Solidarity actions have sprung up across Canada in support of the ongoing protests against the pipeline under construction through Wet’suwet’en First Nation territory.
The Wet’suwet’en territory, in what is now known as British Columbia, is unceded land not covered by a treaty with the Canadian state. In 1997, a precedent-setting court case recognized the authority of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs over their territory, who govern alongside the state-created band council.
A tentative agreement between the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and Canadian government officials was reached on March 1, 2020, but the details have not been made public as the settlement is still undergoing a process involving the traditional protocols of the Nation.
Despite the tentative agreement, protests have continued in major cities and railways.
Even if the clans of the Wet’suwet’en Nation agree to the terms laid out in their agreement with the Canadian government, the pipeline protests have already grown beyond one territory. Continuing the work of Wet’suwet’en peoples, Indigenous communities across Turtle Island have drawn attention to the broad issues of ongoing colonialism, environmental degradation and police violence.
After the agreement was announced, Coastal GasLink, the company at the heart of the dispute, said it would resume construction on March 2.
Protests continue amid falling approval ratings for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government. Trudeau has faced criticism from both sides of the Coastal GasLink conflict. Protesters are calling for the government to stop the pipeline project, while 63 per cent of Canadians in a Globe and Mail poll supported police intervention to end the blockades. While Trudeau has expressed his hope that the more recent agreement with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs will bring forward new solutions and collaboration, arrests and aggression from the RCMP continues.
Over the past few weeks, blockades have taken hold that restrict the movement of commercial and passenger trains across Canada under the banner “Shut Down Canada”. As of Feb. 28, 2020, 940 trains were halted.
In Hamilton, a blockade near the rail tracks by the York Boulevard bridge was set up on Feb. 24, 2020, a month after hundreds marched in Hamilton’s downtown core in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en activists. The Feb. 24 blockade was in response to the arrest of ten Mohawk activists after the Ontario Provincial Police enforced a court injunction against a similar blockade set up by the Tyendinaga Mohawk.
According to the North Shore, a regional anarchist news platform posting updates on the protests, a small group of protesters held the Feb. 24 blockade until 6:00 p.m. on Feb. 25, even after being served an injunction by police.
Following the blockade, the North Shore posted that four protesters were arrested by Hamilton police, although they faced criminal charges not associated with the Feb. 24 actions.
At McMaster, a group called Mac Students for Wet’suwet’en Solidarity hosted a solidarity walk-out on March 4, 2020. Prompted by similar walk-outs initiated by a coalition group from British Columbia, students gathered in Mills plaza to support Wet’suwet’en sovereignty. Evan Jamieson-Eckel, a representative from McMaster Indigenous Student Community Alliance, spoke to the crowd about the pipeline protests and their ramifications at McMaster.
In his talk, Jamieson-Eckel noted that Canada’s very existence is founded upon stolen land and genocide against Indigenous peoples.
“Anti-Indigenous racism is embedded in Canadian thought,” said Jamieson-Eckel at the March 4 walk-out.
According to Jamieson-Eckel, this plays out in the portrayal of Indigenous land protectors as burdens and threats.
“[Land protectors are] strong resilient warriors that are upholding their responsibilities to one another,” said Jamieson-Eckel.
Furthermore, Jamieson-Eckel spoke to the importance of implementing a broader understanding of Indigenous rights.
As Coastal GasLink moves forward with construction, the tentative agreement between Canada and the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs remains unclear. Indigenous communities and allies continue to organize across Canada against the pipeline and against broader issues of settlement and environment. There seems to be an ongoing disagreement between some elected Wet’suwet’en councils and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.