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Hundreds gathered in Vancouver on Jan. 8 to show their support for the Wet’suwet’en.  

‘I am so embarrassed as a Canadian today,’ says environmental activist

Did you rally in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en?

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It was an international day of action with Canada in the hot seat. From Vancouver to Victoria, Edmonton to Halifax, the United States and the United Kingdom, people across the country and around the world took to the streets this week to rally for the Wet’suwet’en hereditary leadership as they defend their traditional territory in northern B.C. from pipeline development.

“I am so embarrassed as a Canadian today,” said environmental activist Tzeporah Berman as she marched through downtown Vancouver, along with hundreds of Indigenous people and their allies on Jan. 8.

But if you’re still wondering why so many people took to the streets this week, here’s a roundup of what you need to know:

What is happening?

  • Freda Huson, who works at the healing centre at the Unist’ot’en Camp down the road from the Gidimt’en camp where armed RCMP officers tore down the checkpoint and arrested 14 people on Jan. 7, says her nation has “too much to lose” if the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline Project goes through their territory.

“I’m here now because this is my home, this is where I live,” she explains in this Facebook video. “This is an unjust system that we live in. My people have been pushed aside, pushed aside for hundreds of years. And it hasn’t stopped, it’s still happening right now. My people live off these lands.” 

“We don’t want them to try and say that we can be in a reservation and just stay in my buildings here, but they can destroy the rest of my territory,” she says.

The government should not allow the RCMP to treat her like a criminal, she adds. “All I am doing is living on my lands that my clan has title and rights to. You say reconciliation? This is not reconciliation.”

If a pipeline is built on what’s left of her nation’s traditional territory, what will it do to the water, she asks. What will it do to the food and medicines that come from the land? “They want to put their project 1 km upstream from us. Will we still be able to drink that water?”

  • For more on the pipeline project, the major players and how we got to this point, here’s a good primer published in The Tyee by Zoë Ducklow.
“They love our resources, they love our land, but they don’t love us,” says Lavynia Holland, who attended the Jan. 8, 2019 rally in Vancouver.

Why are people rallying in the streets about this?

  • “Trying to establish construction through land that doesn’t belong to the government is an illegal act and that’s — that’s something that I am not okay with the government that represents me doing,” demonstrator Mike Bird told Discourse reporter Brielle Morgan. Brielle was at the Vancouver rally this week and wrote about why people came out in the hundreds to show their support for the Wet’suwet’en.

Why does TransCanada even need to get permission from First Nations?

  • “Imagine for a second that instead of from Alberta to British Columbia, you were building a pipeline from Canada to Guatemala. Well, you would have to consult with all of the countries along the route,” former Discourse reporter Trevor Jang explains in this video. “For First Nations in Canada, you’ve got to take that term ‘nation’ literally.”
  • And in this piece, Trevor and Discourse reporter Lauren Kaljur look at what meaningful consultation with First Nations really means, and what it requires.

Okay, but TransCanada says it signed agreements “with 100 per cent of B.C. elected Indigenous bands along the pipeline route,” including the Wet’suwet’en First Nation. So what’s the problem?

  • TransCanada signed agreements with elected band councils and chiefs along the route, not hereditary chiefs. In this piece for Vice, Trevor Jang explains the difference — and what it could mean for his family in the Wet’suwet’en nation.

“The elected band council system was introduced under the Indian Act as part of a suite of colonial policies aimed at eradicating traditional governance systems. The band councils are responsible for managing reserve lands, while the hereditary system is what governed the broader traditional territory which is what the pipeline is proposed to cross,” he writes.

Indigenous people and their allies occupied the Consulate General of Canada in Seattle, WA for about an hour on Jan. 8 in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en. 

Wait. What’s the difference between hereditary chiefs and band councils?

  • “What the average Canadian does not know is that some of those bands (band councils) only have jurisdiction within their reservation boundary while the hereditary chiefs have jurisdiction over the traditional territories,” writes Shannon McPhail, executive director of the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition, in this opinion piece. “It’s the same as a municipality, like Smithers or Terrace, that only has jurisdiction within their city limits and can’t sign development agreements for projects in Telkwa, Thornhill or rural areas.”
  • This is a question the Wet’suwet’en land defenders have been getting a lot, so they shared this post on their Facebook page to explain the difference. I recommend reading the full post.  

What is happening RIGHT NOW?

Did you take part in any of the rallies across Canada? If so, tell us why it was important for you to go, and send us a picture if you can. Email us here. We’ll share them in an upcoming newsletter.

Did you hear?

  • If you’re a visual learner, check out this in-depth episode on what’s happening in the Wet’suwet’en territory by Democracy Now. They talk to Karla Tait, a member of the Unist’ot’en house group of the Gilseyhu Clan, whose aunt Freda has been living at the camp since 2010 to protect the land.
  • It’s not just the Coastal GasLink Pipeline Project that is challenging Indigenous rights in Canada. “In a rare rebuke, the United Nations has instructed Canada to suspend construction of the Site C dam on B.C.’s Peace River until the project obtains the ‘free, prior and informed consent’ of Indigenous peoples,” writes Sarah Cox for The Narwhal.
  • We’ve been talking a lot about cultural misappropriation at The Discourse when it comes to Indigenous art. But is the idea of “cultural appropriation” a “dubious, harmful concept” as argued in this opinion piece, or is it an important line that society needs to draw?  
  • Are you still on that holiday sugar train? You might want to check out this investigation by Buzzfeed on how the sugar industry kept the health dangers of the sweet stuff secret for decades — and one former dentist’s determination to reveal the truth.

Shout-outs.  

Don’t be fooled. This isn’t fruit, it’s marzipan. 

Speaking of sugar… happy Marzipan day! And don’t forget the other days this month, Step in a Puddle and Splash Your Friends Day and Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day. Yes, those are weird moments in history our society has decided to commemorate on #socialmedia.

But did you know January also marks the formation of the National and Provincial Parks Association of Canada in 1963, the first diabetes patient to be treated in 1922 (thanks Frederick Banting and Charles Best at the University of Toronto who first isolated insulin), and when Gertrude Guerin became the first woman elected chief of the Musqueam Band in 1961?

At The Discourse, we’re always looking for the ignored, under-celebrated, under-acknowledged people and moments in history. If you have an event or person you think doesn’t get the day they deserve, let us know. We’re looking to fill our calendars. Email us here.

Want to help build our calendars as well as our investigations? Become a member of The Discourse. As a member, you’ll get to go behind the scenes of our editorial process and make an impact by contributing to our investigations. Sign up here.