Canadian Police arrested five land defenders in a Gidimt’en village site in Wet’suwet’en territory, in what is now British Columbia, last week, near the construction route of TCEnergy’s controversial Coastal GasLink pipeline. The five arrests, mostly women and including a Gidimt’en Chief’s daughter, were for purportedly not cooperating with a police search in response to a complaint by a pipeline worker claiming a chainsaw was stolen and alleging “swarming incidents.”

The arrests come just weeks after Canada announced a systemic investigation of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police over potential violations of local laws protecting indigenous rights in British Columbia, national laws in Canada, and international law under the UN. Lacking approval from local leaders, building the GasLink pipeline across traditional Wet’suwet’en territory is illegal, and Land defenders say the RCMP and GasLink’s private security forces increased their harassment and surveillance of Wet’suwet’en members in the days before the arrests.

“Framing us as criminals, and not just Indigenous people on our territories” is a “strategy by RCMP and Coastal GasLink of making us look like criminals that the public should be scared of,” Sleydo’, a Gidimt’en spokesperson told the CBC. In a press release, Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Na’Moks said “This harassment and intimidation is exactly the kind of violence designed to drive us from our homelands. The constant threat of violence and criminalization for merely existing on our own lands must have been what our ancestors felt when Indian agents and RCMP were burning us out of our homes as late as the 50s in our area.” (CBC, Grist)