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Pipeline protests result of systemic colonial violence

Student Life | Student View

By Emma Troake

We’re watching history in the making as the events surrounding the Wet’suwet’en Nation and the Coastal GasLink pipeline unfold.

The situation has the country’s attention, and judging by the number of protests in solidarity, the Wet’suwet’en Nation has a lot of support. 

Never surrendered

To quickly and vaguely summarize, Coastal GasLink is attempting to construct a 650-kilometre natural gas pipeline that would cut through Wet’suwet’en land.

While elected officials on the band council agreed to the construction of the pipeline, hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation have opposed it from the start.

Band councils are a part of the system created with the implementation of the Indian Act, something that was forced upon Indigenous peoples in Canada rather than accepted. Self-governance had been in place for centuries prior to the Indian Act.

“Those opposed to the pipeline are frustrated with the continuation of colonial violence after years of attempted ‘reconciliation.'”

It is important to note that Wet’suwet’en is traditional territory, not a reserve.

Reserves were established also as a part of the Indian Act, as a way to force Indigenous peoples onto designated “Crown land.” Reserves are owned by the Crown.

Traditional territory, however, such as the 22,000 square kilometres of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, were never surrendered. This means that jurisdiction lies with the hereditary chiefs.

Sovereignty over traditional territory

Furthermore, in 1997, after more than a decade of litigation, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that British Columbia could not extinguish Aboriginal rights and specified the Aboriginal title, with rights to the land included in that title.

This case, Delgamuukw vs. B.C., was originally brought forward in 1984 by leaders from the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en Nations, regarding jurisdiction over their territories. Therefore, the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation have sovereignty over its traditional territory.  

On Dec. 31, 2019, an expanded injunction was granted to Coastal GasLink by the B.C Supreme Court, prompting RCMP officers to approach protestors and the area they were blocking.

As a result, more than 20 protestors were arrested. As one can imagine, those opposed to the pipeline are frustrated with the continuation of colonial violence after years of attempted “reconciliation” with Indigenous peoples of Canada.

The outrage has sparked a surge of the messages #reconciliationisdead and #shutdowncanada across the internet. In solidarity, protesters across the country are blocking railways, streets, bridges and more. 

Misdirected blame

Regardless of all the talk and attempts at “reconciliation,” colonial violence still occurs.

Racism towards Indigenous peoples is growing in response to protests. Some people are frustrated by being inconvenienced in their travel needs and plans.

An Indigenous woman in Winnipeg experienced racist remarks and was subjected to sustained verbal abuse during her bus ride home due to rising anger resulting from protests in the city. 

Naturally, some people will be angry that their lives are being affected by these protests. However, it’s important to realize that the blame should not be placed on protestors and Indigenous peoples.

“It’s good we’re being inconvenienced. Our eyes should be drawn to the events that are unfolding before us.”

They are fighting for their rights to their own land that non-Indigenous, particularly white people, have been trying to take away for centuries.

If anything, we should think about these inconveniences we’re facing from the protests and compare them to the bigger picture of the extensive history of violence and colonialism towards Indigenous peoples in Canada.

Anger shouldn’t be directed towards those protesting, it should be directed to those who infringed upon the rights of the Wet’suwet’en Nation and created the need for protests in the first place.

It’s good we’re being inconvenienced. Our eyes should be drawn to the events that are unfolding before us.

It’s time we pay attention to the colonial violence inflicted upon Indigenous peoples, and stop pretending that it’s something of the past. 

As always, the first action we can take in support is to educate ourselves. More information regarding the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s position can be found here

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