A tentative deal to end the Wet’suwet’en blockade of the Coastal GasLink pipeline project in northern BC is in the works, but it will take a couple of weeks before it can be ratified by the members of Wet’suwet’en bands during traditional decision-making meetings called the bahlat, or potlatch in English. So, it’s not really over and this is why some blockades are still up. Canada’s response is now to wait.
It was not always so. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for the solidarity blockades to come down because of their impact on the economy. “Let us be clear: all Canadians are paying the price. Some people can’t get to work, others have lost their jobs. Essential goods cannot get where they need to go,” Trudeau said, adding that the situation “is unacceptable and untenable.”
Meanwhile, right-wing politicians are pressuring him to be tougher. Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe criticized Trudeau for saying that Canadians have been patient throughout this process. “But that patience is not unlimited in Canada,” Moe warned.
Perhaps he should look to Canada’s First Nations to learn about patience. There are First Nations communities that have spent 25 years under a boil water advisory. There are First Nation teens who know that every spring they must be evacuated because of flooding. There are parents waiting for results on the murdered and missing women and girls.
There are also First Nations children who have received substandard and poorly financed services that other Canadians take for granted. Canada is still fighting not to compensate them, let alone bring these services up to par with other Canadians.
Meanwhile, residential schools and those issues have not really been dealt with properly. The number of First Nations men and women in prison has been called a national disgrace. The numbers keep going up even though there was supposedly a mandate to change this.
The list goes on and on.
It points to one thing, perhaps the first thing the prime minister and other politicians should learn from First Nations is what the true meaning of patience really is.
Another thought on the blockades came when Trudeau pointed out that Via Rail laid off 1,500 workers. One can point out that in another project – the Trans Mountain Pipeline – he gave a huge multi-billion-dollar gift to non-Canadians by using taxpayer money to purchase it. Yet when it came to a Crown corporation such as Via Rail, no money was coming forth to assist them in keeping Canadian employees working. He instead seemed to exploit the layoffs as an excuse to send in the police.
In the meantime, those who are racist have taken this as justification for their beliefs and are speaking out. One Indigenous hockey player was called “a dirty f**king Indian.” Facebook has seen an increase in hate speech and certain politicians and media outlets have fanned the flames.
Historian Sean Carleton of Calgary’s Mount Royal University said Canada is repeating the mistakes of the past. His specialty is colonial violence and the current use of force indicates reconciliation is on “life support.” In the past 150 years Canada seems to be more about using force to “protect the economy” instead of dealing with First Nations and their concerns.
All the blockades were weapons-free until the police arrived. Hopefully, we will soon see this situation resolved for the Wet’suwet’en people. However, I doubt we will see much change in Canada’s attitudes towards First Nations peoples. I wonder how long our patience will last.