves and the number of people who elected the elected chiefs.

"Am I the only one who is puzzled by the fact that not one story about this issue, in any media source, provides the names of the hereditary chiefs?… we don't even have anybody's names. I'm just baffled."

Perhaps you're just easily baffled. Because most people, I expect, would go to the official website of the Office of the Wet'suwet'en (http://www.wetsuweten.com/culture/chiefs/), where the chiefs are all named.

You wouldn't necessarily go to Wikipedia to find out the governance of British Columbia; you'd go to the official British Columbia website, no?

Thanks to Don for confirming what the article did not, that the two at the top are indeed the 'hereditary chiefs'; with both that governance structure and the 'band council' structure, my point is that I don't know who's whom.

Jan, my problem is not with the nation's web site but with the journalism: not just the NO, but the CBC, both national papers - everybody seems to think it fine to just mention "hereditary chiefs". I would NOT expect a story about cabinet ministers to just say "the cabinet" or "Minister of Defense" without naming them in the story, thus sending me off to a Govt. of Canada web site to find out who the heck they were writing about.

It's not a problem with that web site, really, since they are under no obligation to provide me with information - and I'm sure the nation itself knows them all personally, being so small - but I have to mention that web page names only 7 of the 13 that are always being noted in these news stories. When I clicked on the 7 links, only a few mentioned anything about the chief in question, and those were minimal, with no mention of their positions on this national-level issue. So I'm still not sure about whether all 13 are in agreement about it, or if the one news story (CBC, I think?) had only 8 of them against the development.

The seven that are named are also on the "Board of Directors" page, leaving one wondering how active the other six are.

The two chiefs pictured and named on this article are not on that web page, either, so I suppose I'm aware of 9 of the 13 names now. And that those two are against the pipeline. I'm assuming that from their location in the photo, as they are not interviewed or even mentioned in the story.

The only person quoted just speaks for one of the five clans. I think I'm on to something with this nearby page at the site:

http://www.wetsuweten.com/culture/clan-system

...which shows that the five clans are split into a total of 13 "houses", I doubt that's a coincidence, though one of the 13 is "vacant" for the attached name, and NONE of them are the two persons shown in the photograph, under either the indigenous or anglicized names given....though one of the 13 houses names a "Ron Mitchell" who may be husband or brother of the "Barb Mitchell" shown. Still, it takes me back to "baffled" to some extent...I can't find either woman mentioned on the whole web site. (Indeed, the 13 named are all men, save for "Barb Wilson", named as an "Alternate" for Kloum Khun of the Laksamshu. The hereditary system to seems to be mostly patriarchal.)

I think I've found the source of the CBC or whomever saying that 8 of the 13 were pipeline opponents; that would be the one statement about the current situation at

http://www.wetsuweten.com/files/January_30,_2020_Statement_by_the_Wetsuw...

...which attaches 8 names to it as "present at the meeting", and the statement itself doesn't actually mention their position on the pipeline. 7 of the 8 names are indeed found on that list of houses, indicating that all 3 hereditary chiefs of one clan (Gitdumden) were on-board with the press release, and one from each of the other four houses. Except I can't find "Chief Tsa'ghots" on that page anywhere.

And then there's the mention of just 5 of them in this story:

https://vancouversun.com/news/local-news/why-some-elected-wetsuweten-cou...

...which has quotes from the elected band officials, who carefully note they just administer within village boundaries...and none of them are any of the hereditary names.

Summing up (what I can figure out) is that there are five clans, with 13 houses, and five villages with elected officials, which are probably not 1:1 with the 5 clans, names in this story that aren't on the web site, 5 of 13 noted by The Sun without giving the five names....if that has me "easily baffled",then, yeah, I'm easily baffled and I need more explanation from good journalism to unsnarl it all for me. A Venn diagram showing the overlaps of villages, bands, clans and houses is probably needed for outsiders. Plus the map.

I suspect a lot of people would need this. I really can't even guess, from all the journalism put together, plus their own web site and all, just how many of the ~2600 people in the Nation are for or against the construction project.

I don't know if asking for a democratic head count is against their governance structure, or if the "hereditary chiefs" are the only voters, with each house united behind their chief - but even so, does each of the 13 votes count equally, or are they weighted by population? Or are the houses internally assigned sovereignty over specific areas, and the "5 against" are the only ones with say over the pipeline route? None of this is clear.

Oh, and none of the 5 clans mentioned on the web site is named "Unist'ot'en", either. I did find this story that clarifies it is in English the "Dark House" house, just one of three houses in the Gilseyhu Clan, rather than a clan itself...but the story calls it a "clan":

https://www.interior-news.com/news/gitdumden-checkpoint-blocks-access-to...

So, I'm sticking with "baffled" until some fine journalist sorts it all out. Or they finish the "under construction" web site...

I wonder how the RCMP plan to prove that something *didn't* happen ...
And how they plan to demonstrate that the video they release is all the video there ever was. Still have in my mind the young kid who wound up receiving a fatal bullet from behind, while in RCMP detention in Houston: he'd been seen with open alcohol outside the rink at a local hockey tournament. The video recorder was turned off: no evidence.
I'm sure there are many good RCMP officers, but the force seems poor at winnowing out the bad ones, instead supporting such behaviours.
To me, a prisoner gets shot in lockup after hours, with no one else present: the officer on duty should be gone, at the very least.
It sounds like we've no reason to believe things have changed all that much with their new leadership. Since when do Canadian police shoot to kill, when there is not even a threat of violence against them.

I get this uncomfortable feeling that we are creating a "police state" atmosphere with the RCMP managing it. Really, this cannot be true but it is beginning to feel like that, for me at least.