People in Saskatoon gather to support Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs

·3 min read
Around 100 people gathered outside Saskatoon city hall Wednesday in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs after an RCMP raid in northern B.C. last week. (Theresa Kliem/CBC - image credit)
Around 100 people gathered outside Saskatoon city hall Wednesday in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs after an RCMP raid in northern B.C. last week. (Theresa Kliem/CBC - image credit)

Around 100 people gathered outside Saskatoon's city hall Wednesday, holding up signs with phrases like "land back" and "stand with Wet'suwet'en."

The Saskatoon gathering was one of many across Canadian cities in support of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs after an RCMP raid in northern B.C. last week.

"We're standing in solidarity here in Saskatoon," said Eileen Bear, one of the speakers at the Saskatoon protest and a member of the Saskatoon Coordinating Committee Against Police Violence.

"What are they [the RCMP] doing there at all?"

In a multi-day operation last week, police officers arrested 29 people for breach of a B.C. Supreme Court injunction and cleared a barricaded forest service road west of Prince George.

A resistance camp had occupied a key work site since Sept. 25, halting Costal GasLink's plans to drill a tunnel on Wet'suwet'en territory for a multibillion-dollar pipeline to transport natural gas.

Dan Loan
Dan Loan

Coastal GasLink has signed deals with 20 First Nation elected band councils along the pipeline route, including from Wet'suwet'en territory, but has not won approval of the majority of hereditary chiefs.

Under traditional Wet'suwet'en law, hereditary chiefs have the responsibility over decisions regarding ancestral lands.

Bear held a sign at Wednesday's rally in Saskatoon referencing a 1997 decision of the Supreme Court of Canada that underscores First Nations' authority over their land.

"RCMP are violating this," said Bear.

Last week's RCMP raid marks the third time police have launched operations on the remote logging road against barricades erected by supporters of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs, after similar moves in 2019 and 2020.

'It's against basic human rights'

Bear said due to her own negative experience with police, it was important for her to speak at the gathering in Saskatoon.

"I was stopped by the police and two male police officers wanted to search me on the street," she said. "As my story got out, more and more people came to me and told me what they've been through."

She said policies and procedures need to change within the city police service as well as RCMP.

Theresa Kliem/CBC
Theresa Kliem/CBC

Paydahbin Aby, who described herself as a First Nations woman from the Secwépemc'ulcw and St'át'imc territories "in so-called British Columbia," also spoke at the rally.

"The Canadian state and the colonial institutions like to self-proclaim that they are leaders in reconciliation," said Aby, who studies at the University of Saskatchewan.

"Reconciliation does not exist."

Rallies to raise awareness and the kind of allyship demonstrated on Wednesday in Saskatoon are important, said Aby.

"It means a lot," she said. "Just being here with us is great."

People need to understand that First Nations are sovereign nations recognized by international laws, she said.

"You're coming into our homelands, you're desecrating our ancestral burial grounds," said Aby.

"You can't do that. It's against basic human rights."

According to a Facebook post, the organizing partners of the gathering were the Louis Riel Communist Party of Canada Club, the Indigenous Joint Action Coalition, and Black Lives Matter YXE.

As a non-Indigenous resident, Leanna Gustafson attended to show her support for Indigenous people in Canada.

"What affects one part of the country should affect us all," she said, "epecially when people's rights are being infringed upon."

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