CoyoteCampRaid Wet'suwet'en Coastal GasLink The Narwhal 07

In photos: a view of RCMP arrests of media, Indigenous land defenders on Wet’suwet’en territory

Police made arrests Friday, triggering international attention of Canada's support for the Coastal GasLink pipeline, which is opposed by hereditary chiefs

In the pre-dawn morning on Friday, Nov. 19, Sleydo’ Molly Wickham, a wing chief in Cas Yikh house of the Gidimt’en clan, checks communications in a tiny house stationed next to a Coastal GasLink drill site along the Wedzin Kwa (Morice) River.

Although light hasn’t yet broken into the small wooden structure, Wickham is already performing media interviews. Her fellow supporters in the one-room structure begin to sit up as they hear Wickham tell a reporter that “several RCMP buses have been spotted coming up the hill.”

By afternoon an RCMP tactical team and specially trained officers with the Community-Industry Response Group is advancing on the small structure, with snipers and canine units at the ready. Shaylynn Sampson, a Gitxsan supporter, has her ear to the door, listening, when the action comes. She leaps back moments before an axe smashes the door, sending jagged shards of wood flying into the crowded space. A police dog barks and whines incessantly and a chainsaw snarls as RCMP continue to tear down the door.

Inside, five peaceful land defenders stand waiting for their inevitable arrest. They do not resist. They hold no weapons. An officer, armed with an assault rifle and clad in military-style gear, pushes the barrel of his gun through the broken door. 

“Lower your gun!” Wickham yells. “This is sovereign Wet’suwet’en land, you guys need to leave right now. You have no authority here.” Wickham asked the RCMP if they had a warrant to enter the residence. The RCMP responded they were entering under the authority of a Coastal GasLink injunction, secured against opponents of the 670-kilometre gas pipeline in December of 2019.

The RCMP’s use of force on this day will become roundly criticized as excessive as a response to a small collective of peaceful Indigenous pipeline opponents. More than 40 media outlets and press-freedom organizations have called on Canada’s Public Safety Minister, Marco Mendicino, to investigate the RCMP’s arrest of journalists and prevent them from taking place in the future.

In total, 15 people, including myself and documentary filmmaker Michael Toledano, were arrested that day and incarcerated by the RCMP for several nights under civil contempt of court charges. More than 30 individuals were arrested throughout the week. Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who have staunchly opposed the construction of pipelines across their unceded territory in northern B.C., issued an eviction order against the company on Jan. 4, 2020, but work on the pipeline is ongoing.

Upon the arrests of media, RCMP officers confiscated recording devices, so the public has been unable to see documentary photos and footage of Friday’s arrest until recently.

Shaylynn Sampson, Gitxsan Lax Gibuu Wilp Spookxw, left, and Sleydo’ Molly Wickham rest in the tiny house at Coyote camp in Gidimt’en territory near Houston, B.C., on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021.
Fireworks are set off from the heat of a fire at a barricade constructed on the road outside of Coyote camp on Thursday.
A structure built as a barricade was set aflame on Thursday, presumably to deter police from coming in as the sun was setting.
The tiny house residence at Coyote camp where RCMP officers arrested seven individuals, including two journalists on Friday, Nov. 19.
A Gidimt’en flag flies on the camp kitchen as the sun rises on Friday.
Wickham rises in the predawn to check communications and to take a media interview.
Media and supporters rise for the day in the tiny house. Documentary filmmaker Michael Toledano, left, was arrested by the RCMP, despite notifying officers he is a member of the media.
Wickham and Sampson start to plan for the day at the Coyote camp.
Militarized police move in to Coyote camp on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021. The Gidimt’en clan held Coyote camp, adjacent to the Coastal GasLink pipeline right of way and a drill pad site, since Sept. 25, 2021. Coastal GasLink has had an injunction since December of 2019, preventing pipeline opponents from blocking access to their worksites and public forestry roads.
Wickham covers her face with a red hand print, to signify missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, as she waits for police.
Militarized police run to cut power, radio and internet supply to the tiny house prior to breaking down the door and conducting arrests.
Wickham and Sampson peer out to monitor police activity prior to their arrest.
Sampson stands at the door moments before police break it down with an axe and a chainsaw.
A piece of the door flies through the air as police breach the tiny house and arrest all who are inside.
Supporters keep their hands raised as officers enter the house.
An RCMP officer drags a woman in a small one-room cabin in Gidimt'en territory
RCMP officers lean over an individual lying on the ground as they perform arrests in a small one-room wooden structure in Gidimt'en territory
RCMP officers make arrests at Coyote Camp
A crowd of officers, including militarized police, wait in the courtyard outside of the tiny house dwelling as supporters and media are arrested.

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Hey there keener,
Thanks for being an avid reader of our in-depth journalism, which is read by millions and made possible thanks to more than 4,200 readers just like you.

The Narwhal's growing team is hitting the ground running in 2022 to tell stories about the natural world that go beyond doom-and-gloom headlines — and we need your support.

Our model of independent, non-profit journalism means we can pour resources into doing the kind of environmental reporting you won’t find anywhere else in Canada, from investigations that hold elected officials accountable to deep dives showcasing the real people enacting real climate solutions.

There’s no advertising or paywall on our website (we believe our stories should be free for all to read), which means we count on our readers to give whatever they can afford each month to keep The Narwhal’s lights on.

The amazing thing? Our faith is being rewarded. We hired seven new staff over the past year and won a boatload of awards for our features, our photography and our investigative reporting.

With your help, we’ll be able to do so much more in 2022. If you believe in the power of independent journalism, join our pod by becoming a Narwhal today. (P.S. Did you know we’re able to issue charitable tax receipts?)

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