Climate journalism is urgent. Help US raise $125,000 by December's end.
Hereditary chiefs from the Gitxsan First Nation marched to BC Supreme Court in Vancouver on Wednesday morning, demanding an end to RCMP suppression of Indigenous-led protests against development.
Met by a crowd of about 40 people at the steps of the courthouse, the leaders denounced court injunctions that stopped Indigenous land defenders from protesting development and called for the dismantling of the RCMP’s contentious Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG) and its presence on Indigenous land.
The RCMP C-IRG is a special unit created in 2017 to police protests against the energy industry and resource extraction in B.C. It’s often deployed to enforce BC Supreme Court injunctions against protests that block industry activity.
“The laws that are imposed on us, you know, it seems to be one-sided,” Gitxsan Hereditary Chief Clifford Sampare said in an interview with Canada’s National Observer. “There’s no consideration for our traditional laws, and our law is to protect the land. When we try to go and protect our territories, they call a militia on us.”
The Gitxsan Nation sits about 500 kilometres north of Vancouver, and two hours north of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation. Earlier this year, the Gitxsan Nation hereditary chiefs banned the RCMP C-IRG from their unceded land.
“We told them the deployment of the RCMP is not allowed on the Gitxsan territory,” Gitxsan Hereditary chief Gordon Sebastian told the crowd on Wednesday. “We wrote ... Chief Justice (Christopher) Hinkson and told him that his Supreme Court orders are licensed to kill, and we will defend ourselves.”
In 2021, heavily armed RCMP members arrested members of the Gidimt’en Clan of the Wet’suwet’en Nation who blocked the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline. Two years earlier, courts granted Coastal GasLink an injunction order that made protests blocking development illegal.
Gitxsan hereditary chiefs rallied for their rights in Vancouver. Here's what they said.
It was the same injunction the RCMP invoked to arrest Canadian freelance journalist Amber Bracken and documentarian Michael Toledano.
“For us, it's important, the land has to be preserved. We have industry coming in; mining companies, pipelines, destroying our territory. They cannot do that,” Gitxsan Hereditary Chief Larry Skulsh told the crowd. “They have armies supporting them. I really feel that they want to suppress the Gitxsan people.”
Last year, videos of the RCMP C-IRG’s response to Fairy Creek blockades sparked concerns about unlawful arrests and mistreatment of detainees. The BC Supreme Court’s injunction outlawed the contentious blockades stopping old-growth logging on southern Vancouver Island.
After the RCMP made more than 800 arrests against protesters, the illegal blockades became known as the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history.
Sampare told Canada’s National Observer that prohibiting land defence protests conflicts with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which requires Indigenous Peoples’ right to be included in all decision-making that impacts their rights. Both Canada and B.C. have passed the declaration into law.
“The B.C. government signed UNDRIP in 2019. They still haven’t enacted it,” Sampare said. “We have to enforce it now. Since it’s legislation, the RCMP has to honour that it's been passed.”
During the leaders’ procession to the courthouse, two hereditary chiefs from each of the Gitxsan Nations’ four clans — a total of eight— gathered on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery. The chiefs donned traditional attire as other congregants gathered with large banners that read: “Stop B.C. Supreme Court Interference on Gitxsan Land issues.”
Protesters used the banners to block traffic as their leaders marched. Some cars honked to show support as they passed. Others tried to detour around the procession.
“I'm here today for our nation, but also for other nations that are facing opposition, direct action when they're defending their land,” Simoogit Geel, hereditary chief of the Gitxsan Nation from the Fireweed Clan, said in an interview with Canada’s National Observer. “The buzzword today is reconciliation. How is that reconciliation? How is it reconciliation to throw an injunction at us?”