Members of the Unist’ot’en protest camp yesterday quizzed the RCMP about rumoured police action against the camp in a four-hour meeting between officers and hereditary chiefs.
First Nations leaders last week raised concerns police were planning mass arrests at the camp, where protestors are blocking pipeline companies from accessing traditional Unist’ot’en territory.
Camp spokesperson Freda Huson told The Interior News last week an increased police presence in the Houston area and information from the RCMP were among the reasons behind their concerns.
Police have refuted the claims, stating they have no intention to “take down” the camp.
At the request of the RCMP, hereditary chiefs from the Wet’suwet’en Nation and the Unist’ot’en house group met with police representatives including senior officer Superintendent Hilton Smee, two Aboriginal officers and a police lawyer yesterday.
In a statement posted on social media today, the Unist’ot’en Camp said leaders asked police to notify their members if they were planning any action at the camp.
“The Unist’ot’en have asked Superintendent Smee to provide the Unist’ot’en with notice prior to any planned police action to ensure the safety and security of those individuals present at the camp, and in particular children and elders,” the statement reads.
“Superintendent Smee advised that he needed time to consider this proposal and he was asked not to take any action until he gave a response.”
Questions were also raised over the classification of the forest service road which leads to the camp.
The road classification is the subject of debate because it could determine whether police have power to arrest people who are blocking it.
“The RCMP are presently operating under the assumption that the Morice Forest Service Road is a highway,” the statement reads.
“The Unist’ot’en explained why they do not agree with this categorization, based [on] several court decisions.”
The Unist’ot’en said they hoped the RCMP would work with them respectfully and maintain open lines of communication.
North District RCMP media spokesperson Corporal Dave Tyreman said the RCMP used the meeting to emphasize it was not planning to “take down” the camp.
“The RCMP was very happy to have such an opportunity for frank and open dialogue,” said Cpl Tyreman.
“We also once again re-enforced [sic] that we are impartial in the dispute and optimistic that future meetings can take place between the various stakeholders involved to find common ground and a resolution moving forward.”
He added that police would encourage, facilitate and support future meetings between First Nations and industry.
Chevron, TransCanada and Enbridge all plan to build pipelines which would cross Unist’ot’en land, which is located south of Houston, however members of the house group say they do not have consent to access the land.
TransCanada last week reported members of the camp to the RCMP after a convoy of four vehicles carrying Coastal GasLink Pipeline Project workers were turned away at an Unist’ot’en checkpoint on Chisholm Road.
Unist’ot’en later closed the roadblock to consolidate its members in one location, which Huson said was to ensure there would be more witnesses in case of police action.