Week Five: Conflict at Unist’ot’en – Indigenous Sovereignty, Resistance, and the Security State

This week’s reading is from Andrew Crosby and Jeffrey Monaghan’s 2018 book Policing Indigenous Movements: Dissent and the Security State. Before diving into the reading, however, we suggest you take some time, if you haven’t already, to review the RCMP raid on Unist’ot’en (summarized in this news article from several weeks ago), and to flip through some of the documents central to this action. We’ve written up a short summary below, followed by an introduction to this week’s reading.

The RCMP at Unist’ot’en

On December 17, 2018 The Supreme Court of BC issued an injunction—that is, a court order—at the request of Coastal GasLink Pipeline, stating that community members of Unist’ot’en could not enforce their checkpoints and must allow access to pipeline workers and peace offers. On January 7, 2019, the RCMP raided the Gidimt’en checkpoint at Unist’ot’en, arresting 14 people for attempting to restrict their access. The RCMP cited the December injunction as justification for this raid, though critics have noted that the injunction did not order the RCMP to intervene. The RCMP also cited as justification a statement published on their website (since retracted) in which they interpreted the Delgamuukw decision as concluding that title had not been established because a retrial had not taken place (the only place I have seen this reported is on APTN near the end of this article: https://aptnnews.ca/2019/01/11/trudeau-horgan-under-fire-for-downplaying-aboriginal-title-following-rcmp-raid-of-wetsuweten/).

Since this police action, a tentative deal was reached between Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and the province to allow pipeline surveying work to take place on the territory in exchange for the end of the RCMP raid, and a “reconciliation agreement” was signed. The 14 people arrested were soon released; recently, all charges against them were dropped.

None of this means, however, that the conflict is over. Wet’suwet’en hereditary leadership describes the signing of these agreements as the best way to keep the people of Unist’ot’en safe from further police raids. In other words, they are forced agreements, reached under duress—a far cry from UNDRIP standards of free, prior, and informed consent. As Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief Na’moks has said, “Reconciliation is not at the barrel of a gun.” Resistance is, therefore, scaling up. Most recently, members of the Likhts’amisyu clan, another Wet’suwet’en house group, have begun reoccupying their territory and setting up their own camp, also on the path of the Coastal GasLink pipeline. As well, Chief Na’moks and Freda Huson, Unist’ot’en house group spokesperson, invited the UN special rapporteur on Indigenous Rights to come to Unist’ot’en to witness human rights violations on the territory, including the ongoing criminalization of the Unist’ot’en group for exercising their established land rights.

The Reading

It is the criminalization of Indigenous resurgence that we will be looking at in the reading for this week. We will be reading Chapter 2, “Northern Gateway Pipelines: Policing for Extractive Capitalism” in Policing Indigenous Movements: Dissent and the Security State by Andrew Crosby and Jeffrey Monaghan.

Crosby and Monaghan, both settler Canadian scholars of surveillance, security, and policing policy, use the freedom of information act to access previously classified documents and communiqués within Canada’s “security state” to investigate the way in which the Canadian security state perceives, portrays, and acts against Indigenous resistance movements. They define the security state as:

a sprawling array of national security and policing agencies, industry and corporate partners, and public bureaucracies that are increasingly integrated through surveillance, intelligence databanks and institutional partnerships in efforts to pre-empt or disrupt potential threats in the ‘war on terror,’ (p. 3)

They argue that the Canadian security state bears witness to deep-set and ongoing understandings of Indigenous sovereignty as a physical and ideological threat to the Canadian “sovereignty” and to the “good of the nation.” (For instance, a 2015 federal document described the Wet’suwet’en resistance a “threat to national interests” lead by an “aboriginal extremist.”) In other words, they argue that, in Canada, the idea of “war on terror” has been extended beyond the notion of extremist groups that pose a threat of physical violence to domestic civilian populations to include peaceful, domestic groups who are seen to pose a political and economic threats to the Canadian status quo.

A couple of questions to get you started, if you wish:

  1. How is the concept of “governance” and/or jurisdiction discussed in this chapter? Who has power, whose interests are at stake, and whose interests are prioritized?
  2. How does what we already know of the traditional governance systems of the Wet’suwet’en, recorded and recognized in Delgamuukw, inform this reading?
  3. How does this reading help us understand the most recent police action on Unist’ot’en?

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