Wet’suewet’en protests have exposed Canada’s racist underbelly: Ruth Hopkins

Protests against proposed Coastal GasLink pipeline through First Nations land in British Columbia, has crippled rail travel 

By Rajat Ghai
Published: Wednesday 19 February 2020
Protestors march in Vancouver, British Columbia in solidarity with the Wet'suewet'en people. Photo: @jwints / Twitter

The protests by the Wet’suewet’en First Nations people in British Columbia against a natural gas pipeline that will cut through their territory, exposed the ‘racist underbelly of settler Canada’, Native American writer Ruth Hopkins alleged.

Hopkins, of Lakota and Dakota origin, from the United States, told Down To Earth the protests had exposed Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

“It's pulled away the mask. You can now see Trudeau in his true form, the very image of his father (the late Pierre Trudeau). He is two-faced and has lied to First Nations indigenous as well as the Canadian people,” she said.

“He claims to be a friend of indigenous peoples, but doesn't respect our sovereign authority and enforces genocide by refusing to give us access to clean water and sending guns to impose the will of Big Oil against unarmed indigenous men, women, children and elders. He says he wants to fight climate change, but he bought a pipeline. He has shown us who he really is and these events have revealed the ugly racist underbelly of settler Canada to the world,” she added.

The protests against the proposed Coastal GasLink pipeline started last week, when police arrested three matriarchs of the Wet’suewet’en, who were protesting against road crews operating in the tribe’s territory in British Columbia to build the pipeline.

The line, once completed, will stretch from Kitimat to Dawson Creek on the border with the province of Alberta and transport natural gas.

However, construction has been delayed due to protests since the Wet’suewet’en, a grouping of five clans, that are further divided into 13 ‘house groups’, have never signed treaties over their land with the Canadian government, unlike First Nations peoples in other parts of Canada.

The tribe is also known for having been the plaintiff in the landmark Delgamuukw versus British Columbia case in 1997, where the Supreme Court of Canada described the nature and scope of Aboriginal land title for the first time in Canada’s history.

After the Wet’suewet’en started their protests, they were joined in the east by the Tyendinaga Mohawk First Nations People in Ontario province, barely kilometres away from Toronto, Canada’s largest city. Activists also have blockaded the port of Vancouver as part of the protests.

“While it has just become an international news story in recent weeks, I think it is important to understand that this situation didn’t spring up overnight. The traditional leadership of the Wet’suwet’en has been fighting to stop the destruction of their ancestral lands by Coastal Gaslink for years,” Hopkins said.

“Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs even agreed to an alternate route. Instead, the Canadian settler government and Coastal Gaslink have opted to force a confrontation by running their dangerous, antiquated fossil fuel pipeline through the current route under the point of a gun and without the consent of Wet’suwet’en matriarchs and land defenders,” she added.

Hopkins also said that indigenous North American peoples in the lands that are now Canada and the United States had original title to the land, which ‘preceded and superseded the settler government’s colonial hegemony’.

She also refused to term the current protests as a ‘new Standing Rock’, after similar protests against a proposed pipeline at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in the US state of North Dakota in April 2016.

“I dislike when media insists on labeling each instance of indigenous water protection, ancestral land defence and treaty stands as ‘the new (or another) Standing Rock’ or something to that affect, because it tends to diminish the strength of each and can discourage the public from learning about the nuances of each battle and each unique group of people.

“Natives are already pan-Indianised, when in reality, we are not monolithic. There are hundreds of different indigenous nations in North America alone, each having its own heritage, land base, language, culture and belief system. We have commonalities and are often allies, but we are not identical,” Hopkins said.

She also said the Wet’suewet’en could expect solidarity from indigenous groups across the Americas.

“Protests will continue and grow, and blockades are the wave. We gather strength from courage and numbers, we adapt, learn, and we will not surrender,” Hopkins vowed. 

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