Allison Gacad, 21, Canada
In Northwestern Canada, supporters of the Wet’suwet’en resist construction of a 6 billion dollar natural gas pipeline crossing over their traditional territory.
Since 1997, the Canadian Supreme Court has formally recognized the traditional territory of the Wet’suwet’en people, which spans 22,000 square km across northern British Columbia, located on the west coast of Canada.
The Wet’suwet’en comprise of numerous clans, of which hereditary chiefs hold ancestral authority to make decisions on these unceded lands – land which has never been surrendered to the Crown of Canada.
Amidst rejection from hereditary chiefs, in April 2019, construction commenced on the Coastal GasLink pipeline: a 6 billion dollar, 670 kilometre long natural gas pipeline for export to global markets, with approximately 190 kilometres planned for construction across Wet’suwet’en land.
The pipeline is a project of LNG Canada – a joint venture among global fossil fuel companies such as Shell, PETRONAS, and PetroChina. It is the largest private sector investment in Canadian history.
The Uni’stot’en, a clan of the Wet’suwet’en, has spent the past decade growing grassroots support against proposed pipelines on the territory. Volunteers have travelled to build lodges, healing centres, and camps at points along the proposed pipeline routes.
In December 2019, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called upon Canada to cease construction of the pipeline, citing disturbance at “forced removal, disproportionate use of force, harassment and intimidation by law enforcement officials against indigenous peoples who peacefully oppose large-scale development projects on their traditional territories.”
However, on February 6, 2019, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police forcibly arrested 6 supporters of the Wet’suwet’en to continue construction on the pipeline.
In the past month this has consequently sparked hundreds of solidarity movements across the country, particularly among Indigenous youth. Activists have occupied the steps of B.C legislature, as well as ceased railway travel in Ontario and Quebec.
Coastal GasLink, the constructors of the pipeline, remains adamant to continue construction, citing that they have reached agreements with all 20 elected First Nations band councils along the route.
Band councils are a product of Canada’s Indian Act. In 1876, the Indian Act was passed to impose government structure onto Indigenous communities, effectively controlling how they may practice their rights and traditions.
In contrast, the Wet’suwet’en hereditary system has survived for thousands of years, independent of the Indian Act. However, the hereditary system has experienced internal strife on its roles, responsibilities, and who occupies them.
The pipeline is supported by provincial government as well as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
As of February 11, 2020, 28 Wet’suwet’en members have been arrested at various points along the proposed pipeline route. The RCMP has maintained strict media control over coverage of the arrests.