Across the country, protesters are blocking railroads and port entries and staging sit-ins and rallies to show solidarity and support with the Wet’suwet’en Nation in British Columbia.
The hereditary chiefs of the First Nations band, which is comprised of five clans, oppose a $6.6-billion, 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink pipeline that would transfer natural gas across the northern part of the province. It would also cut the Wet’suwet’en territory in half.
The Wet’suwet’en territory is an expansive traditional territory located west of Burns Lake in the central interior of the province. The nation is on unceded territory, which means the Wet’suwet’en govern the land, and has for generations, since a treaty was never signed.
Why there’s debate
Since 2018, there has been dialogue between Ottawa and the people of the Wet’suwet’en nation over accessing the territory to make room for the pipeline.
While the Wet’suwet’en elected chief and council signed on to the agreement, most of the hereditary chiefs are said to have opposed it. They argue that elected chiefs could only have authority over the band’s reserves, while hereditary chiefs hold authority over the traditional territory.
When B.C.’s premier declared the province’s support of the pipeline in 2018, members of the Wet’suwet’en nation began taking action, through blockades and checkpoints along a major road on the territory.
On December 31, 2019, the B.C. Supreme Court permitted Coastal GasLink an expanded injunction, which granted them access to the land and the power to remove anyone in the way.
Tensions spiked this year when the RCMP moved in on blockades, as a result of the court injunction, which resulted in arrests.
As a result of the current blockades, CN Rail and Via Rail have been forced to cancel or shut down parts of its network of service throughout the country. This has lead to a backlog of transport goods, like food and medical supplies, as well as delayed travel plans for many Canadians. Additionally, CN Rail has laid off several employees as a result of the disruption to its service.
Outgoing Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has been very vocal with his criticism about the blockades and how the Liberal government is dealing with the situation.
“Radical activists – many of whom have no connection to the Wet’suwet’en people – are holding the country’s economy hostage,” he said.
Scheer also called Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent plea for patience from the country the “weakest response to a national crisis.”
Trudeau says his government is committed to engaging in dialogue with the protesters, and appears to be ruling out police intervention as part of a resolution.
"Finding a solution will not be simple. It will take determination, hard work and cooperation," he said. "We are creating a space for peaceful honest dialogue with willing partners ... We need Canadians to show both resolve and collaboration. Everyone has a stake in getting this right."
Meanwhile, Via Rail has resumed some service in Eastern Canada.
Law enforcement is in a no-win situation
“If we enforce the law … we’re criticized often for being too aggressive. On the other hand, if we don’t enforce the law … then we’re criticized for not enforcing the law. We’re in effectively what’s a no-win situation.” - Tom Stamatakis, president of the Canadian Police Association, National Post
Protesters are privileged
"These protesters, these activists, may have the luxury of spending days at a time at a blockade, but they need to check their privilege, they need to check their privilege and let people whose job depends on the railway system – small business, farmers – do their job." - Outgoing Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, Global News
Where are the protests for First Nations that support the pipeline?
“The voices of band members from 20 First Nations along the Coastal GasLink project route who want it to continue – those who have indicated, through elections or other means, that they want construction on the natural gas pipeline to move ahead – have been eclipsed by the views of a small group of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who hold jurisdiction over just a portion of the land the pipeline will cover.” - Robyn Urback, Globe and Mail
Phillip Tait is a Wet'suwet'en resource worker. The protests have affected his ability to provide for himself and his family. "How is it that non-Wet'suwet'en people are preventing me, a Wet'suwet'en person, from working on my land?"— Stewart Muir (@sjmuir) February 17, 2020
Eco-colonials strike again. #bcpoli pic.twitter.com/GEnTl4k3eh
People are running out of fuel to heat homes. Workers are being laid off as rail blockage strangles many industries.— Suzanne Sexton (@SuzakiTheAmazon) February 14, 2020
The professional protest industry is calling on uninformed thugs to escalate violence.
These protests are NOT representing peaceful Wet'suwet'en 1st Nation. https://t.co/y9WV2akyQL
Let's cut through the doublespeak and media obfuscation, shall we. All the protests and blockades are based on the opposition of five people. That's it: 5. Five unelected Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs. Vs the rights of 37 million Cdns. Canada is a joke. #cdnpoli #bcpoli— Gary Lamphier (@lamphieryeg) February 14, 2020
It strikes me that the protests are mostly a bunch of outside opportunists jumping on this issue to advance their own causes, and in so doing, are unfortunately pushing any legitimate issues around Wet'suwet'en territory towards an "Occupy" type of failure.— Oilers Nerd Alert (@OilersNerdAlert) February 18, 2020
Most Canadians want justice
"(Scheer’s) words are an embarrassment, shameful and hateful and thankfully don't represent those of most Canadians. Canadians continue to be our strongest allies in seeking justice for our peoples - that's what the treaty relationship is all about,” - Indigenous rights activist and the Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University Pam Palmater, CTV.ca
Wet’suwet’en deserve “meaningful consultations”
“So there were “consultations” with the company, but the company rejected the proposal, which leads to the question of whether those consultations were “meaningful.” There have been consultations between the hereditary chiefs and the B.C. government, not with the federal level, which is responsible for Indian Affairs including land claims and self-government – that is, with the Wet’suwet’en.” - Ed Whitcomb, Ottawa Citizen
This shows that reconciliation is dead
“For reconciliation to be anything more than an empty signifier, Canada and all provincial governments would have to cease justifying land appropriation when consent has been denied by those with that authority in particular nations.” - Gina Starblanket and Joyce Green, Globe and Mail
the Wet’suwet’en territory isn’t in Canada. colonial maps lie. Canada never bought it, was never given it. it is sovereign as in IT IS NOT CANADA. its land defenders are not “protesters.” they’re not staging a “pipeline protest.” they’re fighting a foreign invasion.— daniel sarah karasik (@fondfaun) February 13, 2020
Maybe you should do some research on Canadian law.— Mike Gibbs🏳️🌈 (@Mikeggibbs) February 17, 2020
The Supreme Court ruled on this in the 1990s. *Consent of the hereditary Wet'suwet'en Chiefs is required*. That consent does not exist.
Hence Indigenous allies across their lands are engaging in peaceful distruption/protest. https://t.co/IID9JSCgyt
People have a right to feel negatively towards the wet’suwet’en solidarity actions. mainstream media is doing wonderfully fueling this by reducing the narrative down to “pipeline protests.” But remember, this this all apart of something bigger. How you act now speaks volumes— Samantha Howse (@somanyseastars) February 18, 2020
Writing off the protests in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary leadership as paid or eco-terrorists shows a lack of knowledge about urban Indigenous peoples and the role of matriarchs in community. Women organizing together is key to the widespread actions.— treena chambers (@adogabroadayear) February 18, 2020