For this instalment of In the Streets, we spoke with Jennifer Wickham, media coordinator for the Gidimt’en Camp on Wet’suwet’en territory. We spoke about the Wet’suwet’en struggle for their territory, the recent raids by Canadian police, and the Indigenous-led Shut Down Canada uprising that’s emerged in solidarity. [Note: This episode was recorded on Feb 27th 2020]
Thanks to Kevin Lo and LOKI Design for the art that we’re using for this episode.
This is the second episode in our “In the Streets” series. Check out the first instalment, In the Streets: Free the Hamilton Pride Defenders, if you’re interested.
Show Notes- In the Streets: Shut Down Canada
Sam: Hey, everyone, it’s Sam.
David: And David.
Sam: I hope everything is going well on your end. On our end, where David and I live, there is an incredibly important Indigenous-led uprising happening. Here, and across all of so-called Canada.
David: Yeah, I mean I don’t think either of us have seen anything on this scale happen before in our lifetimes.
Sam: Not at all. This is so incredibly inspiring and exciting right now.
David: Yeah and so we’re going to go straight into the interview. But before doing that, I just want to urge everybody listening who isn’t already familiar with the struggle to learn more. Follow the links in the show notes. And if you are familiar with the struggle, to get involved wherever you live, answering the call for solidarity that’s gone out.
Sam: So just to recap for folks who aren’t paying attention: familiarize yourself with the struggle and get involved.
David: And here’s the interview.
Jen Wickham: Hello.
Sam: Hey, it’s the Montreal folks again.
Jen Wickham: Hey! Okay, just one sec. I’m just going to go into my truck.
Jen Wickham: Can you hear me all right?
David: Yeah, it sounds really good.
Sam: And yeah, so the last thing before we get rolling is just we normally start the show by inviting our guests to introduce themselves. And some people are like, my name’s Sam and I love cats, and then other people give us a whole long description of who they are. So it’s totally up to you.
Jen Wickham: (laughter)
David: Yeah, the format is just saying your name and then a bit about yourself.
Jen Wickham: Okay.
David: So whenever you’re ready, we can just start if you feel comfortable with that?
Jen Wickham: Sure! Hadïh siy Jennifer Wickham s’inïtni Gidimt’en izden. My name’s Jennifer Wickham, I’m a Gidimt’en member of the Wet’suwet’en nation. I come from Cassyex, which is the Grizzly Bear house, and I am the media coordinator for the Gidimt’en camp.
David: Well thank you so much for taking this time to talk with us. I can only imagine how busy you are right now and how many media requests you’re getting, so we’re really appreciative that you’re talking with us today. And so I was hoping we could just start by talking a bit about the history of both the Unist’ot’en and Gidimt’en camps. How how did they first come to be?
Jen Wickham: Well, Unist’ot’en has been occupying their traditional territories for about 10 years. And it was the women of the clan, so Freda Huson, I’m sure people are familiar, she is the spokesperson for the Unist’ot’en. Her and some of her family members were really inspired by her grandmother to go back out and occupy their territory. So the Unist’ot’en, over the last 10 years, have built a home out there, they now have a healing centre where they do traditional land-based healing with community members, and it’s really grown exponentially in the last few years. And it was in 2018 that Freda and her partner at the time, Smogelgem/Warner, were served with an injunction notice from Coastal GasLink. And they were named as the two defendants as well as Jane Doe and John Doe. That happened December 14, 2018. And immediately after that, the Gidimt’en clan had a meeting and decided to stand in solidarity with the Unist’ot’en. So each house group has territory that they’re responsible for. And the Unist’ot’en territory right across the river is Gidimt’en territory, and that territory belongs to Cassyex, which is the house that I belong to. And so we decided that in order to stand up for our relatives that we would start our own camp, the Gidimt’en camp at 44 km, which is where there’s a junction in the road where you turn off to go up to Unist’ot’en. And we ended up having a smoke feast, which is a part of our traditional hereditary governance system as a way to announce business taking place. And all the clans in the feast hall stood up to support us in our decision to go and defend the Unist’ot’en and to stand in solidarity with them. And so by December 17th, we had a couple of army tents (laughter), we went out and we started our Gidimt’en camp at 44 km. And we haven’t backed down from that position. The Unist’ot’en, for a really long time, were the only ones out on the territory. My sister Sleydo’, Molly Wickham, and her family moved out to our territory to live out on the land in 2014. And so this project really impacts people’s daily lives. So it’s not an issue of you know, we we want to go fishing out on the river or some sort of leisurely activity. There are people that are actually living out on the territory and depend on the territory for their life. So everything that they eat is harvested from the territory. All the moose meat, their fish, their berries, their medicines. And that’s also incorporated in the healing centre land-based programming, is accessing all of the territory for the people that are out there. And something people might be more familiar with is the raid that happened on Gidimt’en camp on January 7th 2019, where our people were forcibly removed from our territory. And we later learned that the RCMP had approved lethal overwatch. So they had snipers, they had tactical teams carrying assault rifles. They had expanded their interim injunction to include the Gidimt’en camp because previously it had only included the Unist’ot’en territory. They established their CISO, which is the (RCMP) Community Industry Safety Office, at 29 km. Since then, we’ve been under surveillance of the RCMP and there is daily harassment that continues.
David: And have there been conflicts like this before the Coastal GasLink pipeline that have come up?
Jen Wickham: Yeah. So there have been several proposed pipeline projects that have wanted to drill underneath the headwaters. So the river there we call Wedzin Kwah, which is the main salmon spawning river for the entire territory. And yeah so the big one was the Enbridge pipeline, the proposed Enbridge pipeline, which was a bitumen pipeline. And then after that there is the Pacific Trails pipeline, which is a fracked gas pipeline. And now we have Coastal GasLink. And so we know from other agreements that we’ve seen that the people that have signed on to these pipelines have agreed that they would be open to an “energy corridor.” And so we know that if one pipeline is approved and goes through, then more will follow. And we heard rumblings a couple of months ago that the Pacific Trails pipeline, which had previously lost investment and so didn’t proceed, were trying to get investors again because they thought that Coastal GasLink was going to go through and then that would mitigate their right-of-way to be able to put their Pacific Trails pipeline through. But yeah, there’s definitely other proposed pipelines that have tried in the past and so that’s why we need to be adamant in our stance in our jurisdiction over our territories. Because one pipeline would be devastating for our territories and multiple pipelines would make it a complete wasteland.
Sam: In the reporting on this, it’s been pretty clear that the corporate media is taking advantage of widespread ignorance among settlers about the difference between the hereditary and the Band Council chiefs. For people who have been reading mainstream media sources about this struggle, what do you think they need to know about these things?
Jen Wickham: So the hereditary system, which has been governing our people for millennia, has proven in the highest courts in Canada, the Supreme Court of Canada, that it’s our hereditary chiefs that have jurisdiction over our territory. And the imposed Indian Act chief and council, which is the Band system, only has jurisdiction over the reserves. And they were put in place (by the Canadian government) as a way to manage things like housing and water, sort of the everyday logistics of people being forced to live on the reserve. So that governance system was something that was imposed on our people. They have never been given jurisdiction to speak on behalf of our entire territory. That has been proven time and time again through the court system, that it is a traditional system that has jurisdiction.
David: And this struggle has been going on for a long time. Can you talk a bit about some of the legal avenues that the chiefs turned to back in the 80s and 90s?
Jen Wickham: So the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, along with the Gitxsan hereditary chiefs, took their case to the courts. And originally the decision was against them in the BC Supreme Court and so they appealed it and took it to the Supreme Court of Canada. And they won that court case in 1997 (Delgamuukw v. British Columbia). And the big takeaway from that court case was that our oral histories were admissible in court. So previous to that, no Indigenous oral histories were admissible as evidence. And so that was one win that came out of that court case. And the other one, the important one in this struggle right now, is that the Wet’suwet’en and Gitxsan hereditary chiefs had never ceded their title. So they maintained their title and jurisdiction over their territories. And for the Wet’suwet’en, that’s 22000 square kilometres.
David: So moving back to the present moment of what’s going on in that territory, in January the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs issued an eviction notice to Coastal GasLink. And the RCMP invaded Wet’suwet’en territory soon after, raiding the camps, arresting multiple people. And this came almost exactly a year after the RCMP’s last raid, to facilitate Coastal GasLink workers entering the territory. What has the impact of these raids been? Of having RCMP and Coastal GasLink on your territory?
Jen Wickham: The last year has been really, really devastating for our communities and for our people that are out on the territory. They suffered daily harassment and intimidation by the RCMP. After the raid last year, after January 7th of 2019, we actually had Coastal GasLink security, private security, threatening to arrest people that were on the road. My sister would be in her home, out on the territory, and she would wake up in the morning and there was RCMP parked at the end of her driveway. She was constantly threatened with arrest. People that were out on our territory, our guest as well as are our membership, were constantly harassed by RCMP, pulled over for no reason, having their vehicles towed, being threatened with arrest, it was just non-stop. People would be going out to harvest medicines or pick berries and they would have RCMP or CGL security follow them, park there and watch them and harass them while we were conducting our traditional activities out on the land. There have been really huge impacts to our wildlife. so our moose populations, our grizzly bear habitat, the destruction and desecration of our cultural sites, one of them being the Kweese war trail that they have bulldozed over. There have been artifacts found at the Camp 9A site, which is where they have their proposed man camp site. They have bulldozed through active trap lines and prevented people from going and checking their traps, which means that there could have been animals suffering in those traps. They went in and bulldozed our Gidimt’en camp and the police facilitated that. There is currently a civil court case going on for the destruction of private property. The list just goes on and on of the things that we have had to endure and deal with during that one year in between the two raids. It’s just been an ongoing assault on our people. Like the raid didn’t end on January 7th of last year, it continued.
Sam: So recently it made headlines that the RCMP had authorized “lethal overwatch” during the raid last year, which means that they were prepared to kill people. Can you put this into context for listeners who have maybe never heard of the RCMP?
Jen Wickham: So the RCMP were established in Canada as a police force specifically designed to manage the First Nations population. So they were the ones who were sent out and forced our people off of their territories where they were living and forced them onto reserves. The RCMP were the ones who went and stole all of the children and sent them to residential schools. They historically and currently will assist in the theft of our children through the Ministry of Children and Family Development. And now, of course, we’re seeing them fulfilling that historic role in escorting industry into our territories as well. So the entire history of the RCMP is built around access to our land and our resources.
David: So I’ve noticed that both the government and also corporate media have been really actively obscuring the demands that the Wet’suwet’en chiefs have made very clear. Can you can you clarify what these are especially given this misinformation campaign?
Jen Wickham: So the hereditary chiefs have been adamant that they are not willing to have nation to nation discussions while under the gun. And so they are asking very clearly, to the government, to have the RCMP detachment at 29 km removed from our territory. And the CIRG, which are the E division of the RCMP, cease patrols on our territory. So that we can have free and open conversations with the government. You can’t enter into any discussions in good faith while our people are under constant threat of the RCMP. The other condition that they have asked for is that Coastal GasLink stop work while we’re having these nation to nation discussions. You know, legal precedent shows that if there is title established, then any project that is currently on their territory, they will have to go back and have free prior and informed consent. And the province has already agreed to have these discussions with us about how we are going to implement our rights and title. But they have already approved this project knowing that we demand free prior and informed consent for any projects in our territory. And the province of British Columbia has already adopted UNDRIP, which is the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which very clearly states that any project within our territories requires free prior and informed consent. So the province is saying one thing and acting in a completely opposite way.
Sam: So after the RCMP incursion and the government’s failure to meet the demands, a call for solidarity came from the Unist’ot’en and Gidimt’en camps to Shut Down Canada. When the call first went out, did you have any sense of the uprising that was going to emerge?
Jen Wickham: No. (Laughter) The response from Indigenous people and settler people all across so-called Canada has been overwhelming and humbling and inspiring. I don’t think, I don’t think that any of us… I don’t think any of us realized how much support was actually out there until this happened. I know that it was really eye opening for our hereditary chiefs when we took a recent trip out to Mohawk territory in Tyendinaga and Kahnawake, to see the kind of support and solidarity that was happening all across the country and to meet the people on the ground and to shake their hands and thank them for what they were doing. We definitely wouldn’t be in the position that we are right now if it wasn’t for our allies like the Mohawks that are standing up. And the youth, the indigenous youth all across Canada, that are using their voices for their future and better taking the stand and fighting back against the government, who is clearly not following their own laws and their own legal precedents. It’s really…I feel a huge sense of relief in knowing that other people care and understand how much we’ve been going through and are willing to back us up, and stand with us, and educate themselves and their peers and their communities. You know, it feels like we’ve been doing this for so long on our own. And I know that Unist’ot’en has been doing it for a lot longer and it’s difficult when you’re in an isolated community like we are to get the message that people are out there and they’re standing with us and they’re they’re risking their own freedom because they understand that what happens to one of us happens to all of us. And that’s really encouraging. And I think that it’s really empowering for hereditary chiefs to see that and to see people out on the front lines and saying, you can’t push these people around. You can’t force them off of their territories. You can’t force the project through. We have sovereignty and we have jurisdiction. And to know that that message is being heard and being supported is really, it’s kind of surreal to be sitting here in Smithers seeing all the actions that are taking place and people supporting us.
David: Yeah, I mean, the Shut Down Canada actions that are happening faster than I can even keep track of, in a lot of ways it seems unprecedented. And I’m wondering what histories of resistance are at the front of your mind as you’re watching this all unfold.
Jen Wickham: My God, I haven’t had much time to think! (Laughter) Certainly we have a history of resistance in Canada and definitely things like Oka come to mind, Gustafsen Lake come to mind, and current resistance is happening as well. You know, the Secwepemc people in Blue River with the Tiny House Warriors and even in the north here, we’ve seen more recent resistance to industries such as the Tahltan people and the Shell Project, and resistance in Haida Gwaii to logging, on the coast with the fish farms. And, you know, this isn’t a new fight for Indigenous people. This has been ongoing since contact. And we know that this has been the main drive for Canada, to displace us and dispossess us of our land so that they can have access to our resources. This isn’t new. This has been something that’s been going on ever since contact first happened. And so for a lot of these people and a lot of these communities, I think everything just came together in the perfect way for people to unite and stand together. And every Indigenous person across Turtle Island knows what it is that we’re feeling and what we’re going through. So yeah, I guess on one hand I’m not surprised. The thing that is surprising is the unity of actions that are happening. It’s overwhelming and I get really emotional when I talk about it because I know that there are people that are out there taking time away from their families, from their jobs, from their children, and are doing that all in support of the fight that we are in because they recognize that we’re all connected. And that means a lot.
Sam: And on that note of solidarity, this uprising is ongoing. It seems like every few hours there’s a new development and a new solidarity action. If people want to keep up on what’s happening and get involved, what’s the best way for them to do that?
Jen Wickham: So on our Facebook page, we have an ongoing event. It’s pinned to the top of our page. And people can comment or message with their solidarity events and it will be added to the description of the event so that other people can go and look and see if there’s something happening in their community. And the solidarity events are a really important piece, it’s keeping the pressure on the government to do the right thing. It’s also a good way to educate the broader community about what’s happening. And I always want to encourage other Indigenous people to start enforcing their laws and reoccupying their territories. And for allies and settlers, I think it’s really important to support those actions wherever it is that you are. So if you’re living in Anishinaabe territory or Mohawk territory or Coast Salish territory, Secwepemc territory, building those relationships is going to be really key because this is a turning point in our history and we need all our Indigenous people to be able to implement their jurisdiction on their lands.
Sam: Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. I know that you are incredibly busy and David and I are both really grateful for the time that you’ve just taken.
Jen Wickham: You bet.
Sam: Treyf Podcast is Sam Bick and David Zinman. A huuuuge thanks to CKUT 90.3FM, where we record this podcast under the shadow of the giant cross of secularism, on occupied Kanien’kehá ka territory.
David: Thanks as always to Saxsyndrum and Socalled for the music that you heard in this episode, and to everybody who helps makes Treyf Podcast happen.
Sam: You can check us out on the social medias at Treyf, T-R-E-Y-F, on Twitter, on Facebook, and on Instagram.
David: Please send comments, suggestions or hate mail to treyfpodcast [at] gmail [dot] com.
Sam: More episode soon.