Demonstrators gather to show solidarity at Wet'suwet'en rally in Halifax

Hundreds of people gathered in a circle at a downtown Halifax park Sunday afternoon to speak against the Coastal GasLink project in B.C., and to voice opposition to local projects, such as the Alton Gas natural gas project. 

People at the rally brought signs, including some that said "RCMP off Wet'suwe'ten land" and "Respect land and treaty rights." Demonstrators also chanted "We support the Wet'suwe'ten nation. This is not reconcilliation."

The event was held in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs, who oppose a pipeline that would carry natural gas to the B.C. coast through their traditional territory. It comes amid other rallies across Canada this weekend and in recent weeks. 

Speakers spoke about Indigenous rights and for the need of the RCMP to pull out of the traditional Wet'suwe'ten territory.

Organizer Joan Smith said she preferred to think of the event "as education rather than a protest." She said she wants people to realize that Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs are their own nation.

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"Solidarity is a really good word," said Smith, who described herself as a land and water protector who is part of the group Voices of Women for Peace.

"Education. Getting the support of allies. This, although it's [an] Indigenous-led movement, I think this moment is for everybody.

"We all drink water. We all use the land. We all need to to know that this is about protection of the land and for our future generations."

Protests have disrupted cargo and passenger rail traffic across the country for the last week. 

Smith said she can appreciate that people in the region are affected by and concerned about propane shortages due to rail blockades, but she said the root problem isn't the protesters.

"If the government, Justin Trudeau, and all the government behind him, had supported Wet'suwet'en in the first place, we wouldn't have those blockades. So don't blame the people locally for what's happening from our government," she said.

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The demonstrators marched from the park between South Street and Hollis Street, down Barrington Street and up Spring Garden Road, where they blocked the busy intersection with South Park Street. There, people moved in a circle to the sound of a drum.

Demonstrator Paula MacMillan held a sign saying that she supports Wet'suwet'en people and water and land protectors everywhere.

She's been opposed to AltaGas's proposal for underground natural gas storage near the Shubenacadie River and the company's plan for discharging salt brine. 

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"We really have to start to take our environment a lot more seriously and do things to halt infrastructure for the fossil fuel industry," she said.

"And I think Indigenous people have the right to to dictate what goes on on their own land. And the hereditary chiefs definitely have that right."

She compared the current protests to other social movements such the push for women's or worker's rights, saying they also involved some public disruption. 

"The [current] disruptions have always been peaceful. They've never been throwing rocks at anybody or anything like that. So I think that people just have to be patient. And I don't think the government will change or actually deal with these issues if they don't disrupt things a little bit," she said.

Aly Thomson/CBC

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