On Friday, January 11, the Indigenous Students Alliance (ISA) at McGill answered Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs’ call for solidarity against the Coastal GasLink Pipeline in a demonstration at the Y-intersection. This call came in response to an injunction against land protectors from the Wet’suwet’en Nation, which was granted by the BC Supreme Court on December 31, 2019. The call also followed the International Day of Solidarity – the first of which occurred one year ago after Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) raids on the Unist’ot’en Camp led to demonstrations across BC.
As of January 2020, the RCMP has invaded and is currently occupying Wet’suwet’en territory. The RCMP have been stopping or stalling foot and air traffic across several access points, indiscriminately restricting access to both the Unist’ot’en and Gidimt’en camps for Wet’suwet’en people, volunteers, and journalists alike. In addition to road blocks, the RCMP recently admitted to monitoring Indigenous land defenders with drones, as uncovered by Vice, despite previous statements denying both air traffic restrictions and surveillance. In a press release on January 30, eight hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation called for a public investigation into the RCMP’s influence over and access to the area around the pipeline. Earlier this month, The Guardian also reported that, according to court documents, the RCMP is prepared to use lethal force against Indigenous land defenders. This interference and violence by the RCMP is alarming, yet unsurprising considering its ongoing use of brutal violence against Indigenous peoples, and the use of military technology is indicative of the ways in which the colonial state reinforces its occupying presence.
In a press release on January 5, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs issued an eviction notice to Coastal Gas Link workers. Despite this action being legal under ‘Anuch niwh’it’en (Wet’suwet’en law), as well as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), BC Supreme Court Judge Marguerite Church issued an injunction on December 31, 2019, barring the disruption of pipeline construction until the project is complete. Following the implementation of the illegal injunction, Indigenous youth activists held a sit-in at the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum in Victoria, where 12 people were arrested after occupying the building for 15 hours. On January 20, more than one hundred demonstrators blockaded the Swartz Bay ferry terminal with kayaks, completely shutting down ferry service to and from Vancouver island. Across BC, students and Indigenous youth activists held sit-ins and walkouts in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en Nation throughout the month.
While solidarity demonstrations unfolded across the province, BC’s provincial legislature became the first in Canada to implement UNDRIP after it failed to pass federally. However, BC Premier John Horgan’s implementation of the legislation has been widely criticised as being “impractically broad” – the legislation concerning how Indigenous and Canadian law will interact with the government’s third-party interests is not transparent. It is unacceptable and deceptive to pass this legislation while simultaneously undermining the sovereignty and self-determination of Indigenous peoples as well as Indigenous hereditary laws and land claims. BC’s implementation of UNDRIP does not accomodate or take into consideration Indigenous populations living outside of reserves, who make up the majority of BC’s Indigenous communities. Urban Indigenous communities live in their own unique contexts, with specific interests, which are not recognized by UNDRIP. Speaking to the CBC, Métis lawyer Patricia Barkaskas explained that Indigenous rights are inherent in Indigenous people, and aren’t relinquished when those people leave their First Nations. We must pressure the Canadian government, in BC and elsewhere, to recognize urban Indigenous communities as legitimate communities. Further, we must pressure the government to create legislation that reflects interests existing outside current government conceptions of land sovereignty and self-determination, which do not represent the specific needs of urban Indigenous peoples.
As of January 30, the RCMP agreed to stand down during the seven-day window of talks between Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and the BC provincial government. The CBC reported that during this time the RCMP “would not enforce the court-ordered injunction;” despite this, there have been no reports of RCMP withdrawing forces from access points or camps at the time of print. Though, on the day they agreed to stand down, RCMP attempted to enter the Gidimt’en post, outside the injunction area, and threatened to arrest those monitoring the road.
Though the type of direct action needed at the Unist’ot’en Camp and at access points is not possible from Quebec, encourage family and friends in BC to volunteer and support those on the frontlines. Condemn the provincial government for sanctioning and perpetuating colonial violence against Indigenous peoples. Contact members of the provincial legislature and pressure members of the provincial legislature to acknowledge and respect Indigenous sovereignty and land title. You can also donate directly to general and legal funds, or purchase items on wishlists and needslists for both Unist’ot’en and Gidimt’en camps. The Unist’ot’en Camp website encourages individuals to create and share their own petitions and solidarity statements, which will be linked in the online version of this editorial. You can follow Wet’suwet’en Strong and Idle No More on Facebook for updates on organized solidarity events and action. The Unist’ot’en Camp website also has a supporter toolkit, as well as suggestions for how those outside of BC can organize action and support the Camp.