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Shuswap Nation Tribal Council affirms support of Wet'suwet'en in its opposition to pipeline

Arrests at checkpoint in northern B.C. spark protests across Canada
An Indigenous-led march on Georgia Street in Vancouver on Tuesday, Jan. 8, in support of the Wet’suwet’en, who have set up of a checkpoint and camp in opposition to the TransCanada Coastal GasLink pipeline.

The Shuswap Nation Tribal Council has declared its solidarity with the hereditary chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation in their opposition to construction of a pipeline through their territory near Smithers in northern B.C.

"Just last summer, we reaffirmed our solid nation to Nation relationship between the Secwepemc and the Wet'suwet'en,” said Wayne Christian, tribal chair of the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council.

“At our Secwepemc summer gathering, we stood with the Gitxsan and Wet'suwet'en through ceremony and we reaffirmed our commitment to our nation to nation relationship as contained in the Peace and Cooperation Treaty. We stand with them today as their allies and support their position as it relates to their title and rights of their traditional territory and the unjustified infringement being imposed by government.”

On Monday, RCMP arrested 14 people at a checkpoint southwest of Houston, where some members of the Gidimt'en clan of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation had set up a camp to control access to a pipeline project across their territory.

Police were enforcing a B.C. Supreme Court injunction granted to TransCanada Corp. subsidiary Coastal GasLink. It ordered the removal of obstructions in Wet'suwet'en territory as work gets underway on a $6.2-billion pipeline carrying natural gas from the Dawson Creek area to Kitimat.

The company has said it has signed agreements with all First Nations along the route — including the elected Wet’suwet’en band council — for LNG Canada's $40-billion liquefied natural gas project in Kitimat, but demonstrators argue Wet'suwet'en house chiefs, who are hereditary rather than elected, have not given consent.

In an open letter issued Tuesday, Coastal GasLink president Rick Gateman said the company took legal action as a last resort and that, while it respects the rights of people to peacefully express their points of view, safety is a key concern.

“It has been a long, and sometimes difficult, journey, but we are proud of the relationships we've built, and the support of the communities and all 20 elected Indigenous bands along the route as well as the many hereditary chiefs who also support the project,'' he wrote.

He said the pipeline will meet rigorous environment standards and bring significant benefits, including an estimated 2,500 jobs, many with First Nations contractors.

KTW called Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Chief Rosanne Casimir to learn where the Tk’emlups band stands on the issue, but a band spokesperson said Casimir will not comment.

Christian said the Wet'suwet'en fought in the Delgamuukw-Gisday'wa court case to have their sovereignty recognized and affirmed by Canadian law. In 1997, he said, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Wet'suwet'en people, as represented by their hereditary leaders, had not given up their rights and title to vast area of Northern British Columbia.

Christian said the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council — which is composed of nine Secwepemc communities in the southern Interior, including Tk’emlups — supports the traditional governance and decision-making process of Wet'suwet'en leaders.

“By forcibly removing the chiefs and land protectors, Canada and British Columbia are acting contrary to the concept of reconciliation,” Christian said. “The government is sending Indigenous people across the country a message that greed and economic benefits trump environmental protection and that Canada has no respect for traditional Wet'suwet'en laws. The actions of the RCMP as tools of the government are colonial and fly in the face of any form of reconciliation.”

Monday’s arrests at the blockade in northern B.C. became a flash point Tuesday that sparked protests across the country.

Protesters delayed Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's speech in Ottawa, stopped traffic in Vancouver and Victoria and prompted a counter-protest in front of the headquarters of the company building the pipeline at the centre of the dispute.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs told a crowd at Victory Square in Vancouver that it would be a watershed year for Indigenous people in the fight against pipelines crossing their lands.

``We're starting off 2019 with a bang,'' he said to cheers and applause. ``I want to say to Prime Minister Trudeau: Welcome to battle ground British Columbia.''

About 60 people attended the rally in support of the First Nation outside the headquarters of TransCanada Corp. in downtown Calgary. They were greeted by about the same number of pipeline supporters who were encouraged to come out by Canada Action, a Calgary-based lobby group.

Chants of ``Build that Pipe'' drowned out the blockade supporters initially but the anti-pipeline group found its voice and were soon matching the volume with their own chant of ``Consent. Sovereignty!''

There were no physical confrontations but angry words and hand gestures flew back and forth as at least a dozen Calgary police officers used their bodies and bicycles to separate the groups.

Stephen Buffalo, CEO of the Indian Resource Council of Canada, which represents oil and gas producing First Nations, took part in the pro-pipeline part of the rally.

``The big thing is we've got to be able to support our communities that said yes to this (project) because it's their community that needs that financial benefit,'' he said.

``It's about getting out of poverty and finding a way for our people.''

Police concerns about a protest in Ottawa forced Trudeau to move to another building close to Parliament Hill to give a speech at a forum.

The national chief of the Assembly of First Nations said the use of police force against people peacefully protesting the construction of the pipeline is a violation of their human and Aboriginal rights.

``Building consensus under duress will make the resolution of the situation in northern British Columbia very difficult,'' Perry Bellegarde said in a statement Tuesday. ``Real consensus will be built when the parties, with very different views, come together in meaningful and productive dialogue. And I am confident that they can do this.''

Bellegarde said the Canadian and B.C. governments have promised to implement UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples but in northern B.C. they are imposing their laws over those of the Wet'suwet'en.

New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen, who represents the area, said the protest he witnessed on Monday was ``determined'' but ``peaceful. He estimated about 200 police officers were used to enforce the court injunction.

Cpl. Madonna Saunderson would not say how many RCMP officers were involved in the operation.

The Mounties placed exclusion areas and road closures near the Morice River Bridge where the blockade was located that prevented Coastal GasLink from getting access to its pipeline right of way.

LNG Canada announced in October that it was moving ahead with its plans for the Kitimat export facility. Construction on the 670-kilometre natural gas pipeline is scheduled to begin this month.

— with files from Canadian Press