TransCanada Corp.’s Coastal GasLink subsidiary will seek a court order this week to dismantle a blockade backed by a group of hereditary Indigenous leaders who are trying to halt construction on a $6.2-billion pipeline project.
Numerous members of the Unist’ot’en group, also known as the Dark House, have blocked access to a crucial bridge, Coastal GasLink said in its injunction application in B.C. Supreme Court. A court hearing is scheduled for Thursday in Prince George, B.C.
“The blockaders have stopped or turned back Coastal GasLink employees and contractors travelling by vehicle and on foot on the Morice River Bridge, blocking access,” according to the application.
All 20 elected bands along the natural gas pipeline route have approved Coastal GasLink, and TransCanada has conditionally awarded $620-million in contracts to Indigenous businesses in British Columbia. But a group of Wet’suwet’en Nation hereditary chiefs who back the Unist’ot’en protest camp argue that their anti-pipeline views outweigh those of elected band officials who support Coastal GasLink.
The Unist’ot’en is one of 13 house groups under the Wet’suwet’en Nation in northern British Columbia. A non-profit society, the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, represents the interests of hereditary chiefs in the area.
The office said the Gilseyhu clan, which includes the Unist’ot’en house group, and the other four Wet’suwet’en hereditary clans categorically oppose oil and gas pipeline proposals.
Coastal GasLink estimates that it has already spent $527-million on predevelopment costs. The TransCanada unit argues that members of the Unist’ot’en “can continue to voice their objection to the project without blocking access” to land across the bridge.
Designs call for a section of the pipeline to be built more than one kilometre away from the bridge, but workers need to cross the span in order to get heavy equipment into the remote area.
Natural gas from northeast B.C. would be transported along the 670-kilometre line to a liquefied natural gas terminal to be built in Kitimat on the West Coast by Royal Dutch Shell PLC-led LNG Canada. Coastal GasLink wants to start construction in January on an 84-kilometre pipe section, near Smithers, B.C.
Dozens of Unist’ot’en members and their supporters started a protest in 2010, when they originally fought against Enbridge Inc.’s now-defunct Northern Gateway oil pipeline project.
In the court application, Coastal GasLink names Warner Naziel and his partner, Freda Huson, as defendants. They are accused of being among the Unist’ot’en members who “set up a blockade by standing, sitting or positioning vehicles, gates and other obstacles.”
Unist’ot’en officials describe their presence on the bridge as a “checkpoint,” and that there is a healing lodge located nearby on the house group’s traditional territory. “We are exercising our right to exclusive use and occupation of land, and our right to determine its use,” they said in a statement.
Coastal GasLink said its request to cross the bridge will not affect the healing lodge, which is part of the Unist’ot’en protest camp.
Amid the tensions between Coastal GasLink and the Unist’ot’en, there has been a power struggle within the Wet’suwet’en Nation.
Five of the 20 elected bands that support Coastal GasLink belong to the Wet’suwet’en Nation: Wet’suwet’en First Nation (formerly known as the Broman Lake Indian Band), Burns Lake, Nee Tahi Buhn, Skin Tyee and Witset.
And a pro-pipeline group called the Wet’suwet’en Matrilineal Coalition said it disagrees with the Unist’ot’en’s tactics in blocking Coastal GasLink workers from crossing the bridge.
Three women from the coalition who support Coastal GasLink say they were informed that they lost their hereditary names because the men who lead the house groups objected to their pro-pipeline views. Unist’ot’en members say there isn’t any sexism involved in the dispute with the women, characterizing it as a case of male hereditary chiefs asserting their proper authority.
While Mr. Naziel goes by the hereditary name Smogelgem under the Laksamshu clan, Wet’suwet’en elder Gloria George said that name belongs to her.
Shell and the four co-owners of LNG Canada decided in October to forge ahead with the $40-billion energy project, which includes an $18-billion terminal in Kitimat, TransCanada’s Coastal GasLink pipeline, the costs of drilling in northeast B.C. and other infrastructure.