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December 3, 2012

Surveyors evicted from First Nations land


A video taken by the Wet'suwet'en First Nation as they ejected surveyors from their territory.

Surveyors collecting data for the design of a billion dollar pipeline in B.C. were accused of trespassing and ordered to leave the territory by members of a local First Nation, who set up a roadblock to stop all construction activity until further notice.

“We have had some surveyors who did run into members of the Wet’suwet’en and were asked to leave the area,” said Apache Canada spokesperson Paul Wyke.

“They complied immediately and left. We benefit from strong First Nations involvement and support for the project and will continue to consult with First nations along the proposed route.”

Kitimat LNG partners hired Can-Am Geomatics to survey the route for the proposed $1 billion Pacific Trail Pipeline (PTP).

The project involves the construction of a 463-kilometre underground pipeline from Summit Lake to the company’s proposed $4.2 billion Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) export terminal in Kitimat. The PTP is a partnership between managing operator Apache Canada Ltd. (40 per cent), EOG Resources Canada Inc. and Encana Corporation (30 per cent each).

It was established to transport natural gas from Western Canada to Asian markets.

“Some initial survey work is being undertaken, which involves doing ground truthing for the area, where the pipeline is proposed to be built,” said Wyke.

Ground truthing is the process of sending surveyors to gather data in the field to compare with remote sensing data collected by aerial photography, satellite radar or infrared images.

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief Toghestiy said he has evicted Can-Am surveyors from the territory two times in the last week.

“We found out on November 20th that surveyors were parked on the road into the territory, so we closed the road,” he said. “

A group from Can-Am came to pick up the surveyors later that evening. Just at that moment, they were issued an eagles feather of trespass, told they were not welcome and told that they are not ever allowed to return to Unis’tot’en land.”


Wet'suwet'en hereditary chief Toghestiy picks up equipment that was left behind by surveyors from Can-Am Geomatics to ensure it can be returned in good condition.

The surveyors returned the next day to get their equipment and Toghestiy engaged them in a discussion about Free Prior and Informed Consent, which is a United Nation’s legal protocol that guarantees minimum standards to support any community negotiating the use of their natural resources.

Free Prior Informed Consent is also part of Aboriginal peoples’ right to self-determination because it recognizes their right to make informed decisions about matters that affect them, their communities and their lands

“They were surveying for the pipeline, but refused to show us where they were surveying and the route, which is one of the reasons they weren’t allowed back in the territory,” said Toghestiy.

“When they were asked how their action will benefit the Unis’tot’en, they had no answer.”

The Can-Am surveyors declined to share information and could not answer questions about their unauthorized entry, so they were not allowed back into the territory to collect their equipment.

“We picked up their gear to keep it safe for them,” said Toghestiy.

“If the company wants a meaningful discussion, they can come get it back.”

Toghestiy said he ran into more surveyors, while visiting with friends from the Bear Clan on Nov. 25.

A Bear Clan spokesperson approached them and asked if they knew the chief of the territory.

The surveyors did not know the chief and did not ask for permission to enter the territory.

They were told to leave.

There are five clans that make up the Wet’suwet’en, said Toghestiy.

Three of the clans are opposed to all pipelines that are currently being proposed to cross through their territories, including PTP and Enbridge’s Northern Gateway.

Despite this fact, the B.C. government approved the construction of the PTP in April.

In anticipation of this decision, a log cabin was built for two Wet’suwet’en families, who are living on the GPS centerline of the proposed pipeline corridors.

Apache claims to have reached an agreement with 15 out of 16 First Nations bands located along the pipeline route.

The agreement resulted in the First Nations receiving $3 million for ratifying the deal and the province has provided $32 million for First Nations to acquire an equity position in the pipeline.

Toghestiy said Apache’s claim is extremely misleading.

He said that these parties are not dealing with hereditary chiefs, who are the legitimate title holders of these lands.

Under Canadian law, the Supreme Court Dalgamuukw case decision explicitly recognizes the authority of hereditary chiefs, not elected Indian Act bands or councils.

For this reason, he considers any further unauthorized incursions into traditional Wet’suwet’en territory as an act of colonialism, as well as an act of aggression towards their sovereignty.

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