Sierra Club BC stands behind Indigenous Jurisdiction
Photo: Mike Graeme
Timeline of recent events on Wet’suwet’en territory
On December 31, 2019, the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs representing all five clans of the Wet’suwet’en Nation rejected the BC Supreme Court decision to extend Coastal GasLink’s injunction order. This has criminalized the practice of Anuk ‘nu’at’en (Wet’suwet’en law) and has perpetuated violence against Wet’suwet’en people on their own unceded lands.
On January 4, 2020, the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs issued an eviction notice to Coastal GasLink which applies to “Camp 9A” on Dark House territory, as well as the neighbouring Gidimt’en, Tsayu, and Laksamshu clan territories – the eviction still stands today.
On January 13, 2020, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) set up an “exclusion zone” at 27km and began to block media, Wet’suwet’en people, and food from getting up to the territory.
The Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs submitted a formal request to the United Nations to monitor RCMP, government and Coastal GasLink actions on the traditional, unceded Wet’suwet’en territory.
On February 6, 2020, a convoy of armed RCMP tactical units started to invade sovereign and unceded Unist’ot’en territory to enforce Coastal GasLink’s injunction.
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) has called upon Canada to immediately halt the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline until Wet’suwet’en people grant free, prior and informed consent to the project. The committee is urging Canada to withdraw RCMP from the territories and to prohibit the use of force and lethal weapons against Wet’suwet’en people.
Unist’ot’en issued a statement condemning the violations of Wet’suwet’en law, Canadian law, and of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) committed by the RCMP on February 6, 7 and 8, 2020. These violations occurred on Gidimt’en Clan territory against camps located at 27, 39 and 44 kilometers on the Morice Forest Service Road.
On February 10, 2020, the Unist’ot’en Healing Center was raided and the Unist’ot’en Matriarchs and land defenders were forcibly removed from their lands.
The Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs demand the following:
That the province cease construction of the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline project and suspend permits.
That UNDRIP and the right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) are respected by the state and RCMP.
That the RCMP and associated security and policing services be withdrawn from Wet’suwet’en lands, in agreement with the most recent letter provided by CERD’s request.
That the provincial and federal government, RCMP and private industry employed by Coastal GasLink respect Wet’suwet’en peoples laws and governance system, and refrain from using any force to access Wet’suwet’en lands or remove Wet’suwet’en people.
This timeline was put together from information shared by the Unist’ot’en Camp at unistoten.camp
Sierra Club BC stands in solidarity
The past few weeks have seen a rapid wave of solidarity and resistance across the world. Thousands of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people and groups—from Victoria to Halifax to the US and the UK—are holding peaceful blockades, rallies and marches in support of the legal jurisdiction that the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs’ hold in their traditional and unceded territories, where the Coastal GasLink pipeline is slated for construction without free, prior and informed consent on their lands.
UNDRIP, Bill 41 and BC’s failure
This battle is a fight for justice and accountability. It has proven to be a true litmus test for the Canadian and BC governments’ stated commitments to reconciliation and the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
Article 10 of UNDRIP, to which Canada is a signatory, states that “Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories. No relocation shall take place without the free, prior and informed consent of the Indigenous peoples…”
Indigenous peoples have been violently and forcibly removed from their territories since colonial contact. The past few weeks are a disturbing reminder of the ongoing colonial violence that continues to displace Indigenous peoples all over Turtle Island, and is connected to the global violence against Indigenous peoples and the land.
While raiding the Unist’ot’en Healing Center, the RCMP removed the red dresses hung to honour Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and Two-Spirited people (MMIWG2S). We are reminded how shameful it is that the RCMP can muster the resources to bring heavily militarized police, while resources to address the crisis MMIWG2S are marginal or non-existent. Simultaneously, we note that male-dominated work camps associated with resource extraction projects are directly correlated with an increase in sexualized and gender-based violence against Indigenous peoples. 
Rule of Law
We must incorporate the multiple legal layers and systems at play to fully honour and recognize the complexities of the situation unfolding in the traditional and unceded territory of Wet’suwet’en.
Anuk ‘nu’at’en (Wet’suwet’en law) is a sophisticated legal order with principles and mandates that differ from Canadian Crown law. Anuk ‘nu’at’en pre-dates Canadian law and is inherent to the unceded Wet’suwet’en territory—it has never ceased. Anuk ‘nu’at’en does not need to be affirmed by the Canadian Crown to exist, however, it is still recognized by Canadian law and its continued application under s.35 of the Canadian constitution.
Under the SCC Delgamuukw v. British Columbia  the Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsaan Hereditary Chiefs are recognized as the rightful authorities over “off-reserve” territory. This set a historic precedent for recognition of Indigenous rights and title under Canadian law.
According to UNDRIP, states and third parties should consult and cooperate with Indigenous peoples “through their own representative institutions” and “in accordance with their own procedures.” Failure to engage with legitimate representatives of Indigenous peoples can undermine any consent received.
Following the intent and commitments of Bill-41 (DRIPA), the BC government has a legal commitment to support self-determination and Indigenous governance—which includes working with Indigenous title holders. This has not happened with the Wet’suwet’en. The BC government only has permission according to the elected “Indian Band Councils” which have limited jurisdiction under Anuk ‘nu’at’en. It is made clear by Anuk ‘nu’at’en, UNDRIP, and Canadian law that government has the obligation to seek the consent of the leaders who have governing authority over the territory in question, and in this case it is the Hereditary Chiefs. Failure to do so is in direct violation of their rights as Indigenous peoples.
The conflict of the past few weeks on Wet’suwet’en territory is a result of the BC and federal governments failing to fulfill their obligation to identify the legitimate decision makers in the territory and seek and obtain their free, prior and informed consent, before proceeding with the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline.
As an organization with a mandate to support and uphold Indigenous sovereignty and respect Indigenous law, we consider this to be an egregious failure on the part of the BC government.
In the face of a climate crisis
The forcible removal of Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs from their own territories to enable the construction of a fracked gas pipeline is taking place in the grim context of an escalating climate crisis.
Last year the BC government released a climate risk assessment report that outlines in detail the severe, catastrophic risks that our communities and our children will face from climate change and associated extreme weather events such as wildfires, if we don’t transition now to renewable energy sources.
The Hereditary Chiefs of Wet’suwet’en have launched legal actions including a case that argues Canada has a constitutional duty to protect its citizens from climate catastrophe and that failure to do its fair share to avert a climate catastrophe would breach the equal protection of the law guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Increased fossil fuel expansion in the middle of a climate emergency is contrary to the public interest.
We must find new ways forward, so we can build a future that works for everyone. This begins with respecting Indigenous law and governance and learning how to be in respectful relationship with the land we all depend on.
Our call to you
It has come to our attention that Indigenous women outside of Wet’suwet’en territory are also experiencing direct violence and hate speech in response to the political actions that have happened in the past week. 
What might feel like an inconvenience for some pales drastically in comparison to the injustice that Indigenous peoples have experienced in having their land occupied and their children taken away, from the beginning of colonization to the present day. We encourage supporters to talk to your friends and family about the moment we are in, to help build compassion and understanding and minimize the potential for violent and inappropriate reactions.
The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls affirmed that there is substantial evidence that man camps associated with the resource extraction industry are implicated in higher rates of violence against Indigenous women, girls, 2SLGBTQQIA and non-binary people. See page 593, Vol 1 of the final report: https://www.mmiwg-ffada.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Final_Report_Vol_1a-1.pdf