(THUNDER BAY, ON) – What appeared to be roughly 50 to 60 people gathered in the city’s north side downtown core today in solidarity with members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation. The protest went on from roughly 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm in blistering cold weather. It stretched up Red River Road from Water Street to Court Street, briefly heading south down Water and back up Cumberland to Red River. The group stopped in front of ScotiaBank for a while.
More protests were held across Canada which blocked vehicular and train traffic as experts ring the alarm calling the arrests made by the RCMP on Wet’suwet’en land “unlawful and unjust”.
On December 31st, 2019 tensions started to rise as the B.C. Supreme Court expanded an injunction in Coastal GasLink’s favour, which enabled them to push into Wet’suwet’en land. This also blocked Wet’suwet’en Nation members from going on the project site.
On Thursday, a week ago, RCMP started to enforce the injunction. Before making arrests, they asked protesters to leave their camps which were blocking access to the service road which was needed. 20 protesters in the area have since been arrested in the area.
This ongoing conflict has sparked numerous blockades and protests across Canada, including rail lines, port entries, legislatures and roadways. Phrases like “Reconciliation is dead” and “Wet’suwet’en Strong” have been trending on various social media outlets.
Indigenous activists indicate that the conflict goes far beyond the pipeline issue and brings up the Indigenous rights issue.
The 670 kilometres, $6,600,000,000 pipeline is meant to transport natural gas from Alberta to the Pacific coastline. Coastal GasLink states that the route was approved and determined while considering “Indigenous, landowner and stakeholder input, the environment, archaeological and cultural values, land use compatibility, safety, constructability and economics.”. They say they signed agreements with all 20 First Nations along the route, including the Wet’suwet’en.
The Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, at least some of them, are opposing the construction of the pipeline and say that they never consenting to it being constructed on their traditional territory.
What’s a hereditary chief? They are a traditional form of Indigenous governance that pre-date colonization. When Canada was settled by Europeans and treaties were signed with First Nations, the Indian Act established First Nations councils which had elected chiefs and councillors who had authority over reserve lands.
The underlying concern of the Wet’suwet’en Nation is surrounding the governance and ownership of their traditional land. This First Nation has never ceded their land to Canada and never gave up rights to their land, whether that be resource extraction rights or occupation.
1997 brought a landmark Supreme Court ruling regarding Wet’suwet’en Aboriginal title otherwise known as Delgamuukw v. British Columbia. The results of that case were that Aboriginal title is not just the land itself, but te resources within it and the rights to extract them. Further, the case established requirements for First Nations peoples to prove their Aboriginal title. Continuous occupation of the land was addressed by this.
This means that by occupying the land, they are holding onto their rights to the land. Having the RCMP force them off the land is quite concerning in regards to this ruling.The Wet’suwet’en peoples have every right and are fully within the law to occupy their traditional lands.
On Sunday, the B.C. Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA) renewed a complaint surrouding what is described as “improper and increasingly unlawful actions of the RCMP.”. The complaint includes a policy complaint and a call for a public investigation into the “exclusion zone” on Wet’suwet’en territory.
“There is absolutely no legal precedent nor established legal authority for such an overbroad policing power associated with the enforcement of an injunction,” reads the letter.
“The arbitrary RCMP exclusion zone and overbroad access restrictions are completely unjustified and unlawful, and constitute a serious violation of Indigenous rights.”
“We’ve seen people from all walks of life take to the streets, blockade ports, occupy government buildings and even interrupt rail service across the country in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en people, who are being forced to put their lives on the line in an effort to protect their territory and their rights,” said Greenpeace Canada Executive Director Christy Ferguson in a press release Monday.
What is frustrating many First Nations people across the country is the government claiming to support Indigenous rights yet appearing to utterly fail the first time a true test is put forth.
Below is the video from the Thunder Bay protest.
with files from CTV / Nicole Bogart