COVID-19 halts Indigenous rights resistance, for now

It seemed like Indigenous Peoples were on the verge of something big in early 2020.

A growing national movement in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en was growing just as the COVID-19 virus shut the country down.

What would have happened if a pandemic hadn’t struck?

It’s a question that can’t be answered. But those involved believe momentum was paused, not stopped.

At the end of the APTN Investigates documentary Down The Barrel, Wet’suwet’un spokesperson Slaydo predicts “energy building up over the time that Covid has shut everything down. And at some point that’s going to be released.”

It might have started.

On Feb. 26, youth calling themselves Braided Warriors, occupied the downtown Vancouver offices of AIG, an Insurer of the Kinder Morgan pipeline.

A controversial project that would see an increase of tar sands oil brought to the West Coast.

Watch APTN Investigates: Down the Barrel – Part 1 here.

The youth demanded AIG end its business dealings with Kinder Morgan

Vancouver police forcible removed them. Captured on video you can see a land defender pulled out of the building by her hair and immediately after another is thrown to the ground.

The VPD says the conduct of the officer involved is under review.

You can find that story here : Braided Warriors say youth members were arrested during demonstration against pipeline

The Braided Warriors weren’t done there. Days later they hit the streets, blockading the Vancouver Port access. They posted their action on Instagram.

Braided warriors spent time in B.C.’s interior with Kanahus Manuel, learning the art of direct action.

She told them there is an aspect of performance art to it saying: “Use microphone as therapy to heal and say the things you always wanted to say to Canada.”

Manuel would know. She’s part of the Tiny House Warriors movement.

She says it’s about asserting title by occupying the land they claim as theirs. By building homes, Kanahus says the “the big piece of this is we are off reserve. It shows an exclusive use of lands and challenges Canada’s assumed jurisdiction.”

But it comes at a cost. While being arrested she suffered a broken wrist when a police officer fell on her while trying to detain her .

She told her story to APTN News reporter Kathleen Martens.

Manuel says her wrist went untreated for three days.

She’s currently is facing intimidation charges. In February she was in court on a second set of charges from a Sept. 30, 2020 incident caught on video. She’s accused of stealing a padlock and intimidating Trans Mountain pipeline workers.

In the hearing the judge heard the testimony of Manuel’s Elder.

“The judge accepted Auntie Janice (Billy) as an expert. She testified Trans Canada is breaking Secwepemc Law.”

According to Manuel  the judge wanted to take time to review before giving judgement.

“She said ‘I don’t want to step on higher courts and Secwepemc law,’” Manuel explained.

She says she’s not concerned about jail time for these two incidents but a third incident involving her family members could lead to serious jail time.

Three assault charges stemming from a 2018 protest at Thompson Rivers University during a consultation meeting.

Manuel feels she’s being targeted, afraid to drive over the speed limit for fear of being pulled over. She said she’s “trying to deal with the trauma.”

Slaydo can relate, remembering the force used against her people.

”Just watching that and remembering that, really speaks to how little indigenous lives are valued and how much force the government is willing to place on us so that we can we stop resisting and that we stop asserting our sovereignty,” she said.

Manuel looks to the Braided Warriors and sees more action along those lines.

“When you hit them in the pocket book, they will listen. Create a paradigm shift in thinking about the economy. It will save the land from resource extraction that is leading us into this desperate pitiful future.”

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