The RCMP’s Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG), a special unit that polices Indigenous resistance against resource extraction in British Columbia, has adopted the playbook from former CIA director David Petraeus, according to a presentation at a summit held on Wet’suwet’en territory this week.
Kai Nagata, communications director at Dogwood BC, spoke at the third annual Peace and Unity Summit for Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan hereditary chiefs, elders and allies from human rights organizations from around the world.
Looking around the room, those in attendance sat in shock at what they were hearing and seeing. Nagata’s presentation highlighted the darker truths behind the campaign of violence and intimidation many Indigenous community members have experienced on their territory for years in their fight against the Coastal GasLink pipeline.
The images of the RCMP’s militarized tactical team raids on Wet’suwet’en territory in the winter of 2021 made headlines across Canada and around the world.
During the raid, RCMP snipers, canine units, and specially trained forces of the C-IRG chain-sawed their way through Molly Wickham’s cabin door and arrested her. Shaylynn Sampson, along with journalists Michael Toledano and Amber Bracken, were also inside the cabin.
It was in that moment, as images travelled around the world, that the fight of the Wet’suwet’en land defenders went global.
But, Nagata said, there is much more going on in those pictures of men in heavy tactical gear, using brutal force as they arrested unarmed Indigenous land defenders.
In 2019, the global investment firm Kohlberg, Kravis, Roberts & Co (KKR) purchased a 65 per cent equity interest in the Coastal GasLink Pipeline project from TC Energy Corporation through a separately managed infrastructure account in partnership with the National Pension Service of Korea.
CGL represents a $6.6 billion dollar investment, and will move 2.1 billion cubic feet of natural gas from Dawson Creek to the LNG Canada processing plant at Kitimat. KKR isn’t taking any chances when it comes to protecting its investment.
Hereditary Chief Na’Moks has said that the 2021 raids, and the constant surveillance of the Yintah, “is a form of war, physical and psychological.”
“Although KKR may deploy CIA tactics on our lands and to our people, they will never succeed with their project. We see more value in our lands, waters and freedoms than what any amount of their money would ever be worth.”
Since those dramatic raids, land defenders living on Gidimt’en territory have had to contend with constant video and photo surveillance, stress-inducing traffic stops, harassment and intimidation, walk-throughs at every hour of the night and day, sometimes blasting loud music from an RCMP truck, as well as physical searches and restraints with zip ties.
These tactics are designed to wear an insurgent opponent down. But land defenders are not insurgents and BC is not Afghanistan. It only begins to makes sense if you know who designed them.
On its website, KKR states that when you partner with them “you benefit from the breadth and expertise of the entire firm.”
Some of that “expertise” comes from chairman and founder David Petraeus, the former director of the CIA, and former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Petraeus is also the author of U.S. army publication FM-3-24 MCWP 3-33.5 Insurgencies and Countering Insurgencies, a four-step playbook on how to quash insurgents. KKR hired Petraeus in 2013.
“I identify ways to reduce risk,” Petraeus is quoted in the presentation document. “Once we’ve made investments, we help companies as they run into problems. And it’s surprising actually how much you can help them with just sheer determination, boots and the ground, working with nation leaders.”
Those “problems” are the Indigenous communities that opposed the construction of the pipeline and have refused to sign agreements. Those “boots on the ground” are the RCMP and the C-IRG units operating with impunity on Wet’suwet’en territory.
Gitxsan leader Hup-Wil-Ax-A Kirby Muldoe said he is worried about the lethality of KKR forces. “These men are trained to kill. Where they have been fighting, they probably killed before and now they’re pointing guns at Indigenous people.”
The dots between the RCMP and Petreaus can be easily connected, Nagata said. They’re less obvious between KKR and Forsythe, the private security force contracted by CGL.
The RCMP’s chief superintendent John Brewer is the C-IRG's gold commander. In 2010, he served as NATO’s senior police advisor to Afghanistan under Petreaus. It was under his leadership that C-IRG raided Gidimt’en territory in 2021.
Nagata explains how people missed making those connections during a particularly disruptive time.
“Environmental activists in the States, who bad been tracking environmental and human rights violations there, did sound the alarm when KKR took over CoastalGaslink, but that warning came during the 2020 raids and the ‘Shut Down Canada’ protest, then COVID hit, and people didn’t have time to do the research to understand the implications of this company taking over security for CGL.”
The strategy has been to divide and conquer, he said. In many ways that’s the history of Canada — pitting elected chiefs against hereditary chiefs, those who side with industry against those who refuse to be forcibly removed from their land.
“Coastal GasLink has agreements in place with 20 band councils along the pipeline route,” Nagata explained in his presentation. “Those come with training and jobs, plus cash payments to the bands over the life of the project. However, one leaked contract shows bands are required to dissuade members from opposing the project or even criticizing Coastal GasLink on social media. In that community, 70 per cent of members voted ‘no’ to the agreement, but the band chief signed anyway.”
Gidm’ten Hereditary Chief Woos (Frank Alec) believes that those policing his territory are not from the government; they’re the corporations and their private para-military forces. “These people came here and said this is what we’re going to do. They geared up for war against women, pregnant women and elders.”
In Canada, corporations succeed 76 per cent of the time in obtaining injunctions against Indigenous people, Nagata’s presentation states. “How often do judges give Indigenous plaintiffs an injunction against a company? 19 per cent of the time. If people refuse to recognize an injunction, they become targets for both police and private security.”
Much has changed on Wet’suwet’en territory since those 2021 raids and much remains the same. The Coastal GasLink pipeline is now 90 per cent complete, at a heavy cost to investors and to the land itself. CGL has been issued 37 warnings and committed 17 infractions related to non-compliance with sediment restrictions.
In the spring of this year, the RCMP arrested five land defenders but no charges were laid, after allegations were made by CGL workers in the area that they had been swarmed by unknown assailants.
On Wet’suwet’en territory, private security company Forsythe, mainly retired police officers and ex-military personnel, have taken over intelligence-gathering and patrol duties from the RCMP, with whom they share all of the data they collect. Nagata said their status as a private company makes them a shield between the RCMP and the government, further restricting the public’s access to information.
The arrests and intimidation have kept many allies away. Land defenders and their families are exhausted by ongoing surveillance and intimidation and some balk at returning to the sites of trauma on their own land. The fight for clean water, trees, the spawning beds of the salmon — the primary source of income and food in the region — is far from over.
More gas pipelines are coming and they are slated to cross Gitxsan territory. When Muldoe was asked about what his neighbours have experienced and what is coming to his territory, he admits, “It puts a lot of worry into my mind about our future, about what could happen on our territory. I am afraid someone is going to get killed. That’s the way it’s headed.”
At the Peace and Unity Summit on Wet’suwet’en territory this week, Indigenous land defenders representing many nations and NGOs came together to listen, learn and to build relationships of solidarity.
Wet’suwet’en community member Dolly Alfred stood up to express her deepest fears.
“My son was out there on the territory during the raid,” she said. “He was the one who cut the trees down so the RCMP couldn’t get up there as fast and he called me and said I only have a few seconds to tell you, ‘I love you, because the RCMP are listening in, and I don’t want them to know where I am.’ I didn’t know, after that, what was happening to him or if I’d see him again, and I cried. This is what a mother goes through.”
Other community members at the summit told Ricochet that the presentation was eye-opening, and for them it represents a renewed call to peaceful action.
Gaylene Morris, a frontline activist and one of the organizers of the summit, remains defiant.
“I can’t be afraid of anything if I am standing in my truth,” she said. “If there was nothing for me to stand on, no truth of my ancestors to stand on, I probably would be scared. All of my ancestors who did this before me are behind me, and in all the work that I have done, my daughter knows that I will keep her safe, even when I am no longer on this Earth.”
Clarification: The headline and lede have been updated to clarify that the RCMP is adopting the playbook, rather than receiving direct training, from Petraeus.