Yellowknife residents joined protesters across Canadian cities in staging a rally to show support for anti-pipeline checkpoints established by members of British Columbia’s Wet’suwet’en Nation.
A group of about 30 people assembled outside the downtown Yellowknife constituency office of the NWT’s Liberal MP, Michael McLeod, at lunchtime on Tuesday.
They gathered to protest against the RCMP’s intervention – enforcing a court injunction – at the Gidimt’en checkpoint near Houston, BC, designed to control access to First Nation territory. Fourteen people were reportedly arrested at the site on Monday.
Two checkpoints in BC have disrupted construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, designed to take natural gas from northeastern BC to the Pacific.
RCMP on Tuesday headed to the second checkpoint, at the Unist’ot’en camp, to take similar action.
Members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation say Article 10 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples allows them to block the pipeline, as the article states Indigenous Peoples may not be “forcibly removed” from their land.
In 2016, Canada said it fully supported the UN Declaration “without qualification.”
The issue of who owns what land in BC has been the subject of numerous court cases in recent years. The Wet’suwet’en say they retain title to their land and therefore only they can grant or deny access.
‘We’re with you’
Many Indigenous people have expressed grave concern at the use of RCMP officers to ensure Coastal GasLink has access to the site.
“To use taxpayer dollars to invade unceded traditional lands in corporate interests for the pipeline just boggles my mind,” said Kiera-Dawn Kolson at the Yellowknife rally on Tuesday.
“We are supposed to have these human rights in place to protect the people but here is a case where it is being utilized to protect corporate interests.”
Kolson said a friend of hers had been arrested at the checkpoint.
“She is there because she believes in something bigger than herself. People who are standing up are not standing up for any reason other than this is wrong, and future generations deserve more,” she said.
“We’re with you. We are here with you in solidarity. You are not alone.”
Coastal GasLink says it “has support from elected Indigenous groups” for its project and the pipeline’s route, and on Monday said RCMP intervention – based on the company’s successful legal action – was “not an outcome we ever wanted.”
Directly connecting RCMP action in BC to the Liberal government, Yellowknife rally attendees taped protest signs to the doors of McLeod’s constituency office.
McLeod was, at the time, in Hay River making a series of federal funding announcements for territorial industry and infrastructure projects.
“To see people come out today was really inspiring,” said Kolson.
“I hope … it will continue to inspire and remind the Indigenous people of Canada what their human rights truly entail, and that their voice matters; and remind non-Indigenous people we all have this responsibility to ensure the Crown upholds what this country is founded on.
“If we don’t stand for something, we will fall for anything.”