A Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief told Global News on Friday the nation is “disheartened” to see what happened at the Coastal GasLink worksite this week.
“We certainly don’t, as a Wet’suwet’en people, condone this type of action,” said Chief Wihaliy’te, who is also known as Theresa Tait-Day.
RCMP in northern British Columbia said a “violent confrontation” between unknown attackers and Coastal GasLink pipeline workers happened early Thursday.
Houston RCMP said security officials with the company reported “acts of violence” by masked attackers at their worksite by the Marten Forest Service Road early Thursday morning.
“They were dressed in camouflage-type outer winter wear, their faces were disguised, they had masks over their face and they started using extreme violence against the workers,” Chief Supt. Warren Brown, North District Commander, told CKPG News.
Brown said there were torches thrown at and into the beds of pickup trucks, and that axes were used to break windows and damage vehicles with GasLink employees still inside.
“The employees were scared away, they were told to leave, which they complied with immediately,” Brown added.
He said some machines were stolen and used to damage other vehicles at the construction site.
In an update Friday afternoon, Coastal GasLink said approximately nine members of the nightshift workforce were “terrorized” during the incident.
Photo and video evidence, including imagery of the masked attackers, have been turned over to the RCMP and are part of their investigation, the company confirmed.
They said the attackers disabled lighting and video surveillance at the worksite and heavy equipment on-site was used to cause “significant damage to other heavy equipment and trailers.”
The initial damage estimate is in the millions of dollars, Coastal GasLink said.
“We are aware of reports that wrongly suggest that this attack was staged. We find these suggestions offensive and irresponsible as they only serve to retraumatize the workers who experienced the violent attack,” Kent Wilfur, vice president Project Delivery, Coastal GasLink, said in a statement.
It is not yet known who the attackers were and no one has claimed responsibility for the incident.
“I want to make it very clear. This is not a protest group we are investigating. This is not an Indigenous community we’re investigating. This is a criminal act we’re investigating,” Brown said.
Tait-Day said the Wet’suwet’en Nation does not condone these actions.
“We know we’ve had hard difficulties with Coastal GasLink in the past and we are not quite finished dealing with them,” she said. “However, as a nation, we need to start a healing process. We need to build our community and we should be looking for opportunities from industry and we shouldn’t be fighting every opportunity that comes to our table for consideration.”
She said they don’t want other people or other communities coming to their nation to fulfill their agendas.
“It certainly isn’t our Nation that is carrying out this work.”
Tait-Day added it’s important now that the government and industry support the Wet’suwet’en Nation in developing a decision-making process that is democratic and inclusive of everyone.
“Our feeling is that these are people from outside of province and we would like them to go home and leave the decision-making of these projects up to the Wet’suwet’en People. We don’t need their help.”
The Coastal GasLink project is almost 60 per cent complete and the company said it has signed agreements with all 20 elected “Indigenous groups” along the pipeline route.
If built, the 670-kilometre pipeline would transport natural gas from northeastern B.C. to a liquefied natural gas facility in coastal Kitimat, where it would be exported to global markets.
Members of the Gidimt’en Checkpoint have previously set up and maintained a blockade cutting off access to Coastal GasLink sites for more than 500 pipeline workers.
The Gidimt’en Clan, one of five in Wet’suwet’en Nation, has said advance notice is provided to Coastal GasLink every time it plans to enforce an eviction.
There is no indication this attack is related to any previous protests at the site or about the pipeline.
Coastal GasLink said work continues along the rest of the pipeline at this time.
Condemning the attack
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other politicians have condemned the attack, saying it is “inexcusable.”
B.C. Premier John Horgan issued a statement calling the attack is “reprehensible.”
“The damage and destruction are disturbing to all British Columbians,” he said. “The B.C. government understands the seriousness of this violent and criminal act. The RCMP is conducting a thorough investigation to identify and apprehend those responsible.
“My thoughts are with the workers who were traumatized by this attack and with the RCMP officer who was injured.
“Intimidation and violence should be condemned by all British Columbians.”
In addition, Mike Farnworth, the Minister of Public Safety and the Solicitor General said in a statement “there is no excuse for such violence and intimidation. All workers deserve to be protected from harassment and harm.
“This destructive attack should be condemned by all in British Columbia.”
The investigation continues.
— with files from Elizabeth McSheffrey