Reaction to Monday’s RCMP raid of an Indigenous camp in B.C. spread across the country as thousands took to the streets in support of the Unist’ot’en and Gidimt’en who are defending their lands from an unwanted pipeline in unceded Wet’suwet’en territory.
Solidarity rallies were planned a week ago for cities like Moncton, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver and Victoria but were largely focused on yesterday’s events.
Elders, women, youth, land defenders and allies gathered at government legislatures, city squares and outside Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s constituency office in Montreal in opposition to the RCMP’s enforcement Monday of a B.C. Supreme Court injunction granted to Coastal GasLink, that wants to build a pipeline through Wet’suwt’en territory.
They held round dances, offered speeches and demanded an intervention into the forced removal of Wet’suwet’en people from their unceded lands.
In Ottawa hundreds forced their way into a federal government building where Trudeau and cabinet ministers were scheduled for a meeting on modern treaties and First Nation self-governance.
Watch Annette Francis’ story on the rally in Ottawa.
Inside women, men, elders and youth drummed as the crowd made their way down a hallway to the outside of a room where Trudeau, Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett, Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott and Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna were said to be.
It was later confirmed that meeting was moved to another building.
Several women addressed the crowd gathered inside about Monday’s raid of the Gidimt’en camp on a logging road near Houston, B.C., where RCMP tactical units arrested 14 people, including women and elders, in a dramatic scene only made public on social media hours later.
Some journalists were prevented from accessing the scene by the RCMP, while reporters already embedded at the camp lost communication when a wifi signal at the camp suddenly died moments before the RCMP raid.
Crystal Semaganis from Treaty 6 territory said what happens to the land happens to the people.
“We are all one connected to our land. When something happens in B.C., at the Wet’suwet’en and Unist’ot’en camps, when people are oppressed, all of us suffer.”
Thousands marched in Toronto and held a round dance in the intersection of University and King and gathered in Nathan Phillips Square.
In Nova Scotia about two dozen people slowed traffic on the Canso Causeway between Cape Breton and the mainland.
In Thunder Bay about two dozen people rallied at the constituency office of federal Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Labour Patty Hadju.
In Vancouver hundreds marched from the provincial courthouse through the streets to Victory Square.
On Monday Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs Grand Chief Stewart Phillip called the situation a “crisis” and has called for the provincial and federal governments to revoke all permits associated with the project until matters can be worked out in the courts.
All five Wet’suwet’en First Nations have signed agreements with the company for short-term jobs and millions in compensation but the Nation’s hereditary leadership and a number of grassroots people have rejected the pipeline and say they’re upholding Wet’suwet’en law by resisting.
Michelle Robinson, chair of the Indigenous People’s Commission in Alberta, spoke to the crowd gathered in Calgary about the divisions within Indigenous communities over fossil fuel development.
She said people “have an assumption that we are all anti-pipeline when some of us are pro-pipeline. But we are all anti-violence and I would really think that Canadians would get behind that message,” she said.
“It’s not okay, in the middle of a Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Inquiry—where we are facing violence all the time and talking about what the root causes are for violence against Indigenous people—when we literally have RCMP hurting Indigenous people right now.”
While the Calgary rally was peaceful and quiet, a pro-pipeline rally nearby was marked by protestors chanting “Build that pipe!”
Canada and the province of British Columbia have both committed to implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
(People get ready for the march in Moncton. Photo: Angel Moore/APTN)
One demonstrator in Ottawa Tuesday held a sign reminding decision-makers that Article 10 of UNDRIP states “Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands or territories.”
Cree NDP Member of Parliament Romeo Saganash marched with people in Ottawa.
He told APTN News he joined the demonstrators because the “RCMP justified their intervention yesterday on the basis that the courts have not determined or declared the title of the Wet’suwet’en, which is bullshit for me.”
Prior to the raid the RCMP issued a statement on its website that it later retracted.
It interpreted the landmark 1997 Supreme Court of Canada Delgamuuk decision, which recognized the Wet’suwet’en never extinguished their rights and title but did not fully define Wet’suwet’en rights and title to the land.
The RCMP’s interpretation of the decision to justify its enforcement of a court injunction is thought to be unprecedented in Canada.
The federal police argued that since the SCC ordered a new trial to determine Aboriginal title, and since that trial has not been held, “Aboriginal title to this land, and which nation holds it, has not been determined.”
After outrage on social media and from Indigenous leaders and politicians, the RCMP retracted the statement.
Saganash said the statement represented “the same argument that Europeans have been using since 1492 — terra nullius in other words.
“That’s unacceptable, especially in 2019, especially in this area of reconciliation supposedly. To be doing these interventions that are trampling the fundamental rights of Indigenous peoples.”
In Vancouver Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said today marked the beginning of an important moment in history for Indigenous people.
“I believe 2019 is gonna be our watershed year a turning point in all of our collective history,” he said.
“The voice of the land is finally going to be heard through the babble of the boardrooms — the land is going to speak.
“And the people of the land and all peoples throughout British Columbia and across Turtle island — we are brothers and sisters in this struggle.”
At the temporary occupation of the government building Ottawa, Semaganis told the crowd gathered inside “there is spirit in this land. There is a spirit that flows in the water. And you will hear her today. She is woman and she is life — and she will be ignored no longer.”
With files from Tamara Pimentel and Tina House.