Wet’suwet’en Territory — Indigenous Chiefs from across British Columbia are meeting this weekend, on Saturday January 15, in a groundbreaking event calling for the immediate cessation of publicly funded police violence against Wet’suwet’en and other land defenders.
Endorsed by the Office of the Wet’suwet’en and the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs, the Wet’suwet’en Peace and Unity Gathering also aims to call governments and industry to account for their disrespect for Indigenous governance and authority over resource decision-making in their traditional territories.
In attendance virtually and in Smithers, BC, will be Hereditary Chiefs, Indigenous leaders, supporters and professionals who are like minded and like hearted.
“It is time. Pressures and violence must cease. Governments and industries must realize the Wet’suwet’en will never agree to having such violent methods used in order to force devastating projects on our lands and waters,” said Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Na’Moks, John Ridsdale.
To date, the RCMP has spent more than $20 million policing Wet’suwet’en territory, $6 million of which was spent in 2021 alone. 75 people have been arrested on the territory, many at gunpoint. Two journalists were detained for three days, and there are continued reports of oppressive or violent RCMP enforcement of industry’s access to Indigenous territories.
“Although there were meaningful discussions happening with the RCMP—in particular the Gold Commander, and government officials who had hired an interlocutor—21 hours later the Gold Commander of the RCMP broke his word and led an attack on our people,” stated Chief Woos, Frank Alec, of the Gitdumden Clan. The hereditary chiefs and the RCMP have been at an impasse ever since.
Saturday’s gathering takes place days after the passing of Chief Delgamuukw, Earl Muldoe, whose hereditary name is tied to the landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling of 1997—Delgamuukw v British Columbia—which granted the right to exclusive use and occupation of Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en land by and for Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en nations.
“If you take a bucket of water out of the Skeena, the river keeps on flowing. Our rights still flow and they will flow forever,” Earl Muldoe said when Canada’s highest court ruled in their favour.
But 24 years later, Muldoe’s nephew, Hup-Wil-Lax-A Kirby Muldoe, is helping to organize this weekend’s summit because governments and industry continue to trample his peoples’ rights.
“Our rights have been choked. Having governments ram through the Coastal GasLink project at gunpoint is a grave insult to the spirit of Delgamuukw, and makes a mockery of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s and Premier John Horgan’s talk of upholding the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. They are latter-day colonizers, not leaders, and just like their forebears they speak with forked tongues.”
Support for Wet’suwet’en land defenders continues to grow well beyond their territories. More than 1,400 NDP members have signed a statement expressing frustration at the BC NDP government’s treatment of Wet’suwet’en land defenders, and at the federal NDP’s response. It is expected that a number of Indigenous leaders will endorse a declaration of Peace and Unity that will be presented at the summit on Saturday.