We Stand With Wet’suwet’en


Sayla Ellis, First Voices writer

“We are peaceful people”John Ridsdale, also known as Na’moks, hereditary chief of the Tsayu clan, desperately trying to communicate with RCMP officers who are working with Trans Canada to force a pipeline through Wet’suwet’en territory. Inability to be heard is a seemingly consistent issue Indigenous people in Canada. On January 7, militarized RCMP invaded and occupied Wet’suwet’en territories and faced children and elders with heavy assault rifles following a court injunction granted to Trans Canada.

Tension escalated after officers arrested 14 anti-pipeline demonstrators, they have since been released. Upon their release, the victims requested medical attention, because of the violent acts of various officers via their arrests. The RCMP have publicly denied all claims made by the victims. However, the morning prior to the incident the RCMP denied all public and media reporters access to the protest sight, which is cause for speculation.

The Wet’suwet’en clan and their hereditary chiefs have agreed to allow access to the site as long as Trans Canada agrees to incorporate both parties conditions. Chiefs have made it clear that compromises were made for the protection of their people and does not mean they support or agree with the Trans Canada pipeline.

An argument made by pipeline supporters, states that the pipeline was approved by the elected chiefs. However, the chiefs elected under the Indian Act are limited for disputes that take place on the reserves. Their jurisdiction doesn’t go beyond the borders of the reserve that they’re on. That’s the situation with Unist’ot’en; they’re not on reserve, they’re on Wet’suwet’en territory in general. Meaning, it was not under the elected chiefs jurisdiction to approve the pipeline, it was a matter for the hereditary chiefs. This was conveniently looked passed during the approval of the pipeline.

First Nations activists have made it well known that even though a deal has been struck between Wet’suwet’en clan and Trans Canada “the fight is far from over”. They have allowed the RCMP access to the construction site, in exchange they will be allowed full access to the site as well as a “healing tent” on the property.

What concerns me is the need for Indigenous communities to protect themselves from their own government. When are we going to break down the divide between our cultures?, When are they going to be prioritized Indigenous people and treated them equal to the rest of Canada?.

The uproar of supporters all over Canada is not only a plea for the preservation of Canada’s environmental integrity but also a protest for centuries of violating First Nations rights and the rights of minority communities all over the world.

Videos from the pipeline site shows First Nations activists understandably emotional attempts to reason with the RCMP officers. The first nations activists were docile and unarmed. What made me most emotional about the footage was the familiarity, the first nations being violently ripped from their culture, their heritage, their families, their homes has been unbearably present in Canada since it’s founding. Regardless of your political position on the matter, the misuse of power by the government through the RCMP is prominent and unsupportable.

Why is this an issue for all of Canada as a whole?, it shows the pending issues of abuse of power demonstrated by the Canadian governments, primarily, our Prime Ministers. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau faced heated questions about the pipeline debate at a town hall meeting in Kamloops on Jan, 10th, where he said the week’s events showed the need for a different relationship with First Nations. With Trudeau’s skilled maneuvering, he managed to dodge the questioning of the need for heavy assault rifle and arrests in a peaceful protest. This has been a skill we have seen many times with Trudeau, playing on the emotions of the crowd by telling them what they want to hear, instead of giving a concrete plan for change.

During my research, I consistently came across the same comments on Trudeau’s answers, “Answer the question”. Not just during this matter but consistently throughout Trudeau’s time in power. Each question related to Indigenous abuse was answered by increasingly drown out speeches about all the pain and loss that has been inflicted on Indigenous people in Canada. However, if his goal was truly to reconstruct the relationships between our two cultures, sending greyhound busses full of armed men to tear them from their land might be considered counterproductive.

He has demonstrated not only a lack of empathy for the Wet’suwet’en community, but lack of willingness to communicate with the community. Some of Trudeau’s promanint campaign promises were his forward thinking, as well as promises to support the power of the people. Seeming to be just another broken promise from government officials.

Indigenous people have always been a second thought to the Canadian government, whether that is residential schools, lack of resources on reserves, site C dam, the pipeline or just a lack of acceptance in the community in general. This situation is evidence that the Canadian governments racism fueled discrimination has not changed, only monderized.