Material from a Wet’suwet’en checkpoint remains along the Morice West Forest Service Road. (Houston Today photo)

Complaints of checkpoint debris spark controversy

Gidimt’en say camp still in periodic use; Indigenous relations ministry says no action to be taken

Months after a tense standoff between RCMP and Wet’suwet’en members along the Morice West Forest Service Road over Coastal GasLink’s natural gas pipeline project, material from a checkpoint set up by a Wet’suwet’en clan remains at the side of the road.

The checkpoint was established by the Gidimt’en clan and is situated on the forest service road leading to a bridge crossing the Morice River that became the focal point of arrests earlier this year as RCMP enforced a court order providing Coastal GasLink with access to its pipeline right of way.

The material left behind from the standoff, at the 27km mark of the forest service road, consists of several lean-to structures, tarpaulins, firewood, chairs, traffic cones and signs. Photos show no apparent recent use.

READ MORE: No charges to be laid against 22 pipeline protesters arrested on Wet’suwet’en territory

One of the signs states “Visitors stay in vehicles. Quarantine in process” — something that might indicate the location was occupied in the spring when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

Molly Wickham, who speaks for the Gidimt’en clan, said the structures belong to Gisdewe, a chief, and continue to be in use.

“In the past, Wet’suwet’en have had homes and cabins and even feast halls on the territory and this is one of those spaces for members to meet and host cultural events,” she said. “This is not an abandoned ‘camp’ but a permanent gathering place for Gidimt’en.”

“Gidimt’en have full jurisdiction to build and maintain structures and homes on our territory. People have been staying there periodically and are back and forth doing work outside of camp. There isn’t as large of a presence as before, for sure. Perhaps that is why people feel it is abandoned. I assure you, it is not abandoned. Gidimt’en still use this site and that is why there is still firewood and signs set up.”

However, some Houston locals belonging to the First Nations themselves disagree with the way the materials have been left behind.

“We have lived in Houston for quite sometime now, and the camp that is left abandoned on 27 km on the Morice is not what we call looking after the land, the keepers and protectors of the land,” said Marion Tiljoe Shepherd, a member of the Wet’suwet’en Gilseyhu – Big Frog clan. “You would think the people that put that camp would have a sense of responsibility when it comes down to the environment and to look after the prestine territories. This beautiful pristine territory is not a garbage dump, be respectful to your people they deserve that right and no disrespect.”

Shepherd, who owns a trucking company in Houston had shown her support to the CGL pipeline work earlier in February during an event organized by The North Matters, a natural resource industry lobby group. The event brought together supporters of the pipeline project and the indigenous leaders who were supporting the project.

Shephard had said during the event that everyone, including CGL and the protestors were to be blamed for how the entire situation had been handled. She had also spoken to how she and her family were ostracized because they wanted to work for the company.

“My choice is my choice. My husband and I have a job. We want to work for CGL; we want to work for the industry, and we have every right to,” said Shepherd during the event.

Inquiries about the abandoned material were made to the provincial forests, lands, natural resource operations and rural development ministry which referred them to the provincial Indigenous relations and reconciliation ministry.

In a statement, that ministry indicated the material will remain.

”According to assessment from the Ministry of Forests, access to the Morice Forest Service Road is not being impeded and the site itself poses no immediate environmental or safety risk, and no action is currently being considered at the site,” the Indigenous relations ministry stated.

In the meantime, talks between Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and the provincial and federal governments over rights and title to territory, including the Coastal GasLink right-of-way south of Houston, continue.

Those talks arose out of an agreement signed between the chiefs and the governments at the end of February, the effect of which brought protests against Coastal GasLink’s pipeline to a halt.

The agreement is to negotiate not only rights and title but a wide range of other issues including family and children services, revenue sharing and land use planning.

READ MORE: EXCLUSIVE: First look at land title memorandum between Wet’suwet’en, B.C. and Canada

“This is complex and important work, and it takes time. Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and the provincial and federal governments are all working in good faith in an accelerated process. Doing this work in the midst of a pandemic has created some additional challenges,” a provided statement from the provincial indigenous relations and reconciliation ministry stated.

“All parties are committed to taking the time needed for this important work, and committed to staying at the table however long it takes. By resolving these issues, we can avoid the uncertainty, court actions and conflicts we’ve seen in the past and work together for the benefit of all people who live in the region.”

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