RCMP officers were instructed to use as much violence as they wanted at the blockade of the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline. Kanahus Manuel, an indigenous activist in British Columbia, said it’s part of Canada’s long colonial legacy.
Photo Credit: Michael Toledano | Twitter
DIMITRI LASCARIS: This is Dimitri Lascaris reporting for The Real News Network from Montreal, Canada.
Last month, the British newspaper The Guardian broke the story that Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or RCMP, were prepared to shoot Indigenous land defenders blockading construction of a natural gas pipeline in Northern British Columbia. In late 2018, a roadblock was erected by Indigenous Wet’suwet’en people to control access to their territories and stop construction of the proposed 670 kilometer or 416 mile Coastal Gaslink Pipeline.
On January 7, 2019, RCMP officers dressed in military green fatigues and armed with assault rifles descended on the checkpoint, dismantling the gate, and arresting 14 people. According to documents seen by The Guardian, RCMP commanders instructed officers to “use as much violence as you want” as part of an operation to remove a roadblock. The documents also revealed that the RCMP were prepared to arrest children and grandparents. “No exception. Everyone will be arrested in the injunction area,” one document read. Another document made reference to possible child apprehension by social services.
Now here to discuss these revelations with us: Kanahus Manuel. Kanahus is an Indigenous activist, Birthkeeper, and a member of the activist group Tiny House Warriors. She joins us today from Blue River, British Columbia. Thank you for coming on The Real News, Kanahus.
KANAHUS MANUEL: Hi.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: First of all, could you tell us what’s your understanding, Kanahus, as to the current status of the blockade of–and more broadly of the efforts to stop–the construction of the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline on Wet’suwet’en territory?
KANAHUS MANUEL: Well, first of all, I’m from the Secwepemc nation. I don’t speak for the Wet’suwet’en. It’s a different nation. We’re distinct nations here in so-called British Columbia. Anything west of the Rockies has been un-treatied; it’s un-ceded, un-surrendered. We have not signed a treaty with the federal government, not with Great Britain or the province of B.C., So we still lay claim on 100% of our territory. And Wet’suwet’en territory is one of the nations here in B.C. They also are un-ceded, and their governance structure is made up of various clans. The Wet’suwet’en clan or the Unist’ot’en clan has been there on their territory for over five years, six years stopping seven proposed pipelines. And the Gidimt’en Checkpoint. The Gidimt’en is also a clan within the Wet’suwet’en nation that has also set up a checkpoint.
First of all, I would like to say that when I arrived there at their checkpoints, there’s the free prior informed consent protocol. This is a traditional protocol that has been in place even before the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Free prior informed consent, what are you doing here? What’s your intentions of coming here? If we allow you access into our territory, how is your stay here going to benefit us and our nation? And everybody has to answer that. I had to answer that when I went in with me and my husband and four children. And Coastal Gaslink had to answer that. And they have the right to deny consent and access to any individual or corporation or government that threatens their territory. And so Coastal Gaslink is one of these corporations that threatens their way of life.
And so therefore, they have denied access, but because we’re living in 2019, and the Government of Canada has continued to use injunctions as a way to force Indigenous people off of their lands. Injunctions, we call that a thousand trails of tears, it’s forcing our people off of the land. My father, Arthur Manuel, he wrote–in his book, Reconciliation Manifesto, he referred to injunctions as Canada’s legal billy club and it’s a way that they can continue to oppress off of our territory in order for corporations to get access to our lands.
The recent court decision that gave the Coastal Gaslink this interlocutory injunction, but also gave the RCMP an enforcement order. And that means that the RCMP now are armed with this legal billy club to go out onto the territory and forcibly remove the Wet’suwet’en off of their lands. And how they’re going to react to that? We’re going to have to see how everything unfolds because they come from a very strong traditional governance structure where their clans are still in place. Unlike some of the other nations here in B.C., one of the things that you can look at is the Delgamuukw decision of 1997, which really was spearheaded by the Wet’suwet’en and the hereditary system. I’m in that Delgamuukw decision, it verifies what we’ve heard already, always said is that Aboriginal title and rights exist in this country.
Aboriginal title and rights exist, especially where we have not signed treaties, we’ve not made any type of formal land agreements with the federal government. And so we lay claim to 100% and that we have the territorial authority in decision making. We have the right to our own decision making process, our own governance structure. And those are the rights that we have international respective rights as Indigenous people and as human beings we have the right to self-determination.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: If I might just stop you there, Kanahus, I want to dwell into that a little more. You know, the company Coastal Gaslink cites its justification for its construction initiative. It has signed agreements with 20 elected First Nations councils along the pipeline route. How do you respond to that argument that they’ve been authorized by these elected councils, or what they described as elected councils to do this?
KANAHUS MANUEL: Well, first one must be understood by the world and the global community is that these elected chief and council systems are actually paid by the federal government. They get a federal paycheck, just like any other politician. They are enforced under the Indian Act. The Indian Act was established and it’s a very oppressive and genocidal policy and act and law that they put in place in order to remove Indigenous people off their land and force them onto Indian reservations.
Modern day Indian reservations that we call concentration camps. This chief and council system is a colonial system, a colonial construct. It’s nothing that is traditional in our form of traditional governance structure. And so when you hear that term chief and council system in Canada, you know that they’re being paid by the federal government. And what my grandfather, Wolverine, would say is that pretty well they’re civil servants talking to civil servants. Saying that the chief and council system are also civil servants of that system.
And so we need to make that very clear that they are not speaking for the collective. It’s enforced by the federal government. It was unilaterally imposed upon us. The majority of Indigenous people in this country of Canada refuse and opt out of being involved in that elected chief and council system. We know that our title and rights as Indigenous people are held collectively here in our nation. We have around 10,000 Secwepemc, so that’s a collective right that we hold amongst every single 10,000 of those men, women and children. They are the proper title holders. Therefore, they are the proper decision makers, not that chief and council systems.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Now you yourself, I understand have had quite a few interactions with law enforcement authorities in the course of your land defense activities. How do you respond to The Guardian revelations, and please, respond to those revelations in the context of what you yourself has experienced as a land defender in the hands of the RCMP and other police forces?
KANAHUS MANUEL: Well, I think it’s by time that mainstream media really publishes the truth about what is happening. We’ve been saying this since contact, the abuse and the terrorism that we face at the hands of the Canadian government and the police state. The RCMP was established with one purpose and that was to remove Indigenous peoples off the land in order for them to make way and access… to get access to our resources and our territories. Canada gets very wealthy and continues to get very wealthy off of stripping our natural resources off of our lands. Those are Indigenous resources. They have never got consent to remove those resources from our land.
These pipelines are transportation conduit. They’re transporting these raw resources from Northern B.C. and Northern Alberta, the frack fields and the Alberta tar sands, to get it to the tidewater, to get into these ports that they want to establish, to get them to the Vancouver port, all the way down to the California coast. It affects all of us. The transportation of this is risking hundreds and hundreds of miles of pristine wilderness. This is not a developed area like California or the East Coast and New York State. This is pristine area. There’s places on every single creek; you could go down–and river–and you can drink directly from it. This is pristine glacier waters that are feeding all of the creeks and rivers all the way to the ocean.
So British Columbia, just to give people an idea, is the size of Washington, Oregon and California combined and it’s literally, virtually untouched. Two thirds of the population of B.C. are in the Lower Mainland around Vancouver area. So we had come from a very isolated area. The Gidimt’en Checkpoint is actually around 44 kilometers off of the closest major highway and it’s not even a major highway. It’s a two lane road and the Unist’ot’en is around 65 or so kilometers off of the road. So these are back roads, these are dirt roads, these are very isolated areas. When the RCMP raided, they had a major operation just to get out to the areas to make the arrest.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: And yourself, in terms of your own experience with the law enforcement officials who are there to ensure access to Indigenous lands. What have you yourself experienced in that regard?
KANAHUS MANUEL: Well, I’ve been named on several injunctions or the Sun Peaks Ski Resort, and also the Red Chris Imperial Metals Mine. And now, I fall within millimeters of injunction right here in Blue River where they want to establish 1,099 count for the Trans Mountain Pipeline. We’re standing our ground. We’re actually taking land back. We’re occupying land. We’re living in tiny houses on our territory in order to stop the construction of this pipeline. And we are targeted. I am a person of interest. The RCMP have named me a person of interest, the Trans Mountain have hundreds and hundreds of pages of surveillance on me. And that’s just four days of surveillance.
So I know how I’m a target. And I was on target on October 19th when the RCMP, a new division, the Community Industry Response Group, the same division that’s deployed on the Wet’suwet’en peoples, I came and arrested me and broke my wrist.
So I’ve been dealing with these last months and recuperating and healing from the bodily injuries by the RCMP. They’re forcing me to go in on January 6th, just on Monday in a couple of days, to give my fingerprints again.
I don’t know if they’re going to be waiting there with more bogus charges. I don’t know if they’re going to try to detain me again. So this is the type of terrorism that they create on us as Indigenous people. You think that you could go out and have a vacation and beautiful British Columbia and go stay in a cabin in Blue River and enjoy the heli-skiing by an Austrian tour operator. It’s not the same with us. We come on our territory and we’re a target. We need constant security as Indigenous land defenders just to maintain our safety here on the front lines.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: Well, we’ve been speaking to Kanahus Manuel, an Indigenous land defender about revelations in the British newspaper, The Guardian, that Canadian law enforcement officials were prepared to shoot Indigenous land defenders to open up a road for the use of a gas pipeline company. Thank you very much for joining us today, Kanahus.
KANAHUS MANUEL: Thank you.
DIMITRI LASCARIS: And this is Dimitri Lascaris reporting for The Real News Network.