Across Canada Indigenous land protectors and settler allies are standing in solidarity behind the hereditary chiefs of Wet’suwet’en in their refusal to allow coastal gas link’s pipeline from crossing their territory to transport natural gas out of the country.
These protests are similar to the Idle No More movement but this time government buildings and transportation services such as ferries, trains and roadways are being blocked all over Turtle Island in an effort to bring widespread attention to the responsibility of the government to uphold Indigenous land rights and Law.
This movement is rapidly gaining momentum and is largely globalized through social networking with growing solidarity in the effort to halt the supreme court injunction on Wet’suwet’en lands in what is turning out to be an unstoppable public force with no end in sight unless Coastal Gas Link shuts down operations.
Not many of the young land protectors today were alive during the Oka Crisis but the line between land defenders and the police has a striking familiarity to what is happening on Wet’suwet’en territory, only now the Wet’suwet’en have the power of communication in their hands – the internet – and legal observers can ensure that everything is filmed, recorded and documented so that there is no media or police propaganda created to have reason to arrest or instill fear in those that might still be unsure of the truth behind what is happening during these protests.
With their faces covered in bandanas, the Oka led a rebellion that has not been forgotten. Oka was a historical legacy of high tensions between Indigenous peoples and the RCMP that unfortunately resulted in a life lost. This is a reminder to everyone that it is important that these protests remain peaceful and that no one gets hurt or becomes violent on either side, this includes discouraged travelers with missed connections when blocked from travel.
Some bystanders don’t understand the analogy behind blocking transportation, but the significance behind these acts is to show that the same thing is happening to some Wet’suwet’en people on their own territory, they are being blocked from accessing their own land, all for the installation of a pipeline in a nation that is divided on where they stand – for or against the pipeline.
Some people are concerned that the #shutdowncanada might result in riots. Here in the capital of B.C., bridges were blocked by Wet’suwet’en supporters and the momentum seems to be gaining to the point that no one can see an end as neither side is backing down. Through it all, we must keep in mind that our young ones are watching, listening and learning from everything that is happening around them so we must be able to educate them in a good way about what is happening on the ground.
In the Northwest Territories, there are no hereditary chiefs. All chiefs are an elected council under the Indian Act but Elders Councils can be considered hereditary. So, I ask you this, what if the elders stood up and disagreed with the elected chiefs on matters of land protection on the basis of having to say yes or no to a pipeline? Government and industry has unfortunately muddied the waters as they have successfully pitted Indigenous leaders against each other through colonized separation strategies.
Let’s go back for a moment to the time when Northern communities clearly shut down the pipeline during the Berger Enquiry in the legendary era of the Indian Brotherhood. Would the chiefs go through with that same pipeline today? If so, does that mean that the work of our leaders of the day was all for naught. Does it mean that Indigenous laws evolve overtime to accept monetary gain over nature? I think not. There are certain protocols that align with Indigenous laws and values that will never budge. Indigenous laws need to be upheld but government structured democracy has tried to abolish historical Indigenous consensus making protocols under Indigenous law for well over a century.
Government and industry can no longer use money as a ploy to coerce Indigenous leaders into signing land development deals to bring their community out of an impoverished state that was purposefully created by colonialism, it’s just plain shameful.
Behind closed doors decision making power imbalances are nowhere near working for the general public anymore either. This is glaringly apparent by the sheer number of people coming out to support Wet’suwet’en’s cause, demanding the government to listen in a new type of urgent call for government action.
The north is driven by the mining industry, so it makes me wonder just how many people are willing to walk away from the promise of a job in an industry that has the potential to ruin the land and water – case in point – Giant Mine. Just how many Northerners are willing to stand behind the Wet’suwet’en’s fight and work towards finding alternatives to jobs that will protect people, animals, land and water. It’s time to find a new way of doing things.
We are now in a technological revolution and the north is in the perfect location to test new projects for future climate action, but the North’s industrial economic driving force is in its own squalor. Industry and government have ignored Indigenous peoples and failed to consult robustly before starting projects while failing to take into account that respect needs to be garnered. Project proponents need to be careful not to overstep their boundaries while land negotiations are taking place.
With the amount of land protectors getting arrested by demonstrating the assertion of inherent Indigenous rights and title, the question needs to be asked; are we going to have enough courts to deal with the pending charges that could potentially come out of the arrests that are being made during this movement? Some land defenders feel that there is nothing left to lose yet everything all at once. What more damage has to be done to the land and people for something to change? I’m afraid to ask but I know one thing, land protectors are not going to stop, these demonstrations seem only to be getting started.
The issue in the start of this protest was that the coastal gas link and the province of British Columbia did not fully consider or respect the rights of Indigenous peoples and forcibly removed Wet’suwet’en youth and Matriarchs from their land which has led has to the opening of a much larger conversation. Notice has been taken of the countless injustices that are happening in this country. Injustices that are happening on such a large scale that the Indigenous peoples of this country seem to be the only ones left with the legal authority and a fighting chance to make things right.
With that being said, there may be some that are standing with Wet’suwet’en as way of furthering their own agendas for environmental activism, that is all good and well but they also must understand the historical legacy that is one of the driving forces behind this movement, it’s not only about the Wet’suwet’en anymore, it’s about ending suppression.
It’s about Indigenous sovereignty. It’s about empowering Indigenous peoples and protecting Indigenous land rights.
It’s about holding Canada to the truth of a Treaty that Canada has tried to stomp out.