On the afternoon of January 8, people took to Peterborough-Nogojiwanong’s downtown streets in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en Nation and its Unist’ot’en and Gidimt’en clans.
Unist’ot’en Camp is a protection and action camp of Unist’ot’en clan members and supporters on Wet’suwet’en territory, located in British Columbia. Unist’ot’en Camp has been blocking oil and gas pipelines from entering its lands since 2009. Its members have built barricades, structures and dwellings directly in the path of pipelines planned on the territory to deter surveyors and contractors from working on pipeline construction.
Three pipelines have been planned on Unist’ot’en Camp territory: Chevron Corporation’s Pacific Trails pipeline, TransCanada Corporation’s Coastal GasLink pipeline, and Enbridge Corporation’s Northern Gateway pipeline. The Enbridge pipeline was approved by the federal government with 209 conditions in June 2014, but was ultimately cancelled. In October 2014, the B.C. government approved TransCanada’s pipeline.
During mandatory consultation with affected Indigenous groups as laid out in the terms of provincial and federal approval for these pipeline projects, the Unist’ot’en clan and Wet’suwet’en Nation hereditary chiefs have repeatedly denied the corporations consent to begin pipeline projects on their territory. Wet’suwet’en territory is unceded: there have been no treaties or agreements on the land, so Wet’suwet’en law and hereditary chiefs have full sovereignty over the territory. Legal precedent for this has been set in the 1997 Supreme Court case of Delgamuuk’w v. Crown.
While confrontations have been increasing over the years since Unist’ot’en Camp was first implemented, actions began to escalate in late 2018 when TransCanada attempted to enter Unist’ot’en territory while Wet’suwet’en spokeperson and leader in Unist’ot’en Freda Huson was attending to a family crisis.
“In the past, oil and gas has escalated their efforts to push into our lands when we are enduring family crises,” Unist’ot’en Camp expressed in a press release from November 20, 2018. “Enbridge and TransCanada’s most aggressive efforts to enter our lands were made when Freda’s brother and father had just passed away.”
In December 2018, the nearby Gidimt’en clan on Wet’suwet’en territory began hosting the Wet’suwet’en Access Point on Gidimt’en Territory before the Unist’ot’en Camp to further deter oil and gas companies from accessing the land.
Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) notified the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs that a tactical unit assault was coming to Wet’suwet’en territory on January 5, 2019, after the Wet’suwet’en Nation unanimously refused Coastal GasLink’s applications for injunction during November and December 2018. The RCMP refused to give indication of the time, scale, or method of the coming invasion on the territory, despite the Wet’suwet’en Nation notifying them of the presence of women, children and elders on the territory. The Unist’ot’en Camp and Wet’suwet’en Access Checkpoint on Gidimt’en Territory began calls out for solidarity and resources.
On January 7, 2019, the Wet’suwet’en Access Checkpoint on Gidimt’en Territory was breached by armed RCMP and military. Communications via wifi, data and cell service were jammed while Gidimt’en clan members and supporters were arrested. RCMP moving toward Unist’ot’en territory.
“We have demonstrated that this fight is about more than a pipeline; it is about the right of Indigenous peoples around the world to exercise Free, Prior, and Informed Consent,” Unist’ot’en Camp wrote on its blog on January 9.
It is with this same sentiment that local organizers approached the January 8 rally in Peterborough-Nogojiwanong. Upon hearing the news of the RCMP’s breach of the Wet’suwet’en Access Checkpoint, local activist and organizer, Shawna Redskye, took to Facebook in an appeal to her community to come together in solidarity for the people of the Wet’suwet’en Nation.
Just a day later, over 200 people showed up to demonstrate this solidarity. During the rally, Redskye expressed her gratitude for the overwhelming response from her community.
Local organizer and representative from the American Indian Movement (AIM), Suzanne Smoke was also in attendance. When asked by media who organized the event, she pointed to the women behind her and said, “All of the kwe here.”
Suzanne Smoke, a Mississauga woman from Alderville First Nation and a representative from the American Indian Movement (AIM), also attended the rally. When asked by media who organized the event, she pointed to the women behind her and said “All of the kwe here.”
In an interview with Arthur, she elaborated on the need for our community to show solidarity with the Unist’ot’en and Gidimt’en clans: “To see them doing that to Freda, and the camp in her own traditional territory, in her own homeland, where they pick the berries and protect the salmon, where they drink clean, fresh water in their territory. Seeing the RCMP and the mercenaries climbing over that fence to get into their territory for oil, hurt my spirit.”
“All of us have a responsibility to the water and the land. We’re all in it together and we can’t be divided anymore. We have to love our neighbours, and that’s why I’m here.”
Since the rally, a Facebook group called “Nogojiwanong/Peterborough Solidarity with Wet’suwet’en” has been set up to better facilitate ongoing community demonstrations and fundraisers.
The group has planned an event for Saturday,January 19 to “continue our stand in solidarity with the Unist’ot’en Camp and the rights of the Wet’suwet’en to protect and live on their ancestral unceded territory.” Supporters plan to meet at James Stevenson Park at 3 p.m. and march to the Hunter Street Bridge where a banner drop and round dance will be held.