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Community stands in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en

 (Chloe Emond-Lane, The Eastern Door)

Following the organized protests happening across Canada to stand in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en First Nation’s anti-pipeline campaign, community members gathered last Thursday afternoon (January 16), armed with signs and flags to show their support against the “Coastal Gaslink” pipeline.

On the brisk afternoon supporters met at Glen’s Garage with their trucks ready to line up and drive down Highway 132 toward Tim Horton’s for a slow roll protest.

A few Peacekeepers joined in for the drive. Some people from other Turtle Island territories travelled to Kahnawake to participate. Some non-Natives attended as well.

The truck that led the drive had a sign that read “Canada we are watching.”

Community members of Wet’suwet’en, located in the North-central interior of British Columbia, set up a camp called Unis’tot’en, led by hereditary chiefs, opposing the $6.6 billion pipeline project proposed by the TC Energy company.

The conduit would run through rugged mountains from Dawson Creek to Kitimat, BC, through Wet’suwet’en territory.

As stated on the company site, “Approximately 670 kilometres (416 miles) the Coastal GasLink pipeline project will safely deliver natural gas across northern B.C.”

The word “safely” is one that comes up frequently in the company’s platform for the project. Although safety is a priority regarding the construction and the maintenance of the pipeline, in addition to the environmental and health concerns, there is a more complex question behind the obvious issues at hand.

The BC Supreme Court put in place an injunction in late 2019 against the protestors occupying the land, while pipeline workers were given an eviction notice earlier this month.

Jocelyn Wabano-Iahtail, an activist from Attawapiskat First Nation in northern Ontario, participated in the demonstration.

“This is actually having to do with the colonization of Turtle Island,” Wabano-Iahtail said. It is a “Lack of respect and complete disregard in the obstruction of our original laws.”

For Wabano-Iahtail, this pipeline project represents a priority of profit before anything else.

Her statement mirrors the beliefs of many Indigenous community members across Canada.

To make matters worse, BC premier John Horgan threw fuel on the fire on Monday, vowing the pipeline will go through despite protests.

The efforts of the pipeline proponents to move forward with the project has resulted in a clash between Indigenous values and with the Canadian government’s priorities.

As Wabano-Iahtail said, “We are the defenders and protectors of our mother. That’s our sacred responsibility. You cannot sell land. In my Cree brain I struggle with that when people have these conversations because here’s the colonial world and here is my world. It’s a constant conflict.”

Karla Tait, the Unist’ot’en Healing Lodge’s director of programming, talked to the Globe and Mail about her concerns.

“The Coastal Gaslink project was never granted free, prior, informed consent by the rightful authorities of the 22,000 square kilometres of Wet’suwet’en territory. Canada’s federal, provincial and legal enforcement bodies should be well aware that the authorities of unceded Wet’suwet’en land are our hereditary chiefs,” she said in a written statement.

Nicholas Kolbasook, an Awkwasasne community member, was present at the demonstration. Kolbasook believes an important thing to understand is people may not always grasp the full extent of the effects these projects can have long-term.

As people are preoccupied with personal issues such as mental health or societal issues such as poverty, people won’t necessarily focus on the current political events, he said.

“They wrap it up in a pretty package and they bring it to the territory and they say you all get a better price on electric. This is going to make your economy so much better,” Kolbasook said.

Those that are pushing for the installation of this pipeline are offering community members provisions in exchange for their agreement to move forward with the construction of the pipeline, however, for Kolbasook, “There has to be a foundation – a baseline before you can have informed consent,” he said.

The demonstration was peaceful in spite of a few motorists who were frustrated because of the slow traffic.

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