Standing in front of a sign reading “Reconciliation,” Unist’ot’en matriarch Freda Huson and other women family members sang and drummed in ceremony as RCMP officers descended to arrest those in the way of the construction of the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline.
The women were gathered on a bridge adorned with red dresses in memory of murdered and missing Indigenous girls, women, and two-spirit people. Industry workers later took the dresses down.
RCMP officers said they were authorized to use “as much force as necessary,” reported The Narwhal’s Amber Bracken, who is on site. As of publication time, Bracken said at least seven arrests had been made.
Huson was arrested, along with Dr. Karla Tait, director of clinical services at the government-funded Unist’ot’en Healing Centre, and Brenda Michell. Huson is Tait’s aunt and Michell’s sister.
The three women spoke with Ricochet earlier about the importance of caring for the land. “The land itself heals, the water itself heals,” explained Huson.
This is the fifth day of a protracted police raid of four Wet’suwet’en sites along an isolated road in northwestern B.C. Unist’ot’en is the final target of RCMP enforcement of a provincial court injunction to allow Coastal GasLink workers access to the area.
Critics say police actions have gone beyond the injunction, as officers have been clearing out all Wet’suwet’en people and supporters from an ever-expanding “exclusion zone.”
“Governments don’t direct the courts and they don’t direct the RCMP,” said Premier John Horgan while taking questions at an unrelated afternoon press conference in New Westminster.
More than a battle over a pipeline, the conflict is a clash between Indigenous and Canadian systems of law. Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have not consented to the pipeline.
Media restricted from site
On Friday, Ricochet’s journalist was prevented from travelling in the direction of the Unist’ot’en site. The RCMP has similarly restricted the access of other media outlets, including the CBC, in recent days.
After a sustained public outcry over issues of press freedom, on Sunday evening police emailed select media outlets to invite them to observe the raid. Journalists were required to meet the RCMP at 6 a.m., a scant seven hours later, and agree to be detained in a single location near the bridge during the raid.
It was a concession by the force, which was threatening to arrest reporters just last Thursday.
Global’s Sarah MacDonald accepted an offer to travel into the area with police. She drove up with police at 6 a.m. PT this morning. Bracken and another journalist, Amanda Follett Hosgood with The Tyee, are situated in Unist’ot’en.
Arrests in Vancouver
In Vancouver, police broke up solidarity actions blocking multiple Port of Vancouver facilities and arrested 57 people, according to the Vancouver Police Department.
This was the fifth straight day of blockades targeting Canada’s busiest port.
As police worked to remove barriers from the streets and resume normal port access, an organizer announced to the remaining supporters they would reconvene at another location on East Hastings at 1 p.m. PT.
On Sunday, approximately a thousand people rallied outside City Hall in Vancouver in support of the Wet’suwet’en land defenders. Gidimt’en spokesperson Molly Wickham addressed the rally via cell phone connection. Despite the ongoing RCMP raids, her message was hopeful.
“We are winning,” she said, referring to the outpouring of solidarity actions across the country. “They can throw us in jail, destroy our infrastructure, but we are not going anywhere.”
“No matter how many of us they throw in jail, we will return to be on our land.”
Solidarity actions continue across Canada. In Gitxsan territory, a blockade of CN rail lines by hereditary chiefs continues in New Hazelton, B.C., and has rail traffic at a standstill as far away as Prince Rupert. In Quebec, Extinction Rebellion and other supporters of the Wet’suwet’en announced this morning that they had occupied the officers of four federal cabinet ministers to protest the RCMP raid.