Wet’suwet’en land defenders ceremony

By Rebecca Dyok, The Williams Lake Tribune, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) is standing with Wet’suwet’en land defenders who said they were threatened with arrest during a recent ceremony in their traditional territory near Houston, B.C. which briefly blocked access for Coastal GasLink workers.

Jennifer Wickham was one of four Gidim’ten women who participated in a ceremony in the path of a controversial 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline that will eventually carry natural gas from the Dawson Creek area to Kitimat. The ceremony, which was released in a video posted Tuesday, Oct. 13 on Facebook shows the women singing around a small fire near the CGL pathway.

“I think it’s pretty in-line with how the RCMP respond to anything we do on our territory which is with unnecessary force and threats of arrests,” Wickham said.

North District RCMP Media Relations Cpl. Madonna Saunderson, meanwhile, said the women were blocking access to the worksite, however, the matter was resolved peacefully with no arrests or charges.

“The RCMP will always respect the right of Indigenous people to practice ceremonies,” Saunderson told Black Press Media.

Sacred Ceremonies

UBCIC said violence must not threaten the safety and rights of land defenders and matriarchs holding ceremonies and protecting the sacred Wedzin Kwa (Morice River) headwaters.

“Indigenous land defenders and community members cannot be criminalized and targeted for asserting their title and rights and conducting ceremonial and cultural traditions,” UBCIC stated in a Oct. 15 news release.

“This stands in acute opposition to the provincial government’s obligations under the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.”

Saunderson said if ceremonies are being practised that are not safe, peaceful or lawful, a measured approach to negotiate an alternative with all parties will be taken.

She added this may include re-locating persons to a safer location or any other options acceptable to all parties.

“In this case, the complainant agreed to allow time for the fire associated to the ceremony to burn itself out rather than be extinguished,” Saunderson noted.

In the Facebook video, Sleydo’ (Molly Wickham) said the women wanted to “make some offerings to their ancestors of all the things that matter the most to them.”

It shows the women solemnly pause to take note of the barren land around them that was once full of trees before they make a small fire and begin singing a mourning song.

A CGL worker approaches them and repeatedly asks how long their ceremony was going to take.

“The work being done here is lawful, authorized and permitted,” he said, adding CGL would be calling in the RCMP. “This is a work zone and you’re impeding the work that we’re doing.”

CGL could not be reached for comment.

Although five elected Wet’suwet’en band councils have signed agreements with CGL supporting the construction of the pipeline, majority of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have opposed it.

In Oct. 2019 Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs issued an immediate cease and desist order to CGL due to the ‘ongoing destruction of Wet’suwet’en cultural and archaeological sites, and non-compliance with Wet’suwet’en and B.C. law.’

Before the end of the year, CGL was granted a permanent injunction against Wet’suwet’en land defenders by B.C. Supreme Court. The ruling was formally rejected by the hereditary chiefs.

A petition by the Office of the Wet’suwet’en seeking an order to quash an extension of CGL’s environmental assessment certificate will resume in B.C. Supreme Court on Friday, Oct. 16.

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