Hundreds of people carried signs advocating for the government to respect Indigenous rights and take meaningful climate action through the streets of downtown Vancouver on Jan. 11.
The aim of the march was to bring attention to the court’s late December decision to allow the RCMP to remove people who are preventing workers from entering to build a gas pipeline, which is to be operated by Coastal GasLink.
“The Unistʼotʼen settlement camp is not a protest or a demonstration. Our clan is occupying and using our traditional territory as it has for centuries,” reads a statement from the Unist’ot’en camp’s website.
“Our free, prior, and informed consent protocol is in place at the entrance of our territory as an expression of our jurisdiction and our inherent right to both give and refuse consent and entry into our territory.”
Though the pipeline was approved by the Wet’suwet’en elected council, the hereditary chiefs don’t approve of it. Many don’t consider the elected council to be as legitimate as the hereditary leadership system, as the hereditary leadership system has been in place for much longer than the elected system imposed by colonial settlement and the Canadian government.
Various speakers presented both at the starting location by the Court building and at the ending location by Victory Square. The march made its way through the streets of Vancouver escorted by the police.
Most of the speakers addressed the crowd on the steps at Victory Square, among them housing activists, Chiefs, and Indigenous community members. David Suzuki also gave his support from the environmental side of the situation.
“Our laws guide us on how we take care of the land and how we guide each other in our social structure,” Jolene Andrew, Wet’suwet’en member and liaison, said.
“We know what laws mean, and we know how important it is to uphold the law, and Canada right now is not upholding their own law as far as the Delgamuukw court case goes.”
“We feel that Coastal GasLink as well as the RCMP are engaged in acts that are contradictory to the ancient laws and customs of the title holders of the Wet’suwet’en nation,” says Brandon Gabriel, a member and spokesperson of the Kwantlen First Nation, who was also a speaker at the protest.
He has been working with the Wet’suwet’en nation through Stand With Kwantlen, which he started with his wife Kachina Bige. At the march, he told the crowd about a visit he made to the Unist’ot’en camp.
“We’ve been involved in putting education and information out there to the general public so that people are aware of the issues that they’re being faced with in addition to being there on the ground and supporting them in their community while they fight these big developments that are occuring on their territories,” he says.
“What we’re facing in our territories is similar,” he adds
Gabriel compares the situation with the Wet’suwet’en nation to his experiences between Trans Mountain and the Kwantlen First Nation. He also believes that it’s important to support and raise awareness of the Wet’suwet’en nation because the remoteness of the region makes it more difficult for media or average people to find their way there.
“I think the KPU students and faculty communities are very well versed in understanding the enormous challenges that Indigenous people of this country are faced with,” he says.
“My hope is that people who are in that institution are using their knowledge and their power and privilege to shed light on what is taking place in Canada right now, with regards to these big oil corporations and how they’re treating Indigenous people and their lands.”