The members of every generation face a watershed moment that defines who and what they are and how they relate to others. For many Indigenous people, that moment was the Summer of 1990. For others, it was the occupation of Alcatraz in 1971, and the Wounded Knee incident of 1973. For others still, it was the very construction of the St. Lawrence Seaway in the 1950s.
For indigenous youth today, the watershed is the Wet’suwet’en resistance. The resolve of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and their supporters in the face of an armed and militarized Royal Canadian Mounted Police force has galvanized Indigenous peoples across Canada.
The Wet’suwet’en are trying to stop a 670 kilometer (420 mile) liquefied natural gas pipeline from being constructed through their traditional, unceded territory. The Coastal GasLink pipeline will bring liquefied natural gas, obtained through fracking in Alberta, to Kitimat, British Columbia, through Wet’suwet’en territory.
But the is much larger than questions about the environmental and cultural impact of a the pipeline, or the wisdom of unrestrained energy-sector development. The issue at hand is that in order for any projects to proceed, there needs to be an open dialogue with the people who are affected directly by the project. The issue is consent.
It should go without saying that, for any project of this nature to proceed, its sponsors and agents must obtain the free, prior and informed consent of the people whose lives it will affect. But how do they do that; how do they obtain consent? A good way to start would have been to have an open and honest dialogue with all parties, including both the elected and traditional systems of First Nations government.
In fact, what we’re seeing across Canada at this moment is not a movement against development and progress, as many would have you believe, it is a movement demanding respect. What we are seeing at the barricades that have shut down railways across Canada is people standing up for their land and for the environment – and for themselves.
The Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs proposed an alternate route to Coastal GasLink for this pipeline – one that would still see the pipeline go through its traditional, unceded territory but in an area that wasn’t as close to culturally sensitive areas. Coastal GasLink rejected the proposed route out of hand because it would add nearly an additional 100 km to the pipeline and approximately $800 million to the project costs.
It should also be noted that the Coastal GasLink project isn’t building a pipeline to provision the energy needs of Canada’s growing population, but to allow petro-corporations to bring Canadian resources to a facility in Kitimat, B.C., where it will be processed for export to the lucrative Asian market. They are building a pipeline, over the land and the objections of the Wet’suwet’en people to make money.
The bottom line at this watershed moment is that the oil and gas industry and its allies in the Canadian government are simply putting corporate profits over the rights of Indigenous peoples. The fact that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police invaded unceded Wet’suwet’en territory and removed Wet’suwet’en people and their supporters who were protecting their land at gunpoint was seen by Indigenous peoples across the continent as an act of aggression. This is why Indigenous people took action immediately to show support and solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en.
When was first elected as Prime Minister four and a half years ago, Justin Trudeau vowed to “do government differently.” He declared that the relationship with Indigenous peoples was this government’s most important relationship. Yet, the actions of Trudeau’s Liberal government in its first mandate amply demonstrated that this simply was not true. Last fall, Trudeau’s Liberals were elected to a minority government, and the Prime Minister received a second chance to show Indigenous people and the world that he meant what he had said.
But again, it was all just words for the television cameras, and Indigenous people across Canada have had enough. The message that the Wet’suwet’en and their supporters are sending as they shut down much of Canada’s railway network is clear and simple: Without meaningful action, there is no chance for reconciliation.
Photo courtesy of Iorì:wase