BC’s students show support in the fight for Wet’suwet’en land rights
Sheila Arellano // News Editor
Conflict continues between the Indian Band Council, the Wet’suwet’en peoples and the Coastal Gas Link Pipeline. On Jan. 27, around 600 university and high-school students in Vancouver staged a walk-out from their classes to show their support for the Wet’suwet’en Nation. The Wet’suwet’en hereditary Chiefs—whose authority as a governing body predates European contact—do not authorize the passage of the Coastal Gas Link Pipeline being built from the northeast of BC to Kitimat over their ancestral territories.
The protestors—mainly consisting of students—gathered at Vancouver City Hall where speeches were given by Dakota Bear, Jean Swanson, Ida Manuel, Sii-am Hamilton, Jo Walden, Jaye Simpson and Patricia Kelly. This was followed by a visit to BC Environment Minister George Heyman’s office. “The nature of the [student] walk-out must be conducted with the desire to create room for Indigenous peoples to resolve this problem without external interference,” said Capilano University (CapU) Indigenous Politics professor Tim Schouls.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) requires consultation with Indigenous peoples around natural resources and dictates that every measure must be taken to secure Indigenous peoples consent for projects of this nature. The Wet’suwet’en hereditary Chiefs have not been consulted or offered their consent.
“As citizens of the state that exercises its power to constrain Indigenous peoples, we have to stand up against the ongoing attempts to control,” said Schouls. “My concern is that the BC court has said that the Wet’suwet’en law does not apply in this case because the nature of the law they have pointed to has not been drawn into the fabric of British common law in a way that is recognizable to the province of BC. And that’s a real problem.”
The student walk-out was just one of many protests emerging in Canada and the world in support of the Wet’suwet’en land defenders. People are standing up and supporting solidarity actions across the globe today. Still, on Feb. 4 the Federal Court dismissed an appeal to Ottawa’s decision to approve the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. On Feb. 8, 11 arrests by RCMP took place on Wet’suwet’en land.
“There’s no way to put a positive spin or a silverlining on what’s happening. This is real and this is scary, but we still have to find our own ways for picking up and moving on with goodness in our minds and in our hearts. But, how do we do that?” asked grassroots environmental movement activist Audrey Siegl at the CapU showing of the film Invasion during sustainability week. The film follows the developing story of the Unist’ot’en Camp, Gidimt’en checkpoint and the larger Wet’suwet’en Nation standing up to the Canadian government and corporations who continue colonial violence against Indigenous peoples.
“It is important to create awareness,” said Schouls. “As a teacher I must demonstrate that, while we live in a liberal democracy, nevertheless our history and our ongoing use of state power has significant moments of injustice and oppression.” It is crucial for Canada to not congratulate itself for being the best country in the world to live without recognizing and confronting its injustice and abuse of power that remains today.