Peterborough-Nogojiwanong is one of many communities across Canada demonstrating in solidarity with the Unist’ot’en and Gidimt’en clans on Wet’suwet’en territory on the west coast, who are seeing another round of Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) violence for opposing pipeline developments.
Unist’ot’en Camp is a protection and action camp of Unist’ot’en clan members and supporters on Wet’suwet’en Indigenous territory, located in Canadian 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 to cross Wet’suwet’en territory: Chevron Corporation’s Pacific Trails pipeline, TransCanada Corporation’s Coastal GasLink (CGL) 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.
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 during mandatory consultations as laid out in the terms of provincial and federal approval for these pipeline projects. Wet’suwet’en territory is unceded: there have been no treaties or agreements on the land. 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 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 spokesperson and leader in Unist’ot’en Freda Huson was attending to a family crisis. Both Enbridge and TransCanada have previously attempted to enter the lands while the Wet’suwet’en leaders have been personally vulnerable. 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 ahead of the Unist’ot’en Camp to further deter the companies’ contractors from accessing the land, since the road that the two clans share, Morice West Forest Service Road, is the only pathway to the planned pipeline site.
In January 2019, the Wet’suwet’en Access Checkpoint on Gidimt’en Territory was breached by armed RCMP and military after the Wet’suwet’en Nation unanimously refused CGL’s applications for injunction during November and December 2018. Several people were arrested at the checkpoint, which sparked an international movement of solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en.
Since then, CGL has been caught trespassing on Wet’suwet’en land to bulldoze traplines and war trails and to establish man-camps. The B.C. Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations has also been accused of trying to obscure the area’s archaeological significance. In May 2019, TransCanada Corporation rebranded itself as TC Energy.
B.C. became the first province to enshrine the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in law in November 2019.
“Implementing the principles of the Declaration, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, are central to our government’s commitment to meaningful reconciliation, as well as acknowledging that our words must translate into positive and tangible change for Indigenous communities and the province,” said B.C. Premier and Trent University alum John Horgan in a press release in September 2019.
“Reconciliation requires a continuous and ongoing commitment to engaging as partners in ways that respect the unique rights, interests and circumstances of Indigenous peoples to determine their own futures. We’re involving First Nations on land-use planning and environmental stewardship, incorporating traditional knowledge into resource decision-making and making innovative agreements.”
On December 31, 2019, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled in favour of CGL to proceed with its construction plans with an interlocutory injunction that could be enforced by the RCMP. Tensions began to rise once again in January, as the Wet’suwet’en leaders met with the RCMP, politicians and CGL representatives to resolve the conflict. The RCMP also set up its own checkpoint on Morice West Forest Service Road, citing safety concerns about felled trees on the road to Unist’ot’en Camp.
The RCMP began to enforce the injunction on Wet’suwet’en territory last week when the talks could not produce a resolution. Several convoys of armed tactical units have come and made arrests on the territory, including at Gidim’ten and Unist’ot’en.
The overt police presence and force being used on the Wet’suwet’en people has sparked demonstrations of solidarity across Canada. Most notably, the Tyendinaga Mohawk people located between Belleville and Napanee, Ontario have disrupted VIA railway service on their territory in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en for six days.
In Peterborough-Nogojiwanong, two events in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en have been organized and successful since the RCMP began to enforce the CGL injunction. On Friday February 7, community members rallied outside of Member of Parliament for Peterborough-Kawartha riding Maryam Monsef’s office. MP Monsef is the Cabinet Minister for both Women and Gender Equality and Rural Economic Development.
The rally featured representation from Curve Lake First Nation. Local candidate of record for the New Democratic Party (NDP) Candace Shaw was present, and Green Party candidate of record Andrew MacGregor also made a brief appearance on Friday afternoon.
Crystal Scrimshaw, one of the organizers of Friday’s rally, said, “[February 6] was an emotional day. I came here [outside of MP Monsef’s office] to make the space safe and cleansed it with sage before the rally.”
Scrimshaw has a friend who is on Wet’suwet’en territory defending the land.
“I want MP Monsef to extend her support to us, and to directly address Wet’suwet’en on the behalf of Nogojiwanong to say that we are with them.”
Arthur made a request with MP Monsef’s office for a statement from her regarding the CGL conflict and Wet’suwet’en solidarity actions across the country on Friday. After following up on Monday February 10, the timeline for a statement from MP Monsef remains unclear.
On Monday, community members in Peterborough-Nogojiwanong met once more to demonstrate solidarity by performing round dances and songs outside of Peterborough City Hall just before City Council was set to meet in the evening.
One of the round dance drummers and singers, Josie Marie, addressed community members and reminded them that the Wet’suwet’en people are not only defending their territory.
“This is also about violence against women,” she said, gesturing to the final report of the Canadian National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG). One of the report’s findings was that “resource extraction can lead to increased violence against Indigenous women.” The RCMP reached Unist’ot’en Camp and arrested Wet’suwet’en women, including Freda Huson, while they were performing a ceremony to honour MMIWG on Monday.
“If you’re just sitting around talking about it, that’s not a movement; that’s a meeting,” another organizer said at the beginning of the event, while also noting that people may not appreciate disruption regardless of its cause.
Various news sources out of Regina, Saskatchewan reported that a car drove through demonstrators occupying a roadway in Regina in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en people, sparking a police investigation of the motorist. The Peterborough Examiner reports that Monday night’s round dancing and speakers could be heard within the Council chambers.
The round dancing began in front of the steps to City Hall, then moved onto the street. The circle then moved north to block traffic at the intersections at George and McDonnel streets and George and London streets, with police monitoring the area for safety and directing motorists.
The organizers and community members intend to continue demonstrating in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en people, with larger actions anticipated in the future.
Editors’ Note: This article was filed for publication in the late hours of Monday February 10. Due to the developing nature of the story, please check TrentArthur.ca for further updates.