On Monday the 7th of January 2019 the Canadian armed police force (RCMP tactical forces) broke the peaceful blockades formed in British Columbia and arrested 14 Wet’suwet’en people, escalating already high tensions over the proposed TransCanada oil pipeline.
The struggle against the proposed oil pipeline has been ongoing since 2010 when the first blockade was set up as the Unist’ot’en camp by members of the Wet’suwet’en nation. The Wet’suwet’en, a First Nations people who live on the Bulkley River, are opposed to the pipeline on the grounds of potential damage to the watershed and wildlife. However, their arguments go beyond damage to the environment and emphasise the rights of the people to the land, their right to self-determination, and the right to protect it for future generations. But their desire to protect the land comes from a deeper desire to preserve it not only for themselves but for the whole of Canada. In one of the videos of the siege, a protester tearfully pleads with the police that this is for “your families too” so they “can enjoy this beautiful land”.
The RCMP were acting on an injunction granted on December 14th, allowing them access to the road where the barricades have been erected in order to begin constructing the pipeline. The pipeline itself will cost $6.2 and is being built by CoastalGasLink, a subsidiary of TransCanada Corp. They received environmental certification in 2014 and have agreements from 20 First Nations groups whose land the pipe will lie but they have not had approval from the hereditary leaders of the Wet’suwet’en’s five clans, who are actively resisting the construction by erecting barricades and camps at the only bridge that can be crossed.
The pipeline has not just faced resistance from the Wet’suwet’en people but from people across Canada, who have taken to the streets in protest at the pipeline and the treatment of the first nations people struggling against it. Many protesters have highlighted the hypocrisy of the prime minister Justin Trudeau’s administration, in breaking their promises to respect and rekindle a relationship with the first nation peoples across Canada, after years of historic oppression and maltreatment.
The siege undertaken by the RCMP tactical force is part of a trend of international government-sanctioned, corporate take-over of indigenous lands. We have already witnessed both the Dakota access pipeline at standing rock and the Keystone pipeline leak (another TransCanada-owned pipeline), among others. But the violation of local people’s rights to determine the use of their land isn’t confined to America and Canada, the people of Preston new road in the north-west of the UK have been battling the construction of fracking sites since the government overturned a council decision to stop prevent their construction. So intertwined are these seemingly different struggles, that members of clans at standing rock have visited the local protesters at Preston new road to express solidarity and the protesters of Preston new road have returned the favour.
Whether it is North Lancashire or Dakota, across the world we are seeing a battle being fought between the wedded power of neoliberal governments and corporations against the environment and the people. Places like Standing Rock and now the Wet’suwet’en lands are the front-lines of this fightback and the tragedy of the unfolding siege in British Columbia begs the question, who benefits from all of this?