Over 100 people joined hands circling around a drum circle on a brutally cold Thursday afternoon at Winnipeg’s blocked-off Portage and Main intersection.
The round dance was held in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en people and was hosted by Aboriginal Youth Opportunities (AYO!). Some demonstrators held signs reading “Water is Life”, “No access without consent” and “All eyes on Wet’suwet’en”.
This may sound like a familiar scene – exactly one year prior, a Wet’suwet’en solidarity rally and round dance was held at the very same intersection. Check out our video of the 2019 rally here.
The hereditary chiefs of the five Wet’suwet’en clans called for international solidarity on Jan. 7 2020, the anniversary of the RCMP raid of the Gidim’ten camp where 14 Wet’suwet’en were arrested while protesting the construction of TransCanada’s Coastal GasLink pipeline (CGL). Check out our backgrounder on the conflict here if you need a refresher on who the Wet’suwet’en are and why they are protesting the CGL pipeline.
The Wet’suwet’en will likely face another encounter with the RCMP after an injunction was granted to TransCanada by BC Supreme Court Judge Marguerite Church on Dec. 31, 2019. This injunction permits TransCanada to resume construction of the CGL and orders that the Wet’suwet’en evacuate the territory by Jan. 10, rendering occupation of the site illegal in the eyes of Canadian common law.
Last year’s interim injunction for TransCanada to begin construction of the CGL was granted by the same judge. This initial order was seen as giving the RCMP the green light to raid the Gidimt’en blockade on Jan. 7, 2019.
The Wet’suwet’en call for solidarity urges supporters to “light your sacred fires and come to our aid as the RCMP prepares again to enact colonial violence against Wet’suwet’en people.”
The UN Sides with the Wet’suwet’en
While TransCanada still has BC court’s backing – and, by extension, the RCMP at its disposal – for the Coastal GasLink Project, the United Nations has sided with the Wet’suwet’en. The UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) is urging Canada to immediately stop the construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, Site C dam and Coastal GasLink pipeline. The committee cited these BC-based projects lack “free, prior and informed consent” of affected Indigenous groups. British Columbia’s human rights commissioner Kasari Govender supported this conclusion, also calling for the Coastal Gaslink pipeline construction to be suspended until all of the affected Indigenous groups consent.
Free, prior and informed consent is a pivotal component of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). In November 2019, BC passed Bill-41, adopting the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act and effectively enshrining UNDRIP into provincial law. Of significance is the fact that this legislation will only apply to future resource projects, not current ones. As the Coastal GasLink pipeline project was approved prior to the implementation of Bill-41, the law is deemed to not apply in this case.
The Guardian Reveals Internal RCMP Documents
The UN’s call to halt these projects also comes in the wake of disturbing evidence brought forth by The Guardian. Guardian reporters Jaskiran Dhillon and Will Parrish uncovered RCMP documents that shone light on the institutionalized racism permeating Canada’s national police force. The UK paper’s report was released Dec. 20, 2019, exposing internal RCMP documents that revealed that the RCMP was allowed to use force with impunity and indicated that “lethal overwatch” (defined as the deployment of an officer prepared to use lethal force) was required during the Wet’suwet’en raid of Jan. 7, 2019. The documents also featured the threat of child welfare removing Indigenous children at the site from their families during the raid – a sinister call-back to the forced removal of children from their families during the residential school era.
The report prompted the #wouldyoushootmetoo hashtag to begin trending on Twitter, with both Indigenous and non-Indigenous activists across the world uploading photos of themselves holding up signs asking the hashtag question.
The RCMP responded to the report, calling The Guardian’s findings “unsubstantiated, incomplete and inflammatory.”
Corp. Madonna Saunders said, “The RCMP respects the rights of individuals to peaceful, lawful and safe protest and we are committed to facilitating a dialogue between all parties. We are impartial in this dispute and it is our hope that this can be resolved peacefully.”
It is unclear, however, how the threat of lethal force and violent arrests facilitate dialogue between all parties.
The RCMP’s claim to impartiality is questionable, given its tumultuous history as an organization. For instance, over one-third of the people shot to death by the RCMP between 2007-2017 were Indigenous.
CGL as a Continuation of Colonialism
In addition to the fear of colonial violence, the Wet’suwet’en view the injunction itself as a continuation of this colonial project. The Wet’suwet’en do not view the court injunction as legitimate, as their traditional land is unceded territory. They also argue that the elected band councils who have approved the pipeline project only have legal jurisdiction over treaty-bound reserves created under the Indian Act, which does not include unceded territory.
In response, the Wet’suwet’en community has renewed their resistance efforts against the natural gas pipeline project. The community released an eviction statement on Jan. 5. The last CGL contractor was escorted out by Wet’suwet’en Chiefs on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020.
In Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs’ Jan. 4 eviction statement of Coastal GasLink workers, they explained that this injunction infringes on their Indigenous rights:
“Anuc ‘nu’at’en (Wet’suwet’en law) is not a “belief” or a “point of view”. It is a way of sustainably managing our territories and relations with one another and the world around us, and it has worked for millennia to keep our territories intact. Our law is central to our identity. The ongoing criminalization of our laws by Canada’s courts and industrial police is an attempt at genocide, an attempt to extinguish Wet’suwet’en identity itself.”
Despite the eviction, activists’ outrage and the UN’s stance, BC Premier John Horgan said the Coastal GasLink project will be built, and that he does not believe the Wet’suwet’en opponents should have veto power over the project. “The courts have confirmed that this project can proceed, and it will proceed,” he said. “The rule of law must prevail,” he told reporters on Jan. 13.
That same day, the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs announced they had submitted a formal request to the United Nations to monitor RCMP, government and CGL actions, following up on CERD’s call to halt the CGL project. In their statement, they express that “the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs are gravely concerned that Horgan will respond to our grievances with militarized police instead of diplomacy.”
On Jan. 14, the RCMP set up a police checkpoint at Morice West Forest Service Road, effectively creating an exclusion zone. Police have already turned away media and supplies vehicles.
According to Molly Wickham, a spokesperson for one of the five Wet’suwet’en clans, “this is exactly what they did the last time before they raided… They set up an exclusion zone, and they cut off all access—all internet access, all communications. And so we need to keep watch on what’s going on right now.”
The Whole World is Watching
Tensions remain high in both Wet’suwet’en territory and across Canada. The conflict has sparked ample social media dialogue, with many people sharing educative posts on the Wet’suwet’en conflict and voicing messages of solidarity.
“Everybody needs to stand up, not just Indigenous people. Everybody needs to stand up to the political powers that be that they need to change and quit making legislations and policies to make us look like criminals when we’re just trying to protect what is ours,” said Wet’suwete’en spokesperson Freda Hudson in the Unist’ot’en Camp documentary Invasion.
“The whole world is watching what Canada is doing, what the province of BC is doing. They haven’t done their job, they’re skirting their responsibility over to industry,” she said.
For more information, visit http://unistoten.camp/.
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