The Colonizer Always Comes Out

Extractive industries and governments have gotten smarter about how they talk about Indigenous rights—but the bottom line stays the same.

Martin Ouellet-Diotte/AFP/Getty Images

A soft piano tune twinkles in the background. The words “Coastal GasLink Pipeline Project” appear and then fade to white. Edward, a member of the Gitdumden clan of the Wet’suwet’en Nation and a construction monitor for the project, introduces himself as the scene cuts to a series of picturesque shots of snow-topped trees. Speaking to the middle distance off camera, Edward talks about the preservation efforts of the pipeline project and his ancestors’ desire “to build a better life for themselves and their family.” Speaking of his CGL co-workers, he says, “Well, I guess they are my family.” Cue a final shot reading “Coastal GasLink Pipeline Project.” This is the face of the pipeline that TC Energy and its investors want the public to see.

Coastal GasLink@CoastalGasLink

Meet Edward, a member of the Clan. He’s one of many proud people working on the project. Let’s listen to his perspective.

SEE THE VIDEO

The TC Energy-backed Coastal GasLink Pipeline is a 416-mile project designed to carry natural gas through northern Canada and on out to Kitimat, on the western coast of British Columbia. There, at the heavily subsidized LNG Canada plant, the gas will be refined and shipped overseas to customers in Asia. The project, which snakes across the province like a cobra with its head raised to strike, also cuts through the unceded traditional territory of the Wet’suwet’en Nation.

On TC Energy’s website for the project, the company, in bold font, boasts the claim, “more than one-third of all field work conducted by Indigenous Peoples,” adding, “we listen to and value Indigenous voices and their connection with the land.” As noted in nearly every other article on the pipeline, CGL has the approval of both the Canadian federal government and B.C.’s provincial government. It also has the backing of 20 elected First Nations councils, including the Wet’suwet’en’s elected band councillors, a body of local politicians with authority over the municipal functions of their villages. It is, by all appearances, the ideal scenario: a pipeline developed in partnership with the Indigenous stewards of the land.

Except that beyond the soft focus ads and hollow pledges about partnership, there remainsthe violence of the project—a violation of the land itselfand the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, the matrilineal leadership of the First Nation, who have not given their consent to the project.

At its heart, this is the story of another pipeline devouring culturally significant and sacred Indigenous lands. But it is also a story of the ways that extractive industries and seemingly liberal governments are evolving in response to highly visible land disputes with Indigenous communities and growing public alarm over a looming climate disaster. TC Energy and multiple layers of government are trying, often successfully, to take advantage of distressed First Nations economies, a slanted legal system, and a biased media atmosphere to present themselves as reformed—environmentally conscious, broadly respectful of Indigenous sovereignty—while they quietly and violently seek to demolish Wet’suwet’en resistance to the pipeline.
Earlier this month, the hereditary chiefs—seven citizens who represent the five clans and, under Wet’suwet’en law, have the ultimate say over what happens in the traditional territory—evicted all CGL workers on their land. Later that same week, the Wet’suwet’en leaders allowed CGL workers to return to the land in order to winterize their equipment, in what Hereditary Chief Na’Moks of the Tsayu clan told The New Republic was meant to be a “sign of good faith.” For a brief moment, it seemed like a rare victory might be in store for First Nations leadership fighting to protect its ancestral homelands.

 

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