COUNCIL OF CANADIANS: STATEMENT IN SOLIDARITY WITH WET’SUWET’EN NATION

Banner

Statement
Wednesday, February 2, 2020

Council of Canadians chapters, supporters and staff are firmly in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en Nation as they continue to assert sovereignty on their traditional territories and resist state violence.

Land defenders have shared on the Unist’ot’en Camp website: “On December 31, 2019, BC Supreme Court Justice Marguerite Church granted an injunction against members of the Wet’suwet’en nation who have been stewarding and protecting our traditional territories from the destruction of multiple pipelines, including Coastal GasLink’s liquefied natural gas pipeline.” The Wet’suwet’en issued a call for international solidarity actions in response to this escalating situation.

Take action in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en Nation now.

Earlier this month, all five clans of the Wet’suwet’en Nation evicted Coastal GasLink (CGL) from their territories. The company sought and obtained an injunction from the BC Supreme Court, which gave the Wet’suwet’en until 3pm on Friday, January 10 2020 to comply with an order to remove gates and cabins on their own lands.

In early 2019 the RCMP forcibly removed Wet’suwet’en people and their guests from the Gidimt’en checkpoint. This heavily militarized raid included assault rifles and the RCMP were authorized to use lethal force against Indigenous land defenders.

Since this brutal attack in January 2019, BC has passed the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into law, including the right for Indigenous nations to give free, prior and informed consent to activities on their lands. This right includes the right to say no, which is what the Wet’suwet’en are doing now.

In January 2020, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called upon Canada to halt construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline until the Wet’suwet’en people grant free, prior and informed consent to the project. The committee also urged Canada to cease the forced eviction of land defenders and prohibit the use of lethal weapons against Indigenous Peoples, and to guarantee that no force will be used against them. It also urged the federal government to withdraw the RCMP from traditional lands.

In their own words, the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs demand the following:

  • That the province cease construction of the Coastal GasLink Pipeline project and suspend permits.
  • That the UNDRIP and our right to free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) are respected by the state and RCMP.
  • That the RCMP and associated security and policing services be withdrawn from Wet’suwet’en lands, in agreement with the most recent letter provided by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimiation’s (CERD) request.
  • That the provincial and federal government, RCMP and private industry employed by CGL respect our laws and our governance system, and refrain from using any force to access our lands or remove our people.

To support the Wet’suwet’en Nation, you can take this action in solidarity now.

The Council of Canadians supports the demands of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and remains in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en land defenders. We demand the Governments of Canada and British Columbia end their violence against Indigenous People immediately and respect the sovereignty of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation SOURCE

FIVE THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THE WET’SUWET’EN’S FIGHT FOR THEIR RIGHTS

Blockades of rail lines, roads, ports and more have been happening across the country in support of the Wet’suwet’en.

Public protest and round dance in Nathan Phillips Square in Toronto in support of the Wet'suwet'en Hereditary Chiefs

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Jason Hargrove

Public pressure is building through mass protests, road, rail and ferry blockades as people across the country are showing their support for the Wet’suwet’en’s right to choose what happens on their unceded ancestral land.

Coastal GasLink (formerly TransCanada) is proposing a 670-kilometre pipeline that would carry fracked natural gas from Dawson Creek to Kitimat in British Columbia where it would be processed in a new liquefied natural gas plant on the coastal shore. A portion of the pipeline runs through these Indigenous lands.

For years, Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs have been saying “no” to the Coastal Gaslink (CGL) pipeline project. When the corporation started moving onto the land, the Hereditary Chiefs asked them to leave. In response, the corporation obtained a court injunction and on February 6, armed RCMP officers forcefully removed the Hereditary Chiefs, Wet’suwet’en land defenders, and their supporters from their own land.

Here are five things you should know about the Wet’suwet’en’s fight for their rights:

1. The United Nations recognizes the rights of Indigenous Peoples and Canada must too.

The Council of Canadians supports Indigenous sovereignty, including the implementation of the United Nations Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).

UNDRIP clarifies the rights of Indigenous Peoples to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent regarding projects that impact their lands and livelihoods. It also clarifies that Indigenous Peoples will not be forcefully removed from their lands. The British Columbia provincial government passed UNDRIP into law in November 2019.

A UN committee has urged the federal government to withdraw the RCMP and immediately suspend work on the pipeline. The RCMP has offered to move its detachment near the Wet’suwet’en camps to Houston, but this is contingent on the Wet’suwet’en allowing CGL to continue to build the pipeline. This is contrary to the eviction notice and would not actually be a removal, as Houston is in Wet’suwet’en territory.

2. The Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs hold rights and title on ancestral lands that has been recognized by Canadian courts.

Infringing on this right jeopardizes the integrity of how the Canadian and British Columbian governments treat Aboriginal rights and title for the future.

In the 1997 case Delgamuukw v. British Columbia, Canadian courts recognized that the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs hold rights and title over ancestral lands. The Hereditary Chiefs have spent years fighting for this recognition in Canadian courts, and achieving it lays the foundation for their ongoing stewardship of ancestral lands in line with the way their community has done for generations. CGL needs their consent to be able to continue building its natural gas pipeline.

It must also be noted that for 23 years, the Canadian government has failed to reconcile its laws and priorities to respect the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Placing a pipeline on this land would permanently alter the on-the-ground context for the rights and title of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs. It violates the principles that the Hereditary Chiefs have successfully fought to have recognized, which they have practiced for generations, and which allow them to continue to care for the land in ways consistent with their traditions. These traditions prioritize the health of the land for the future, which is important in the face of the climate crisis.

3. The authority of Hereditary Chiefs pre-date the authority of Band Councils.

Hereditary Chiefs represent different houses that make up the First Nation as a whole. Their titles are passed down through generations and pre-date colonization. According to the First Nations Drum, “the Wet’suwet’en nation is made up of five clans, and within those, 13 houses. The five hereditary chiefs representing the clans are all opposed to the Coastal GasLink pipeline running through their territory, while the elected council gave their go-ahead.”

The article goes on to state that, “elected chiefs and council generally hold authority over reserve lands and their infrastructure. Traditional chiefs oversee the territories and hold ceremonial and historical importance to First Nations.” This isn’t a question of taking sides, but of recognizing what the Supreme Court has decided – that it is the Hereditary Chiefs who have jurisdiction over Wet’suwet’en traditional territory.

The Indigenous electoral systems came as a result of the section 74 of the Indian Act, which Canada imposed on First Nations. “It was designed to eradicate the hereditary system and create something more recognizable for the western government,” the article adds.

Both Hereditary Chiefs and Elected Councils are working on behalf of their people and hold unique roles. CGL has exploited the differences of opinion related to this project by moving forward without consent from the full community. Using the injunction from British Columbia, CGL would permanently enforce that division and jeopardize the existing mechanisms for Indigenous Peoples to give or refuse consent.

The Wet’suwet’en Chiefs emphasize their right to protect their lands.

“The Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs have maintained their use and occupancy of their lands and hereditary governance system for thousands of years. Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs are the Title Holders and maintain authority and jurisdiction to make decisions on unceded lands.”

4. This is a clear example of corporate capture and how corporations have the power to override fundamental rights.

Government policies are aligned with the interests of Coastal Gaslink, a corporation that will profit from this pipeline as Indigenous rights are sacrificed.

In fact, permanently undercutting the Hereditary Chiefs’ rights and title seems to have been a longstanding corporate goal of Coastal GasLink, in part indicated by the fact that CGL asked local leaders to contract out of those rights for the future. The Canadian government is choosing to hold onto their colonial mandate, mobilizing state violence through the RCMP and corporate interests, instead of aligning government practices to reflect a proper nation-to-nation relationship. Governments – provincial and federal – could choose to honour the Hereditary Chiefs’ right to say “no,” respect that they have refused the pipeline, and shift Canadian legal systems to pave the way for a substantive and just reconciliation.

These events are an example of how governments assume that “Canadian interests” – or, in this case, the interests of a corporation – are prioritized, undercutting Indigenous rights and title, no matter how clearly those rights are recognized within Canadian law.

In addition, the climate crisis means we should be saying no to new pipelines, not allowing oil and gas companies to build them. We must move away from polluting energies, not build new infrastructure to move them. The Council of Canadians has a long history of supporting people and communities that want to protect their land, water and air from polluting extractive industries such as fracked natural gas.

Council of Canadians Campaigners standing in solidarity with Wet'suwet'en

5. Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and their supporters have called for peaceful actions in support of their concerns.

Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and supporters have asked for disruptive, but peaceful actions because they heighten pressure significantly for policy makers to change their decisions. The level of action makes it clear that people are no longer willing to allow colonial dispossession to take place, and that we support the right of Indigenous Peoples to Free, Prior, and Informed Consent, including the ability to say “no.” The historic injustices, including denying these rights, must end, and it will take people coming together to make that happen.

This moment builds on the history of Indigenous resistance to colonial actions. It is inspiring to see people around the world joining the Wet’suwet’en’s call to action. This situation is tense and complex in many ways, but it is also a way to say that ongoing colonization and dispossession can no longer be tolerated.

Ways to add your support:

There are many ways you can get involved and add your support. If you haven’t already, please write to your Member of Parliamentphone your MP, join local solidarity actions, or read the links below to learn more.

Other Resources:

Wet’suwet’en Crisis: Whose Rule of Law? (The Tyee, Feb 14)

The Wet’suwet’en, Aboriginal Title, and the Rule of Law: An Explainer (First Peoples Law, Feb 13)

Industry, government pushed to abolish Aboriginal title at issue in Wet’suwet’en stand-off, docs reveal (The Narwhal, Feb 7)

Wet’suwet’en: Why Are Indigenous Rights Being Defined By An Energy Corporation? (Shiri Pasternak, Yellowhead Institute, Feb 7)

Corporations don’t seem to understand Indigenous jurisdiction (D.T. Cochrane, The Conversation, January 16, 2019)

Unist’ot’en Supporter Toolkit

In Kanesatake, women are the face of Mohawk resistance

On the front lines of the Indigenous resistance movement, it is young women — born after the 1990 Oka Crisis — who are taking a stand.

KANESATAKE — Brigitte Rice had been on her feet for 24 hours by Tuesday morning, hoisting the Warrior flag in one hand and using the other to slow traffic into Mohawk territory.

She came to the blockade Monday to “hold it down” for the protesters arrested for stopping rail traffic in Tyendinaga that morning. Hours after the raid, Rice was among the dozens of Mohawks on the front lines in Kanesatake, sealing off access to the reserve to show solidarity with her sister community.

They lifted the blockade early Tuesday and are allowing a single lane of traffic to pass through the reserve along Route 344.

“My son asked me if he would have to do this when he grows up. It hit me hard,” Rice said. “I really hope he doesn’t have to. I was watching live when the RCMP moved into the Wet’suwet’en camp. I started crying. It really hurt me.

“I’m here for them. I’m here for our people, for the Mohawks arrested in Tyendinaga, taken to jail for defending their land.”

As the provincial government announced plans Tuesday to try to dismantle the protest in Kahnawake, neighbouring Mohawk communities are on guard, ready to act in defence of their nation. The rail protests in Kahnawake and Akwesasne began in early February as an act of solidarity for the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs blocking the construction of natural gas pipeline on their land in northern British Columbia.

The Ontario Provincial Police dismantled the Tyendinaga camp near Belleville, Ont., on Monday, spurring a blockade in Kanesatake and a slow-rolling protest on the Mercier Bridge. On Tuesday, Canadian Pacific Railway announced it has an injunction to clear protesters from their tracks in Kahnawake.

The Mohawk resistance is showcasing a new generation of activists, ones like Rice: young women born after 1990, women who are reclaiming the Kanienʼkéha language and assuming their roles as clan mothers within a sovereign Mohawk nation.

“I only started learning the language at 13 but my son is learning it in school,” she says. “He teaches me. I could cry just thinking about it.”

Across from Rice, standing with the purple Iroquois Confederacy flag draped over her shoulder, Katsi’tsaronhkwas Stacy teases her friend.

“We’re gonna be on the news,” says Stacy. “Don’t give us a hard time, we’re tired!”

Stacy works at the Kanesatake treatment centre on weekends, helping people recover from addiction. She’s a full-time student at John Abbott College with a penchant for arguing with her profs.

“One of my teachers used to be a judge, we get into sometimes,” Stacy said. “I have a physical copy of the Criminal Code in my car, we have our own laws, we hold ourselves down, we exist but the government doesn’t seem to recognize that.

“We were here for thousands of years, we have the Great Law of Peace but now that we’re stuck on reservations we’re a bunch of nobodies? Well, I want to learn the law so we can use the law to defend what’s ours by right.”

Standing behind the barricades Monday, Ellen Gabriel said these women are keeping a 1,000-year-old tradition alive.

“It is the women, in (Iroquois) culture, who hold title to the land,” said Gabriel, who played a key role in defending Kanesatake during the Oka Crisis. “It is the women who chose the chiefs and who organize the community. The next generation needs a bit of guidance, but we’re proud of their energy and their dedication.”

Some of the enduring images from 1990 are of masked men, wearing camouflage and clutching AK-47 assault rifles in defence of Kanesatake. These were immortalized on television news, documentaries and in photos splashed across newspapers throughout Canada.

Nearly 30 years later, the face of Mohawk activism is a much different one. Standing near the women on Route 344, ‘Greg’ — who was 17 when he took up arms with the Mohawks — said he’s happy to see that shift.

“We don’t want violence, no one is looking for their 1990, no one wants to earn their stripes that way,” he said. “We had to resist, we had to defend ourselves, we were worried the army would come in and kill us all. We don’t want that for our kids.

“I’m proud to see these young, educated women who know their rights and stand up for our community.”

As Rice approached her 26th hour at the blockade Tuesday, another young woman showed up to help stand guard at the hill that overlooks the port of Oka, the Lake of Two Mountains and the expanse that once was the Mohawk nation.

“We have no choice but to defend what’s left of us,” Rice said. “I’m not a political person but I’ve been forced into a political situation.” SOURCE

 

LETTER: Coastal GasLink: Who Will Benefit Financially?

 

Hereditary Chief Ronnie West, centre, from the Lake Babine First Nation, sings and beats a drum during a solidarity march after Indigenous nations and supporters gathered for a meeting to show support for the Wet’suwet’en Nation, in Smithers, B.C., on Jan. 16, 2019. DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Isn’t it wise to ask when controversy arises”Who will benefit financially?”

The sub-chiefs and elected (Indian Act) band council chiefs who support the Coastal GasLink pipeline will gain – briefly – from the pipeline project. They have an understandable conflict of interest. The hereditary chiefs, who are responsible for protection of the entire territory do not.

This muddies the waters, but doesn’t change a number of basic truths:

1) Our government still acts in a colonial way with our indigenous peoples;

2) Peaceful demonstrators have been jailed;

3) Unceded indigenous territories have been invaded by a multinational fossil fuel company and the RCMP; and

4) We are in an existential CLIMATE CRISIS, so should be investing in transitioning away from fossil fuels, not building new fossil fuel infrastructure, including methane (natural gas) pipelines. Our only hope is to conserve and to rapidly build a sustainable, renewable energy economy.

The human economy is entirely dependent on the natural economy. If we persist with the status quo, global heating will soon reach the ecological ‘tipping point’, after which humans will lose any control over exponential heating, exacerbating mass extinctions on Earth.

Our choice: political expediency or rapid transitioning to a better future for all. What do we wish for future generations?

M O Mulloy,
Belleville, Ontario