Protesters responded to a call for solidarity from Indigenous people blocking a pipeline in northern B.C. by holding a demonstration in Campbell River on Tuesday.
The protest – staged outside the downtown office of NDP MP Rachel Blaney and NDP MLA and Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Claire Trevena – followed an RCMP action that Indigenous people who oppose the Coastal GasLink Pipeline have called an “act of war.”
Photos posted to social media on Monday showed police, some in military fatigues and heavily armed, as they enforced an injunction against a road blockade known as the Gidimt’en checkpoint near Houston, B.C.
At the protest in Campbell River, Wei Wai Kai artist Sonny Assu (Ǧʷaʔǧʷadəx̌ə) said the Canadian government was violating the rights of Indigenous people by pushing forward with the pipeline on unceded land.
“I’m here today to support the Wet’suwet’en people in their traditional territories against their forcible removal by the RCMP,” said Assu.
He said both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples should “stand up against the colonial government for their actions against the Indigenous peoples who are fighting to protect their land for everybody’s sake.”
Is this a normal way to respond to Indigenous people who are peacefully protecting their drinking water from fracking pipelines? @JustinTrudeau @jjhorgan is this the reconciliation you have talking about? #WETSUWETENSTRONG #NOPIPELINES pic.twitter.com/4z4JUAKp50
— Michael Toledano (@M_Tol) January 8, 2019
Protesters said enforcement of the injunction flew in the face of reconciliation efforts because Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs oppose the pipeline.
“That’s their land,” said local artisan and Awatin Aboriginal Arts gallery co-owner Ernie Smith, a member of the Ehattesaht First Nation. “In this so-called climate of reconciliation with First Nations people, it doesn’t look good to us.”
Richard Hagensen, a member of the Campbell River chapter of the Council of Canadians, called on Trevena to use her position in Premier John Horgan’s cabinet to stop development of the pipeline.
He called on the province “ideally to pull the licences, but at least freeze (the pipeline) at this point, until there can be further negotiations with the Indigenous people whose territory it runs through.”
He also cited climate change and the dangers of fracking – a controversial natural gas production process – as reasons for stopping the project.
Trevena wasn’t immediately available for comment on Tuesday afternoon.
On Facebook, MP Blaney echoed a call from fellow New Democrat MP Nathan Cullen – whose riding falls in the disputed territory – for a peaceful resolution by all sides and for “meaningful consultation.”
In a statement, Blaney blasted the Liberal government and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, saying they “regularly (use) terms like nation-to-nation and reconciliation, but time and time again they betray those words with their actions or inactions when it truly matters.”
Activists said on Facebook that more than 40 demonstrations were taking place across Canada and the United States.
The protests follow events on Monday, when police arrested 14 people at the Gidimt’en checkpoint, located on a logging road south of Houston. The RCMP were enforcing an injunction granted by the B.C. Supreme Court to allow for pipeline construction.
The Gidimt’en checkpoint and another checkpoint at the nearby Unist’ot’en camp are meant to prevent the construction of the Coastal GasLink Pipeline, which would transport liquefied natural gas about 670 km from northeastern B.C. to LNG Canada’s planned facility in Kitimat.
TransCanada, the Calgary-based energy company behind the controversial pipeline, has reportedly signed agreements with 20 First Nations bands along the proposed pipeline route.
The organizers of the long-running Unist’ot’en camp cited the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in a statement following Monday’s police actions, particularly Article 10, which states that “Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories.”
Trudeau asked members of his cabinet to implement UNDRIP in 2015, and Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Carolyn Bennett said in 2016 that Canada was a full supporter of UNDRIP “without qualification.”
Organizers of the camp have also pointed to the Delgamuukw case, a landmark 1997 Supreme Court ruling that involved the use of oral history to establish Aboriginal land title in the region.
The provincial NDP has thrown its support behind the pipeline, with Horgan offering a number of incentives to LNG Canada – a consortium of multinational energy companies – to encourage the construction of a $40 billion natural gas export terminal on the Pacific coast.