Water protectors criminalized for defending Wedzin Kwa, now CGL reports drilling has resulted in two bentonite clay spills

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Video: “The only violence that happens here on our territories is at the hands of the state and at the hands of the RCMP. At the hands of the people that are directing the RCMP to bring violence into our communities, to criminalize us, to harass us, to surveil us, to jail us, and essentially to commit genocide. If we don’t have our land, if don’t have our water, if we don’t have a future, our people aren’t going to want to live.” – Wet’suwet’en water protector Sleydo’.

CBC reports: “The B.C. Energy Regulator (BCER) is investigating after Coastal GasLink (CGL) reported two spills of clay lubricant while it was tunnelling under the Morice River to build a natural gas pipeline through northern British Columbia.”

The drill lubricant is bentonite clay.

The article adds: “Bentonite clay is fine particulate slurry used to install pipeline in the tunnelling process being used at the Morice River crossing. Turbidity — high levels of sediment suspended in water — can be deadly to fish and their eggs and destructive of habitat.”

In this brief statement, CGL provided few details on the spills and downplayed the impact: “One of the two clay deposits was identified in a small tributary on the west side of the Morice River. With winter conditions still present, there is little water flow in the tributary. The other deposit was located on land and has been isolated.”

Drilling began in September

The drilling under Wedzin Kwa began in September 2022.

CGL had said the tunnelling time could take up to three months. It’s unclear why that work is not complete almost seven months after the drilling started.

Hereditary Chief says “drill stuck”

On April 5, Hereditary Chief Gisdaywa from the Wet’suwet’en nation told RBC, the lead financier of the CGL pipeline, that the drill under Wedzin Kwa is stuck. Stand.earth tweeted: “This has not been shared to the public yet.”

Stand.earth also noted: “This is 1 week after raids on Wet’suwet’en yintah.”

C-IRG violence against water protectors

The RCMP community-industry response group (C-IRG) has conducted four raids on Wet’suwet’en territory against water protectors defending Wedzin Kwa.

In the summer of 2022, RCMP Inspector Ken Floyd, the commander of the C-IRG, had spoken to the Board of Directors of the Regional District of Bulkley-Nechako. Houston Today later reported: “Minutes of the meeting kept by the regional district indicate that as CGL increases activity, there will be a requirement by the police to escalate care of the workers and to improve response times ‘in the area to accommodate the risk’.”

Tweet by Michael Toledano.

In September 2022, Yintah Access posted: “In advance of CGL’s drilling operations, Wet’suwet’en community members have faced increased surveillance and harassment from RCMP’s C-IRG unit (a police unit created to facilitate pipeline construction) and a series of private security contractors. Wet’suwet’en village sites remain under 24 hour surveillance, while police have made several arbitrary violent arrests, including with pepper spray.”

On November 4, 2022, Wet’suwe’ten Hereditary Chief Na’Moks was threatened with arrest by CGL security, supported by RCMP C-IRG Staff Sergeant Jason Charney, when he attempted to exercise his territorial right to observe the drill pad site at Wedzin Kwa.

Video: Charney on Wet’suwet’en territory, October 9, 2021.

Photo: In a recent CBC interview, RCMP C-IRG Gold Commander John Brewer says he stands by his unit’s tactics.

On March 9, the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission (CRCC) announced it would be undertaking a “systemic investigation” of the C-IRG including their actions in relation to “the Coastal GasLink Ltd injunction on Wet’suwet’en traditional territory”.

“Genocide in action”

Wet’suwet’en water protector Sleydo’ has described the CGL pipeline as genocidal. A genocide financed by RBC and facilitated by the RCMP C-IRG.

She explained: “Our identity as Indigenous peoples is tied to the land, to our water, to the fact that we harvest salmon every year. We know that the people who are killing themselves are the people who don’t have that connection to who they are as an Indigenous person. And if we don’t have that our people will die. And that’s the genocide.”

Defund CGL, abolish the C-IRG

Wet’suwet’en water protectors backed by allies have been calling on RBC to defund CGL. The Wet’suwet’en made this appeal at the RBC shareholders meeting in Saskatoon on April 5. Rather than being admitted into the main room with shareholders, land defenders and hereditary chiefs were segregated into a “second-class room”.

A new Abolish C-IRG coalition comprised of land defenders, frontline activists, lawyers, professors, students, settler-allies and organizations is also calling for an end to C-IRG violence against water protectors.

To join a webinar on Sunday April 16 on RCMP C-IRG violence against environmental defenders, that will feature Wet’suwet’en water protector Jocey Alec, click here. 200+ people have already registered for this webinar, please join them in this important discussion.

If you are on Algonquin territory/Ottawa, you can join a protest in front of the Prime Minister’s Office on Wednesday April 19 calling for the abolition of the C-IRG.

For more on previous bentonite spills in the Fraser River with the TMX pipeline, in twelve river crossings in Minnesota with the Line 3 pipeline, and in the Withlacoochee River in Georgia with the Sabal Trail pipeline: Wet’suwet’en water protectors oppose Coastal GasLink micro-tunneling gas pipeline under sacred Wedzin Kwa river (January 9, 2022).

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