Chief Howilhkat, Freda Huson, stands in ceremony while police arrive to enforce Coastal GasLink’s injunction at Unist’ot’en Healing Centre near Houston, B.C. on Monday, February 10, 2020.
Source: The Narwhal
The Rise of Indigenous People and their Allies Across Canada
By Sherry Marr
On February 10, 2020, RCMP invaded Unist’ot’en territory and arrested elder Freda Huson, in prayer, during ceremony, along with other land defenders, as they peacefully stood on their own road protecting their unceded lands and waters from a proposed Coastal GasLink pipeline that will threaten their traditional way of life. As a non-indigenous person, I observed this disrespect with outrage.
In support, blockades rose up across Canada. For two weeks railway lines, ports, bridges, intersections and commuter trains were shut down, as indigenous and non-indigenous people across Canada stood in solidarity with the Wet’sowet’en people. Canada’s commerce ground to a halt. Protests are still being held on the steps of the Government Building in Victoria, and outside the Parliament Building in Ottawa. Blockades are still occurring at significant points of entry to ports and at key intersections.
The blockade set up in solidarity by the Mohawk nation, in Tyendinaga territory, east of Belleville, Ontario, has been much in the news, echoing the Oka crisis in 1990. Wounds from that 78-day standoff have not healed. On February 24,2020, RCMP moved in and made arrests. More blockades sprang up. Land defenders and their allies plan to protest until the RCMP withdraw from Wet’sowet’en territory, and “until the demands of the Wet’sowet’en hereditary chiefs are met”.
Frustrations mount. Commuters feel “inconvenienced.”
“There is inconvenience. And then there is injustice,” a B.C. chief responded. For 300 years, First Nations have lived under oppressive colonial rule on land that had been theirs for thousands of years. Many reserves do not even have clean drinking water. Prime Minister Trudeau found billions to buy an old pipeline to carry oil, but can’t find money for pipelines to carry drinking water to the people, some of whom have had boil water advisories for 25 years. On some reserves, people can’t even use the water for bathing or washing dishes, it is so contaminated. This is unacceptable.
“Reconciliation is dead,” First Nations are saying. This has gone far beyond the issue of the pipeline. The Supreme Court of Canada has upheld the rights of indigenous people to their land, stating they hold title and cannot be removed from it. The United Nations has told Canada to stop the pipeline, which will cause irreparable harm to indigenous peoples’ land, rights, and way of life.
First Nations are tired of oppression, of government-backed corporations taking resources from the land they have left. They wish to be regarded as the sovereign nations they are, and to make their own decisions about their traditional territories.
The hereditary chiefs remain willing to talk to government, on a nation to nation basis, but only after RCMP have withdrawn from their territory. And traditionally, it behooves the government to go to talk to them, not demand the hereditary chiefs come to Ottawa.
An environmental assessment of the proposed pipeline has rejected the project.
It makes neither economic nor environmental sense. But capitalism only knows one way to proceed: money and jobs, they keep saying. Money and jobs. The few temporary jobs created by the project won’t benefit very many, and the proposed route across northern Canada and along the B.C. coast will put entire ecosystems at risk. The gas will be shipped to China. Also, the government actually has to subsidize these projects. It seems insane, to me, to use taxpayer dollars to subsidize corporations flogging our fossil fuel dependency, the way of death, rather than to develop clean energy alternatives, providing jobs for people across the country. We need to turn away from fossil fuels and replace them with clean energy projects.
What isn’t being said on the news is that the hereditary chiefs offered an alternate route to GasLink, away from the river, but the company rejected it.
In an unexpected bit of good news in February, another giant, Teck, withdrew plans to expand the oil sands in Alberta. “Shareholders have little interest in investing money in a sunset industry,” they said. Light is beginning to dawn.
“The government only understands the language of money,” said one land defender. “So we are shutting down their avenues of commerce.” It definitely got everyone’s attention.
Civil disobedience is how we saved the old growth forests of Clayoquot Sound in 1993. When all other avenues fail, civil disobedience is what we have left. Our voices, in large numbers, have impact.
I spoke to a young woman yesterday who gave me hope. She said this is the shift we have been waiting for. It is a time of turmoil, unpleasant to live through, as the old systems are no longer working and are breaking down. In the upheaval, something new is being birthed. Never has support for and solidarity with the first peoples of this land been so strong. The environmental crisis has finally gone mainstream, and is spoken of daily on the news.
We have the knowledge, the science and the technology to make the leap away from fossil fuels and the ways of death of the past, to new clean energy sources and towards the healing and restoration of the land and people. The time is now to vote out leaders who do not hold visions of a clean and livable earth. It is time to join hands and voices across the land to insist on respect: for First Nations, and for the earth herself, who has given herself nearly to the point of extinction, and who is crying out through all of her systems and creatures for our help and healing.
The indigenous people of this land have lived on Turtle Island in harmony for thousands of years. It only took us a couple of hundred years to cause so much destruction. We can learn from their leadership, and stand in solidarity with them to protect Mother Earth. We must.
Indigenous elders say we humans must walk lightly on the earth, for we are treading on the faces (and the futures) of our children. Let’s envision the world we want, and add our energies to the shift happening across this land – and this planet.
FOR YOUR CHALLENGE:
Let’s beat the drums of change. Write whatever you are inspired to write by this situation or information, or about the need for social justice, especially for indigenous people, world-wide.
Or you might like to look back at the indigenous world, pre-contact. Or re-vision a future where non-indigenous folk have learned from the people of the land how to live on and with Mother Earth in a respectful sustainable way.
The Nuu-chah-nulth people, where I live on the West Coast of Canada, have no word for the wild world. “The only word for wilderness is Home” they say.
The challenge is wide open for you to write whatever comes. I look forward to reading your thoughts, in prose or poetry.
—All My Relations, Sherry
Since the time of writing, provincial and national government officials finally travelled up north to meet with Wet’suwet’en Chiefs. Word is Prime Minister Trudeau and B.C. Premier John Horgan will become involved after the preliminary talks. News anchors note “There is a fundamental shift in tone in the dialogues.” Perhaps Canada is finally recognizing they are dealing with sovereign nations, and accord them the measure of respect of any other governing body. We live in hope.
Work is paused on the GasLink pipeline, while talks continue. We have learned one valuable fact: in large numbers, united, we can bring the country to a halt and impact government. Good to know. Many of those joining the protest were taking a stand for the environment, as well as supporting the Wet’suwet’en people.
On Sunday, government officials left the north, saying they and Wet’suwet’en elected representatives have reached a proposed preliminary agreement with regard to Wet’suwet’en rights and title to their territory (rights that already had been established). This proposal will now be taken to the hereditary chiefs, and to the various clan houses for input.
But spokesperson for the Gidimt’en camp, Molly Wickham, says the agreement does not address the presence of GasLink and RCMP occupation of their territory, which is still a problem. And the hereditary chiefs continue to oppose the pipeline.
Solidarity protests continue.