Regina rallies on the Albert Bridge for Indigenous sovereignty
On Jan. 4, the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s hereditary chiefs of all five clans rejected a British Columbia Supreme Court ruling from days earlier by issuing an eviction notice to Coastal Gas Link (CGL), which has been building a pipeline on unceded Wet’suwet’en land for ten years. The ruling was an injunction for CGL, which permitted the “forced removal of people and structures” in order to build the pipeline. The Unistoten camp of the Wet’suwet’en, which stands on that hereditary territory (or yintah), and now additionally serves as a place of community learning and healing for land and water defenders, remains under attack.
According to a statement on the Unistoten camp’s website, “[s]ince obtaining the initial interim injunction order, CGL has bulldozed through our territories and destroyed our archaeological sites, while private security firms and RCMP have interfered with the constitutionally protected rights of Wet’suwet’en people to access our lands for hunting, trapping, and ceremony.” The statement adds that CGL has faced no legal repercussions for these actions. Now, with the new injunction in place, CGL is again emboldened to disregard the eviction order from the hereditary chiefs, with the blessing and aid of the Canadian state.
On January 13, RCMP established an “exclusion zone” or blockade around the Unistoten site, which prevents media from entering the area as well as Wet’suwet’en clan members. This is a repeat of what was done in January of 2019, when there was a militarized raid on the Unistoten camp and several camp residents were arrested. The raid in 2019 forcibly removed Indigenous peoples from their traditional territories, and as such, was a violation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), which is now law in British Columbia.
The January injunction is a ruling which contradicts other rulings and laws, also outlined on the Unistoten camp website: first, a previous ruling which acknowledges that Wet’suwet’en territory is unceded, and that Canada has no jurisdiction there. Second, Wet’suwet’en traditional law, which maintains that the hereditary chiefs have jurisdiction over the land. CGL and the Canadian state have defended their actions with reference to the elected chiefs and council who do support the pipeline. However, according to Judith Sayers at the University of Victoria in an article for The Tyee, the elected chiefs and council “never had the jurisdiction to deal with the land.” Sayers asserts that the hereditary chiefs and Wet’suwet’en law must be respected as full and legitimate forms of governance; it is “not a ‘belief’ or ‘point of view.’” UNDRIP, in fact, also asserts the right for Indigenous self-governance.
On Jan. 13, the same day as the exclusion zone was established, a solidarity rally took place in Regina at the Albert Street bridge. Despite the fact that an extreme cold warning was in effect, approximately 20 people turned out carrying signs and banners with slogans like “LAND BACK,” “NO TRESSPASSING,” “FREE, PRIOR AND INFORMED CONSENT,” and “EVICT CGL.” The rally walked up and down the bridge and then into the street, forming a soft blockade and stopping traffic for several minutes.
The rally was a response to the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s call for “A Week of Solidarity,” from Jan. 7-12, in response to the injunction. There were speakers present who stood in the cold and spoke about the need for showing support with Wet’suwet’en to the world, and the importance of Indigenous sovereignty’s relationship with climate action. One of these speakers was Sue Deranger, an educator and organizer originally from Treaty 8 who has visited the Unistoten camp several times and organized for at least 50 years. Deranger took part in a phone interview for the Carillon an hour before the rally. In the interview, she expressed a sentiment she repeated on the streets: that real solidarity means continuing to follow and support the attack on Wet’suwet’en people beyond just a single rally.
“I pick wisely with my protests,” Deranger said when introducing her work, which focuses mainly on self-sufficient communities. “To me, is a protest just talking to ‘the converted’ . . . or is it something that’s getting a real message across?” She says that the rally on Monday is a good example of organizing that has a direct and loud message: no more attacks on Wet’suwet’en people or their lands. “Canada needs to see that people are saying no to the attack on the Wet’suwet’en nation . . . that we’re watching.” She recalled her time in the Amazon and Peru as Indigenous people there also faced intense violence, and said that solidarity actions or statements of solidarity from around the world make land and water defenders feel less isolated and alone in the face of deep challenges.
It is a fight she is deeply familiar with; Deranger moved to Regina from Treaty 8 in 1975, when a Canadian uranium company “violently removed” her community because of their private interests. She spent much of her early time in Treaty 4 territory sending appeals to the government, the old-fashioned way with written letters, and was told that “legally, they were trespassing, and morally, they weren’t.” Because of this, Deranger says, Wet’suwet’en solidarity is close to her heart. She has been told by friends that she should make a protest sign that says: “It’s been 50 years, I shouldn’t have to keep doing this shit.”
Of the time she spent at the Unistoten camp, Deranger, recounted two examples of times when she encountered confrontations that threatened the safety of the yintah. The first was when the camp was just starting to rebuild the territory and built a house on the camp – and overnight, that house had suddenly been burnt down. The second time, she was driving back with others to the camp at night when a strange truck tried to run them off the road. Those who defend the land and water on Wet’suwet’en land, for the sake of not just their territory but the Earth, face threats on multiple levels from interpersonal to institutional.
Deranger had an advisory tale about the urgency of responding to solidarity calls which can be summarized as “not being a bunch of ducks.” The story is that there was a meeting full of ducks where the birds are taught to fly, how wonderful and freeing flying will be, how flying will improve all of their lives, and how important it is that ducks fly from now on. Then, as soon as the meeting is over, the ducks get up and walk home. Deciding to fly instead of walk when it comes to the attack on Wet’suwet’en land can start with a visit to the Unistoten camp website, where they have posted a “solidarity toolkit” for anyone looking to speak up.