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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

“Not ideal”?

BY Will Nicholls Jan 18, 2019

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that the arrest of pipeline protestors in northern BC recently was “not an ideal situation” – but that the rule of law must be respected. I would have to think that in an ideal world people wouldn’t simply be arrested for having ideals that they support in a non-violent manner.

To be fair, Trudeau elaborated by saying, “A hundred years ago, if the government decided ‘Well, the railway is going here,’ nobody was consulted and the government could just do this. That’s not how we do things anymore.” He wasn’t happy with the RCMP response, which lead to 14 arrests.

Members of the Gidimt’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation set up a camp that included a checkpoint on a forest-service road that leads to a pipeline construction site. The Coastal GasLink pipeline expansion is a heavily contested project that sees some supporting the pipeline because of job creation and economic benefit while others oppose it for environmental reasons.  

First Nations along the route have signed agreements with Coastal GasLink but demonstrators say Wet’suwet’en house chiefs, who are hereditary rather than elected, have not given consent. The barricade stopped company workers as they hadn’t been given consent to pass the checkpoint on traditional lands.

The BC Supreme Court did not agree with the hereditary chiefs in granting an injunction to the company. Then the RCMP stepped in, stating, “The RCMP respects the Indigenous rights and titles in BC and across Canada.”

A spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale insists the federal government is still committed to a renewed relationship with Indigenous peoples, which includes the recognition of rights, respect, co-operation and partnership. “The RCMP respects and protects the right to peaceful demonstrations as guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

When the Nation visited Standing Rock, North Dakota, the site of a Sioux protest against an oil pipeline, we learned a lot about how government and big business work together to eliminate a protest movement. The same scenario seems to be the playbook for the Canadian project. Coastal GasLink has the support of the country’s local, provincial and federal governments and their agencies, and the courts and the police. Many protesters were trained in non-violent confrontation techniques when dealing with police. In most cases these techniques were effective and in other cases left the door open for a harsher-than-expected response.

One can hope the Canadian experience won’t be replay of Standing Rock. Already mimicking the US skirmish, support for the protestors is growing at a rate unexpected by both government and business. All across Canada, from Halifax to Vancouver, supporters are showing their displeasure with the government response. In Ottawa, NDP MP Romeo Saganash joined demonstrators, saying he hoped to alleviate tension before the Mounties made arrests. He said he had no response from any of the provincial and federal Indigenous affairs ministers he asked for assistance.

A meeting with self-governing First Nations with federal officials and representatives, including Trudeau, had to be moved because of protesters.

In his address at that meeting Trudeau said, “To be perfectly frank, there’s a lot of work ahead of us. I don’t want to dwell on the past, but you know, and I know, that previous governments and institutions spent years ignoring your communities and your concerns.”

Ideally, Trudeau would do more than just accept a less-than-ideal situation if he recognizes the problem and how First Nations feel about these types of confrontations. Now let’s have some action back it up. That would be ideal wouldn’t it?

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Will Nicholls is a Cree from Mistissini. He started his career off in radio and is still one of the youngest radio DJ’s in Canadian history, having a regular show on CFS Moosonee at the age of 12. Will was one of the founding members of the Nation, and has been its only Editor-in-Chief.