In the path of the RCMP: An interview with Sabina Dennis

Dennis became the face of last year’s police raid on Wet’suwet’en territory when her photo went viral
Sabina Dennis, middle, at the checkpoint camp at the 39-kilometre mark. (Photo: Jerome Turner)

Though she is Carrier Sekani, Sabina Dennis became the face of the Wet’suwet’en stand against the RCMP raid in January 2019 when media captured photos of her on the front line, where she was, in her words, “making sure everyone was safe and cared for.” Ricochet Media interviewed Dennis at a camp set up by the Gidimt’en (Wolf/Bear), one of the five clans of the Wet’suwet’en, to watch over the road leading to the inner camp and healing centre on Wet’suwet’en Yintah. These sites have been established to defend Wet’suwet’en territory from the 690-kilometre Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline being constructed by TC Energy. Despite the trauma of the raid, Dennis, a mother of five, remains at the site. Here she explains why.

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“My name comes from my great grandmother, who was a clan mother in Binche near Nak’adzli [Fort St. James]. She took care of many, many people,” Dennis said. “When people were hungry, she would feed people.”

“Nak’azdli, my father’s band, was the last band to sign the [CGL] agreement. They signed under duress. They had a referendum that was so close. Chief and council were also split down the middle. The company came in and said ‘sign, because we’re gonna do it anyway.’ So the band office signed. The bands also stated publicly that they signed under duress and were coerced.”

“It didn’t come as a surprise to me when the Guardian put out that story about snipers.”

Dennis’s personal connection to the pipeline is what brought her to the neighbouring Wet’suwet’en territory, but traditions she learned from her own nation are what keep her going. Following the 2019 RCMP raid, she collected a prayer bundle of alder from her nation’s territory to show solidarity across nations and to help her and others heal from the trauma.

A spiritual battle

“I gathered a bundle in Dakelh territory, near Prince George. This was done in the tradition of our women,” Dennis said. “We were the ones that gathered firewood. It’s a spiritual battle that we’re fighting and so I gathered the bundle to represent the strength of the women. Last year’s assault was ultimately on Mother Earth.”

“I brought the bundle through to Smithers and met up with a demonstration there and carried it during the action along Main Street,” Dennis continued.

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“Pieces of the main bundle I collected were made into smaller bundles to represent the children, and my sister carried those,” she added. “From there I took it back here to Freda [Huson]. Back to the heart of where it all started at 66 camp [the Unist’ot’en camp], which is a healing centre now. The main reason why we’re all there is to support this endeavour. It was an arduous task. It was heavy.”

At the request of Wet’suwet’en Elders, the bundle was burned ceremonially in the sweat lodge by the river in a sacred ceremony.

“The intention was to not only show the power of the women and the strength that we carry, [but to also] release and clear the energy,” Dennis said.

‘The rule of law’

She went on to explain the release was also to “break the spells or taboos brought by the government.”

“They can’t instill enough fear in us to make us stop.”

“One of the taboos is the law that goes against what is morally correct,” Dennis said. “So it was also a release of energy, that fear that they tried to put upon us. The laws that they’ve written that don’t really exist except for on a piece of paper. It’s the natural world that makes the rules that matter. The true laws of nature, that supercede, are the only laws that we truly follow. We’ll continue to do so even if it threatens our own lives.”

“To preserve our land and waterways … to add to the global effort to combat climate change as soon as possible,” Dennis proclaimed. “To create new ways to live on our land that can sustain us. To me, it was a bundle of prayers for that.”

Lethal overwatch

Indigenous sovereignty in Canada and beyond is front and centre for Dennis.

“Remaining sovereign caretakers of this land is a real critical and important part of preserving lands these days,” she said. “The only way for us to survive is to band together the way we used to and take care of each other, and that’s what our hereditary systems do.”

“[We’re here] to show the federal government and the RCMP that they can’t win no matter what. They can’t instill enough fear in us to make us stop.”

Some people have asked why Dennis persists while knowing that another RCMP raid could happen and even appears imminent.

“These things happen. It’s very real,” she said. “People are shocked when it happens in Canada, but the Indigenous people are not shocked that things like lethal overwatch are granted.”

“[Indigenous people have] experienced that for so long. It didn’t come as a surprise to me when the Guardian put out that story about snipers,” Dennis said. “We knew that … on the bridge. We saw the sniper tracks from the bush where they were posted. We saw the snipers right in front of our faces. We knew we were under lethal overwatch.

“This has all shown how far companies are willing to go in Canada.”

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