Two Wet’suwet’en Nation hereditary leaders plan to construct a protest camp to oppose TransCanada Corp.’s Coastal GasLink pipeline project, setting the stage for a new blockade in British Columbia.
“We will be building permanent buildings on our territory in an effort to assert our precolonial rights and jurisdiction on our lands,” according to a statement issued by the Laksamshu clan, one of five clans within the Wet’suwet’en Nation.
A previous blockade in a different area of the B.C. Interior came down on Jan. 11, four days after the RCMP arrested 14 protesters at a police checkpoint along a remote logging road.
The stakes are high for the $6.2-billion Coastal GasLink project, which would transport natural gas from northeast B.C. to an export terminal to be built in Kitimat on the B.C. coast. The Royal Dutch Shell-led LNG Canada project in Kitimat includes constructing an $18-billion terminal that would export liquefied natural gas to Asia.
Warner Naziel and Adam Gagnon are the two hereditary chiefs who are leading plans for the new protest camp. They belong to Sun House under the Laksamshu clan.
Mr. Naziel, also known as Smogelgem and chief of Sun House, had been one of the leaders behind the Unist’ot’en protest camp and blockade on the Morice River Bridge. Unist’ot’en is affiliated with Dark House, one of 13 Wet’suwet’en hereditary house groups, which in turn fall under the five clans.
Mr. Gagnon, also known as Dsta’hayl, serves as Mr. Naziel’s wing chief, or sub-chief.
Their plans this spring include constructing a cabin, a bunk house and associated sheds, according to Laksamshu (or Likhts’amisyu under an updated spelling by a linguist).
A separate statement issued by protesters, dated March 20, said the goal is to disrupt Coastal GasLink (CGL). “Part of the strategy is to stymie CGL by blocking them at multiple points,” the protesters said. “The new Likhts’amisyu camp will be strategically located in order to impede the ability of the Coastal GasLink corporation to force their pipeline through Wet’suwet’en land.”
Coastal GasLink has been approved by all 20 elected First Nation councils along the route, but eight Wet’suwet’en hereditary house chiefs are opposed.
TransCanada said in a statement on Thursday that pipeline officials are aware that the new camp would be near the route’s right-of-way. “Coastal GasLink continues to work collaboratively with Indigenous communities to ensure the pipeline is built in an environmentally sustainable manner by which First Nations members and businesses can take full advantage of this economic opportunity,” TransCanada spokesman Terry Cunha said. “We continue to move forward with preliminary construction activities in accordance with the permits and authorizations we have in place.”
Coastal GasLink names two defendants, Mr. Naziel and Freda Huson, in the company’s quest for a permanent court injunction to prevent protesters from reviving a blockade on the Morice River Bridge in the Gilseyhu clan’s unceded territory. The new blockade would be in a different area, to be located in the Laksamshu clan’s traditional territory
Ms. Huson, a Dark House spokeswoman, lived at the Unist’ot’en protest camp for nine years with her common-law spouse, Mr. Naziel. The couple separated in January.
The pipeline company alleges that Ms. Huson and Mr. Naziel are the architects behind the Unist’ot’en protest camp and blockade.
The Office of the Wet’suwet’en is the umbrella organization for the house groups, though Coastal GasLink has said it made special efforts to deal separately with Dark House.
Claire Marshall, who has consulted for TransCanada since 2012, said in an affidavit that pipeline representatives reached out repeatedly to hereditary leaders, including attending more than 120 meetings with Office of the Wet’suwet’en staff and various chiefs, as well as exchanging at least 1,300 phone calls and e-mails with them over the years.
Ms. Marshall said Coastal GasLink has been thwarted in attempts to consult with Dark House, despite contacting Ms. Huson 40 times and requesting to meet with her seven times since 2014.
Mr. Naziel, a carver and artist, and Mr. Gagnon, a carpenter, hope to start building the Sun House-backed camp in late April, with the help of volunteers. “Our other long-term construction project will be the design and construction of a climate-change research facility,” according to Laksamshu’s statement.