New details have emerged about the militarized campaign of state and corporate persecution targeting land defenders of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in so-called Canada. The third annual Peace and Unity Summit was held August 15-16 in Gidimt’en Clan territory, home of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.

Leaders at Peace and Unity Summit, August 15-16, 2023, Gidimt’en Clan territory, Wet’suwet’en First Nation. (Photo: Sydney Coles)

Wet’suwet’en leaders detailed how private security operatives and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) have attacked and terrorized Indigenous activists using tactics taken directly from a U.S. counterinsurgency “playbook” written by David Petraeus, retired U.S. Army general and an architect of U.S. invasions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

For over a decade, the Wet’suwet’en First Nation has resisted the Coastal GasLink Pipeline project, which would devastate the yintah, the Wet’suwet’en unceded homeland. Coastal GasLink is a partnership between the Canadian fossil fuel company TC Energy and the private equity giant Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR), which bought a 65% stake in the project in 2019. 

In 2018, Coastal GasLink got an injunction against protesters, allowing Canada’s settler authorities to occupy sovereign Wet’suwet’en territory. Since then, Wet’suwet’en land defenders have endured a coordinated onslaught of surveillance, intimidation, and brutality. 

Over the past four years, RCMP SWAT teams have raided the land defenders’ camp three times, arresting over 75 land defenders, as well as journalists covering the protests. In the most recent raid in 2021, RCMP arrested over a dozen protestors. 

Raids: ‘a form of war’

Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Na’Moks described the 2021 raids as, “a form of war, physical and psychological.” (ricochet.media, Aug. 17)

Police, abetted by private security guards, regularly harass land defenders, following them, conducting traffic stops, and searching their cabins — often in the middle of the night. One land defender reported receiving a rape threat via a CB radio from a Coastal GasLink employee, which police did nothing to investigate. 

Such violence goes hand-in-hand with pipeline projects such as Coastal GasLink, which directly contribute to the ongoing epidemic of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women (MMIW). “Man camps” that house pipeline employees have become centers of human trafficking, sexual violence, and murder, where thousands of Indigenous women have disappeared or been killed. In Canada, the homicide rate for Indigenous women is at least six times higher than for non-Indigenous women. (tinyurl.com/yc7ehnnz)

“We absolutely won’t stand down; we have every right to be here,” said land defender Sleydo’ Molly Wickham, a spokesperson for the Gidimt’en Clan. “This is an occupation of our land. Our ancestors have been here for thousands of years, and they think they can come in here and harass us, intimidate us, fine us, jail us to the point that we’re going to get off our own land? They’re trying to remove us like they always have from our own territories.” (Ricochet Media, May 8, 2022)

As Wet’suwet’en leaders described at the Summit, many of these brutal tactics come from “Insurgencies and Countering Insurgencies,” a U.S. counterinsurgency “playbook” written by Petraeus, a former CIA Director and commander of the NATO/U.S. occupations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. 

In 2013, the year after he left the CIA, Petraeus joined KKR as Chairman of its Global Institute. “I identify ways to reduce risk,”  Petraeus said of his work with KKR. “Once we’ve made investments, we help companies as they run into problems.” (popular resistance.org, Aug. 20)

Collusion between U.S., Canadian oppressors

Given the information revealed by Wet’suwet’en leaders, it appears Petraeus used old contacts to “solve” the “problems” posed by Indigenous resistance to Coastal GasLink. RCMP Superintendent John Brewer commands the Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG), the taskforce assigned to quash Indigenous resistance to corporate pipelines, mining, and other settler resource-extraction on Indigenous lands. 

As C-IRG commander, Brewer oversaw the RCMP occupation of Wet’suwet’en land. Prior to this assignment, he served on Petraeus’s staff as Senior NATO Police Adviser in Afghanistan. 

The roles of Petraeus and Brewer in persecuting the Wet’suwet’en highlights the links between Western imperialism overseas and the ongoing settler colonial occupation and genocide of Indigenous nations on Turtle Island. 

Police and security forces have regularly used such counter-insurgency tactics against Indigenous land defenders and water protectors, such as at Standing Rock, located in North Dakota and South Dakota, where private contractors used attack dogs, water cannons, tear gas grenades and rubber bullets against unarmed protesters.

“These men are trained to kill where they have been fighting, they probably killed before and now they’re pointing guns at Indigenous people,” said Gitxsan leader Hup-Wil-Ax-A Kirby Muldoe, describing threats from police and corporate security trained in counterinsurgency tactics. 

Yet despite this onslaught from settler authorities, Wet’suwet’en land defenders vowed to continue their resistance. 

‘I am standing in my truth’

“I can’t be afraid of anything if I am standing in my truth,” said Geylene Morris, a Wet’suwet’en activist and one of the organizers of the Peace and Unity Summit. “If there was nothing for me to stand on, no truth of my ancestors to stand on, I probably would be scared. All of my ancestors who did this before me are behind me, and in all the work that I have done, my daughter knows that I will keep her safe, even when I am no longer on this Earth.” 

The campaign of surveillance, persecution, and violence the Wet’suwe’ten are fighting against reveals the implacable drive of the capitalist settler system to continue exploiting the Indigenous lands and resources on which it depends. 

The U.S. and Canada are among the largest fossil fuel producers and exporters in the world, releasing billions of tons of CO2 every year, even as climate disasters multiply. 

Even the neoliberal “green solutions” to the climate crisis, such as electric vehicles (EVs) and wind power, entail “rare-earth” strip mining and wind-farm development that is bringing further destruction to Indigenous lands. 

To end this genocidal regime of resource extraction, we must be in solidarity with Wet’suwe’ten in their struggle against the Coastal GasLink Pipeline, which is devastating their homelands. 

As wildfires continue to rage throughout Indigenous lands in so-called Canada and worldwide, it is becoming increasingly clear that a genuine solution to the ecological devastation inflicted by capitalism can only come through full sovereignty and self-determination for all Indigenous nations. 

Will Hodgkinson

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Will Hodgkinson

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