If you’ve not heard or seen this hashtag or read about this issue, then it’s time to diversify your feed. But also, mainstream media is doing a poor (to say the least) job at covering this issue right now, even though it should be headlining newspapers across the world. We break down what’s going on, why it matters and most importantly, what you can do below.
Note: this article is based off of an original article by Katherine Singh for FLARE, which you can read here.
WHO ARE THE WET’SUWET’EN, AND WHAT’S HAPPENING?
The Wet’suwet’en are a First Nations People living in Northern British Columbia, in what is known as “Canada”. The Wet’suwet’en Nation comprises of five clans, and the territory is 22,000 square kilometres. This territory is “unceded”, as in, it is not covered by any treaty. According to Native lawyer Dr. Pamela D. Palmater, the Wet’suwet’en people have lived on and governed said lands under their laws for generations.
Which is why it’s strange (again, to say the least) that the Canadian federal government has been negotiating (a perhaps too kind term, but more on that later) with the Wet’suwet’en people over access to their territory to build… a pipeline. It’s called the Coastal GasLink Pipeline Project, and it runs through Wet’suwet’en territory. In October 2018, B.C. Premier (Canada’s equivalent of a prime minister) John Hargan announced provincial support for this project, which would cost $6.6 billion, likening it to the moon landing. The pipeline allows for the transportation of natural gas to be exported.
QUICK SEGUE 1: WHAT’S SO BAD ABOUT THIS PROJECT, ANYWAY?
Aside from the obvious issue of cutting through unceded land, you mean? Well, for one, the land is also culturally and ecologically sensitive. Nanaimo Green Party MP Paul Manly said that the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs did propose an alternative route that wouldn’t go through the sensitive cultural and ecological areas. But it would cost more, of course. So, naturally, the company said no.
And to begin with, natural gas isn’t great. As the Climate Reality Project explains, natural gas is still a fossil fuel. Even though natural gas power plants can emit 50% less carbon dioxide than typical coal-based power plants. And that’s not even considering “the real climate Big Bad when it comes to natural gas.” What’s that? Methane.
Methane, though it stays in the atmosphere for a shorter time than carbon dioxide, is 120 times more powerful (than carbon dioxide) when it first enters the atmosphere. “The drilling and extraction of natural gas from wells and its transportation in pipelines result in the leakage of methane,” Union of Concerned Scientists notes.
On top of that, the extraction process of natural gas is “rife with potential problems”. In short, fracking (part of the extraction process) can contaminate groundwater supplies, and areas where drilling occurs have sometimes experienced increases in concentrations of hazardous air pollution. And, let’s not forget that safer, renewable and cleaner alternatives exist and are viable.
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In 2018, a fracked LNG pipeline similar to Coastal GasLink exploded in northern BC. It took them 3 weeks to repair the pipeline. No wonder the Wet’suwet’en don’t want fracked gas forced through their lands. • • • #northernbc #coastalgaslink #wetsuweten #frackedgas #lng #keepitintheground #nosuchthingasasafepipeline #pipelines #environmentalracism
QUICK SEGUE 2: SO DID THE WET’SUWET’EN PEOPLE CONSENT TO THIS?
The short answer: kind of, but not really. It’s complicated. The Canadian Press reports that the company (Coastal GasLink Ltd.) did consult First Nations, local governments and landowners. It writes that the pipeline “has support from 20 elected band councils along the route. All of them have signed benefit agreements with Coastal GasLink.” (For additional context, these 20 band councils include six councils in the Wet’suwet’en nation.)
In fact, if you click on over to the Coastal GasLink Pipeline Project’s official website, this is what you’ll find. “Since we announced the project in June 2012, our team has had over 15,000 interactions and engagements with Indigenous groups. Through these engagements, we’re able to listen to their views, incorporate their feedback where possible, and care for sensitive landscapes and culturally and historically significant areas along the route. It’s essential these areas are identified, respected and protected, so the project can be designed, constructed and operated in a safe and environmentally responsible way.”
Sounds great, right? But that’s not the full picture. Five Wet’suwet’en hereditary clan chiefs have said that they never gave consent. The hereditary chiefs say that they have authority over the greater 22,000 square kilometres of traditional territory, while the elected band councils only administer smaller reserves. Which means what happened here was that the government consulted only with the band leaders and not the hereditary chiefs.
Before you go ahead and think that this is all the fault of the Indigenous peoples, consider these points. First, that these are Indigenous lands. The Wet’suwet’en have governed these lands for generations. And second, that it’s the responsibility of the government and the company involved to consult with all relevant parties before proceeding. This is especially so if, as the project’s website claims, they “value the culture, lands and traditions of Indigenous groups.” But if you’re still not convinced, then here’s more context tas to why Indigenous peoples should certainly not be blamed.
BAND LEADERS VS HEREDITARY CHIEFS
It’s important to note here the difference between the band leaders and the hereditary chiefs, and why the former is a problematic concept. Hereditary chiefs, as the name suggests, inherit their roles through the matrilineal line, but they can also be appointed. Band leaders, on the other hand, are elected every two years, and while they are elected by people within the community, they’re accountable to the federal government. This becomes a point of contention for some Indigenous people.
Why is the concept problematic? Well, band council leadership isn’t a traditional form of government. They are creations of the Indian Act, and as Bob Joseph, founder of Indigenous Corporate Training, explains: “the federal government thought the way communities were governing themselves was backwards. It was a direct imposition on already self-governing Indigenous communities.”
So basically, the project went ahead after they consulted with the band leaders (a creation of the Canadian federal government) and not the traditional leaders, which is probably what they wanted to begin with. Dr Palmater explains: “I’m told by the Wet’suwet’en that both the hereditary chiefs and the elected band councils have worked in unity [in the past]. The federal and provincial governments and corporations always try to undermine whatever operating system is saying no.”
IMPACT BENEFIT AGREEMENTS WERE SIGNED UNDER DURESS
But there’s something else makes this whole issue worse: Impact Benefit Agreements. The Impact Benefit Agreements (IBAs), which were probably signed after the company’s “consultations” with the leaders, Dr. Palmater argues, cannot be equated with consent.
So to explain a bit more, IBAs are agreements allowing Indigenous communities to ensure that their concerns regarding a project are identified and that the impacts of the project are addressed by the business. Which are, in theory, very important. Right? But practically? Not so much. “Both the federal and provincial governments and industry have been in there pressuring First Nations, many of them being told and reporting that they were told “it’s going to happen anyway, you have no choice,” “this is going to happen, you’re facing arrest or an Impact Benefit Agreement”. That’s duress. That’s not real consent. Having no choice is not consent.”
BACK TO THE STORY: CONFLICT ESCALATION
In response to the project, members of the Wet’suwet’en nation stood their ground at some checkpoints and blockades to protect their land. The RCMP (the federal and national police service of Canada) then advanced on a blockade set up in Unist’ot’en territory (part of Wet’suwet’en territory) in January 2019, after the B.C. Supreme Court granted a court injunction in December 2018, in favour of Coastal GasLink, ordering protestors to remove the blockade. In December 2019, they granted Coastal GasLink an expanded injunction, allowing them to access the land and remove anyone in their way.
At this point, by the way, taking action because of this expanded injunction is actually infringing on human rights violations. Because these actions violate what’s known as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) to Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). This right “allows [Indigenous peoples] to give or withhold consent to a project that may affect them or their territories. Once they have given their consent, they can withdraw it at any stage.” Article 10 of UNDRIP also clearly states: “Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories.”
And so what did the RCMP proceed to do? You guessed it. Violate human rights.
THE FEBRUARY RAIDS ON THE WET’SUWET’EN
On February 6, the RCMP started clearing land defenders from the Wet’suwet’en territory, claiming to “uphold a provincial court order”.
Dr. Palmater says that RCMP’s actions are actually unlawful. “In theory, they are supposed to be neutral enforcers of several laws in this country.” Including, of course, First Nation laws. Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982 provides that “[t]he existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal people in Canada are hereby recognised and affirmed.” It further adds that “[f]or greater certainty, in subsection (1), “treaty rights” includes rights that now exist by way of land claims agreements or may be so acquired.” (While this is supposed to help Indigenous people receive significant legal protection, it neither confirms nor creates absolute rights. But that’s another story.) “So the RCMP is supposed to keep order and peace,” she says. “But what they are not supposed to do is act as a security force, a sheriff or any kind of eviction marshall for private corporations.”
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Feb 10, 2020 Press Release graphics via #UnistotenCamp. Please share. #AllEyesOnUnistoten #AllEyesOnWetsuweten #WetsuwetenStrong #ReconciliationIsDead #shutdowncanada #unistoten #landback #thetimeisnow Wet'suwet'en Supporter Toolkit: http://unistoten.camp/supportertoolkit2020 Unist'ot'en Legal Fund: https://actionnetwork.org/fundraising/unistoten2020legalfund Callout for Solidarity: http://unistoten.camp/alleyesonwetsuweten Gidimt'en Call to action: www.yintahaccess.com Donate to Gidimt'en camp: https://www.gofundme.com/f/gidimt039en-strong
And they didn’t just forcibly remove the Wet’suwet’en off their lands. According to the Unist’ot’en Camp’s press release, the Unist’ot’en Matriarchs Freda Huson, Brenda Michell, and Dr. Karla Tait were arrested while holding a ceremony to call on their ancestors and to honour missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
Remember, as Dr. Palmater points out, that this isn’t a “protest” camp, “this is [where] people live.”
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As the RCMP continues their invasion into unceded Wet’suwet’en territories, by trying to illegally enter the Unist'ot'en camp, we stand firm against the CoastalGasLink. We know that with the violence the CGL will bring to our lands will bring violence to our women, children and two spirit relatives. An increase of 70% more cases of violence against women, when transient workers move in. This is another way they are inciting violence and bringing it into our homes. • • $3.6 MILLION. The monies @justinpjtrudeau has allowed to be spent on these invading forces on our territories. All these forces out here – and yet no answers for so many of our Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls. The #HighwayOfTears runs through our territories. Our sisters, daughters, cousins, friends… gone. Missing or Murdered. Yet no answers or funds to solve the cases… but multi-millions to rip us off our territories at gunpoint. • • There will be no man camps on Wet’suwet’en lands. • • There is no #reconciliation for Indigenous peoples with the government of Kanada. RCMP is not arresting “protestors,” they are forcibly removing Indigenous peoples from our lands. @johnhorgan4bc did you even read #UNDRIP? Article 10 clearly states: “Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories.” • • #WetsuwetenStrong #MMIW #MMIWG #HighwayOfTears #NoConsent #NoTrespass #WedzinKwa #ClimateCrisis #DefendTheYintah #LandDefenders #WaterProtectors #Unistoten #ShutDownCanada #Wreckconciliation #AllEyesOnWetsuweten #StandUpFightBack #Solidarity #IndigenousUnity #IndigenousRights #HumanRights
MEDIA EXCLUSION ZONE
What’s concerning too isn’t just the RCMP’s treatment of the Indigenous peoples. It’s also the RCMP is turning away media from Wet’suwet’en territory, and threatening them with arrest for trying to report on the site. You’d think that at this point, we’d recognise media freedom, but nope. Not in Canada.
“No one questions the right of the media to report on what’s happening in the government or on the ground or in the public,” Dr Palmater adds. “That’s just a fundamental right. It’s unbelievable that this could happen in this country. For the RCMP to block the media is an attack on our charter. The most fundamental basis of a democratic country is access to open media.”
PRESS RELEASE: Journalist Jerome Turner's detention by the RCMP yesterday is a serious infringement of press freedom, and we hope it will be covered widely to prevent future such abuses. Particularly in the case of two journalists still at #Unistoten. #bcpoli #cdnpoli #Wetsuweten pic.twitter.com/yzv4Efn0fc
— Ricochet (@ricochet_en) February 8, 2020
THE RESPONSE: PROTESTS
So what’s been the response to the issue? (Aside from mainstream media’s non-response, that is.) Across the country, and even globally, people have been showing support and solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en people, with the hashtag #WetsuwetenSolidarity and #WetsuwetenStrong.
In Canada alone, protestors shut down railway lines, highways, city streets and more, resulting in dozens of arrests. Notably, protestors even dyed the fountain at the Legislature in Canada red, to show that the B.C. and “Canada” have “blood on their hands”.
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BREAKING: Following the invasion of Unist’ot’en, the fountain at the Legislature is dyed red to show that B.C. and Canada have blood on their hands 🔴🖐🇨🇦🖐 🔴 . . @gidimten_checkpoint @kolinsutherlandwilson @jamesdakotasmith @tsastilqualus @ggmowatt @morganmowatt @ndnpete @skyelacroix_ @danielle.guerrero @socksonmars @siiamhamilton @takaiya.blaney @maddykelson @gidimten_checkpoint @nikkilaes @indigenousclimateaction #youthforyintah #wetsuwetenstrong #wedzinkwa #notrespass #indigenousyouthforwetsuweten #reconciliationisdead #indigenousyouthforwetsuweten #bcpoli #mmiw #mmiwg2s #mmiwg #canada @justinpjtrudeau @johnhorgan4bc
That same day, Indigenous youth took over and occupied the lobby in the Enbridge Centre in amiskwaciwâskahikan. They explain: “We strategically chose this location because of BMO’s relationship with the CGL pipeline. Wet’suwet’en is just one of the many communities across Turtle island that are being impacted by projects connected to Alberta oil and gas companies. We will not stop mobilising until every project that is tied to Alberta Tarsands and Gas projects that is harming our communities and across Turtle island has ceased. The illegal invasion of Wet’suwet’en is only the beginning. Reconciliation is dead.”
THE RESPONSE: GOVERNMENT
Canada’s transport minister Marc Garneau’s response is rather representative of the priorities of the Canadian government right now. He’s worrying about the rail blockade having grave economic consequences. “The CN and CP and other rail lines in this country that may be blockaded transport an enormous amount of goods,” he commented, “over $300 billion worth a year.” He’s also worried that it’s not safe. He called their actions “illegal”. “It infringes on the Railway Safety Act. It’s dangerous to block the rails so we’re very concerned about it from that point of view.”
And what about Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself? Currently on a tour of Africa, he said: “We recognise the important democratic right – and we will always defend it – of peaceful protest. This is an important part of our democracy in Canada. But,” and here’s the kicker, “we are also a country of the rule of law, and we need to make sure those laws are respected.”
Funny. Apparently, the Canadian government only thinks of respecting laws when it’s to their benefit.
“WE ARE ASKING YOU TO BE BRAVE”
On Monday, 25 Indigenous and settler youth occupied the office of Carolyn Bennett, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, for 22 hours in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en. In song, dance, and ceremony, they came together to ask the Minister to heed the demands of the hereditary chiefs. But she refused. According to the youths, the words that she said during a phone call after the beginning of the occupation were so disrespectful that they refused to meet with her in person the following day at 10 am. They also declared “reconciliation is dead”.
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“We are asking you to be brave. People’s lives are on the line right now. There’s dogs, there’s cops with guns pointed at people just trying to protect their territory — for all of us… Do something brave and tell the RCMP to stand down! LIVES ON THE LINE! NO PIPELINES!” – Pegah, one of the land defenders occupying Carolyn Bennett’s office earlier this week, on the phone with @carolyn.bennett.stpauls ➡️ Swipe to listen to the full clip ➡️ . Starting this Monday, 25 Indigenous and settler youth occupied the office of Carolyn Bennett, the Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations, for 22 hours in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en as they resist a violent RCMP raid and Coastal GasLink’s proposed fracked gas pipelines on unsurrendered Wet’suwet’en territories. . While youth occupied the office, hundreds of allies rallied outside in rotating shifts and graciously donated supplies. In song, dance, and ceremony, the Tkaronto community came together to send Minister Bennett a strong message: heed the demands of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs. She refused. . Those occupying the office had a phone call with Minister Bennett two afters after beginning the occupation. Her words were so disrespectful that Indigneous youth refused to meet with her in person the following day at 10 AM, declaring that reconciliation is dead. The video above is a snippet of that phone conversation, and the video footage of the 1-hour in-person meeting can be found linked in our statement (link in bio). We’ll have more videos exposing Carolyn Bennett’s hypocrisy and colonial thought posted in the coming days. Please share widely — let’s #SHUTDOWNCANADA and keep showing up for #WetsuwetenStrong! . We will be releasing the full video from the in-person meeting soon. Read our full statement: https://tinyurl.com/feb12occupationstatement . Photo by @maxxi1234567 – posted with permission from those in the room.
Anishinaabekwe Métis, indigenous justice and human rights activist, had this to say in response to the Minister’s statement “I do not have the power to do anything”: “I am tired of hearing this, especially from people who have been granted positions of authority by the Canadian government that occupies this land. […] We all have the power to do something. It isn’t that these government officials don’t have the power to do something. They don’t have the willpower to do something.
“Carolyn Bennett demonstrated her power when she entered a space with indigenous youth as young as three with RCMP officers. The Victoria government demonstrated its power when they arrested 10 indigenous youth for occupying space. The Canadian government demonstrates its power as it continues the RCMP occupation on Wet’suwet’en territory. As it continues it’s legacy of indigenous genocide.
We are demonstrating our power by being visible, by taking up space, by braving the cold for hours, by being loud, by demanding this pattern of indigenous genocide be put to an end.”
WHY DOES THIS MATTER?
On a micro level, Dr Palmater reminds us that it could be any of us next. “If Canada will do this for a corporation now with Native people, they can and will do it when extraction is required in one of the other sleepy towns.”
And just in case you didn’t know, the Canadian government is terrifyingly hypocritical. They seem to be on track to approve, in the next few weeks, “a vast new tar sands mine which will pour carbon into the atmosphere through the 2060s.” And let’s not forget the TransMountain Corp pipeline project, which is still very much ongoing. Oh, and if you thought that was it, there’s more.
HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
On a more macro level, Indigenous rights violations are easily one of the biggest reasons why this matters. Nyangala Zolho writes: “From Chief Deskaheh of the Cayuga who attempted to speak at the League of Nations in 1923 to the Mapuche flag being raised during Chile’s protests in October 2019 – indigenous people today continue to call for rights many of us would assume twenty-first century citizens are assigned from birth.
From Polynesia to the Americas, indigenous peoples – no homogenous group – share a common struggle for rights in and over their traditional lands, often under legal jurisdictions that deny their very existence. Like all movements of oppressed peoples, theirs is a story of physical occupation, socio-political marginalisation and cultural discrimination over generations.” These systems of oppression need to stop.
INDIGENOUS PEOPLES AREN’T JUST “PROTECTING THE ENVIRONMENT”
Indigenous peoples are environmental stewards. Despite comprising less than 5% of the world’s population, Indigenous people protect a whopping 80% of our global biodiversity. Scientists and conservationists have recognised their abilities to protecting biodiversity better than corporations and governments can.
But it’s about much more than that. Anne Spice, a Tlingit land defender, anti-colonial organiser and scholar, and neighbour to the Wet’suwet’en people, writes: “It is about creating a space of healing, and re-connecting Indigenous people to the land and our other-than-human relations. It is about re-establishing our responsibilities to live in good relation to the land and animals, and water.
It is about strengthening our collective ability to survive and thrive, in balance with the “natural world,” which does not exist separate from us. For these reasons, characterisations of the Wet’suwet’en struggle as an “environmental” conflict are false. They fail to account for the interconnection between our Indigenous communities and the non-human communities we care for.”
Indigenous peoples aren’t just able to teach us how we should better care for our environment. They’re teaching us a new way of living, that’s much more sustainable, much more ecological, than what the rest of humanity has been living off of.
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if u were willing to flood the feed for the Australian fires and u feel uneasy doing so about the current attack on humanity occurring in so-called Canada please take a moment to evaluate within urself why that is *** i know u care about the land defenders on the front lines, about our collective future, & i know it's overwhelming – so understand that fires in Australia happen when corporations & colonial nation states across the world continue to construct infrastructure for fossil fuels that jeopardize our shared home *** it is criminal to mislead people into believing these natural gas & fracking projects are a necessary evil and it is criminal what the RCMP, Canadian government and CGL are doing on Wet'suwet'en territory *** now is the time we educate each other, protect indigenous people & lands, and unite to combat imperial interests. #alleyesonwetsuweten
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?
If you’re physically able to, register to be a volunteer, as the camps need motivated, dedicated volunteers. But if you’re not anywhere near Canada right now, then there are still a bunch of other options. For one, you can fundraise and/or donate to the Unist’ot’en 2020 Legal Fund and the Gidimt’en Strong fundraiser. If you are fundraising, be sure to follow the Solidarity Fundraiser Protocols.
You can always, always educate. Amplify indigenous voices, such as those we’ve quoted above, on social media or any and every other media platform. Raise awareness about the issue to your community. Make sure that everyone keeps their eyes on the Unist’ot’en and Wet’suwet’en. You can even host a film screening of the new documentary, Invasion.
And if you’re up for the next step, build solidarity. Form a supporter group in your local community, brainstorm what you can do, protest, occupy government offices, and the offices of those financing this project. Pressure the Canadian government through writing and calling them or messaging them on social media. Let them know that #AllEyesOnWetsuweten.
What’s happening to the Wet’suwet’en people just isn’t right. The fact that it’s happening now, in February of 2020 isn’t right. And the fact that it’s happening in a country like Canada is even crazier. Canada, a country that we expect great things from. But apparently, a country that also doesn’t recognise human rights. A government that prioritises profit over people. (Crucially, people who have been on these lands long before they have been.) A Prime Minister that is absolutely two-faced. Who is, on the one hand, saying he believes that “climate change is a real emergency that we must address now,” and that “it’s not something we can leave to our kids and grandkids to figure out.” But on the other, allowing these atrocities to happen on “his” soil. And enabling massive projects that will hurtle us towards climate catastrophe.
We need to make sure that the fight doesn’t end here. The fight for, and more importantly, the fight with Indigenous peoples is far from over. It’s just beginning. We need to recognise their extensive and legitimate knowledge and contributions to our planet. Involve them in high-level discussions. Implement their solutions. Consult them for help. (God knows we need it.) But all this? It starts with recognising their human rights first.
Let’s stop failing Indigenous peoples, and the planet, while we’re at it, too. We can do better. And so we must.
Note: a condensed version of this article is available in the form of an Instagram post, here:
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If you’re reading this then congratulations, you’ve won the media roulette and the media system ISN’T broken and you’re FINALLY waking up to this gross violation of human rights + land protectors called the Wet’suwet’en peoples. My guides are usually wordy but this isn’t so you have no excuse to read and be aware. Signal boost, educate, donate, and support. #AllEyesOnWetsuweten PLEASE DON’T BE SILENT NOW. Especially if you cared enough about the Australia or Amazon crisis. Tagged some accounts for you to STAY VIGILANT. Full article that I’ve written for @greenisthenewblackcom with all the links and ADDITIONAL info in my link in bio. No excuses now. #WetsuwetenStrong #SolidarityWithWetsuweten