For the past month, actions in support of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs have taken place across Canada including in Kahnawake, the Mohawk territory south of Montreal where a railway blockade lasted 27 days. These demonstrations and support actions drew out the worst in the average Canadian.
Indigenous people and allies have been the subject of threats and harassment through much of the last month. Many Canadians have had little difficulty going from praising the openness and tolerance of Canadian society, to openly espousing hate, advocating murderous violence against Land Defenders, and calling for police or military action to be taken against peaceful, non-violent demonstrations.
One of their loudest accusations is that Land Defenders are against “progress” and “modernity” because they are opposed to the construction of a pipeline through the Wet’suwet’en’s unceded traditional territory. Had this been merely the issue of a pipeline and whether or not it should be constructed through Wet’suwet’en’s, it might not have had so much resonance with Indigenous peoples across North America the way it did. Yet, it did; and it was never just about the pipeline.
When the RCMP tactical unit converged on the Wet’suwet’en on February 6, the Indigenous world watched it all happen live through Facebook and Twitter. What they saw was a militarized, foreign police force invade and then arrest and remove Indigenous people from their own land to make way for a pipeline. Once again, Canadian state power was forcing Indigenous peoples from their lands to make way for big business.
In this case, it was to make way for a nearly $7 billion pipeline to transport liquefied natural gas 700 km from Dawson Creek, B.C., which is near the Alberta border, to Kitimat, B.C. where it will be processed and exported to the Chinese market. The pipeline’s route received the green light from the elected councils of the First Nations communities through which it passes. However, the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs who represent the nation’s traditional governance structure have long-maintained their opposition to the pipeline route.
Pipeline proponents, supporters and pundits are all quick to point out that pipelines are among the safest way to transport oil over long distances. These same people also argue that, because Indigenous people are opposed to the construction of pipelines on unceded traditional territory without approval, they are against all aspects modernity. This is not only just the rearticulation of a colonialist, racist myth, it is also categorically untrue.
The Wet’suwet’en and their supporters are against the forced-removal of Indigenous peoples from their homelands by an invading police force. Many Indigenous people felt that if this was allowed to happen in one First Nations community, it could happen in their community.
On the surface the issue is a pipeline; but the underlying issue is the continued, not merely historical, encroachment and expropriation of Indigenous lands to the detriment of the Indigenous communities.
One of the reasons that the railway blockades were so effective is that the railways in question are all located in Indigenous communities. Most Indigenous communities are crisscrossed by highways, bridges, rail lines and bridges – all on illegally expropriated lands.
One thing that the Canadian government didn’t consider when it imposed these unwanted pieces of infrastructure were on Indigenous communities was that they could someday be used against. Gone are the days when Indigenous communities will sit passively by and watch their lands be taken away.
Photo courtesy of the Red Deer Advocate