Police officers remove an elderly woman from the road where protesters demonstrating in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposed to construction of the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline across their traditional territories were blocking an entrance to the port, in Vancouver, on Monday February 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Police officers remove an elderly woman from the road where protesters demonstrating in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs opposed to construction of the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline across their traditional territories were blocking an entrance to the port, in Vancouver, on Monday February 10, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

‘People are starting to wake up’: Pipeline protesters expect long-term change

Some say public opinion has shifted toward support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.

Opponents of a natural gas pipeline in northwestern British Columbia say they believe protests across the country are sparking a growing awareness of Indigenous rights that will lead to long-term change.

Protesters blocked train traffic in east Vancouver on Monday afternoon to support Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who oppose the Coastal GasLink pipeline. The protest came hours after nearly 60 people were arrested for obstructing busy ports in the city and in nearby Delta.

Demonstrators gathered on the B.C. legislature steps in Victoria, where traffic was also tied up because of blockages on two bridges Monday evening.

Pipeline opponents also gathered at the office of the Crown-Indigenous relations minister in Toronto, the federal justice building in Ottawa, a commuter train line in Montreal and outside an event with the natural resources minister in St. John’s, N.L.

Jen Wickham, a spokeswoman for one of the five clans that make up the Wet’suwet’en Nation, said she believes non-Indigenous Canadians are becoming more aware of First Nations rights.

“I think that people are starting to wake up to the fact that we have the right to our territory,” she said. “They’re upset and they’re taking to the streets. They’re occupying offices, they’re stopping traffic and they’re stopping trains. They’re saying, loud and clear, ‘This is not OK.’ “

The RCMP began enforcing a court injunction last week against people camped near a pipeline work site in Houston. Mounties said 14 people were arrested and expected to appear in B.C. Supreme Court on Monday.

Mounties said in a statement late Monday they have concluded major operations to enforce the injunction, following the arrests of seven more people earlier in the day.

They said Coastal GasLink employees removed a barricade from the Morice River Bridge, though RCMP will continue to monitor the road to ensure it remains open.

Wickham said members are defending their territory from construction of the pipeline, which is part of a $40 billion liquefied natural gas export project.

“We are the rightful title owners of our territory and we will continue to assert our sovereignty,” she said. “It’s not a question of protesting. It’s a question of their homes. They’re defending their homes.”

Protesters began disruptions at ports in Vancouver and nearby Delta on Friday. The ports obtained court injunctions and arrests were made Monday morning, when Delta police said emergency health services were called for one protester out of an abundance of caution.

“Everyone involved was treated respectfully and with dignity,” said Cris Leykauf, a Delta police spokeswoman.

READ MORE: Pipeline protesters shut down major Vancouver intersection in support of Wet’suwet’en

Demonstrators regrouped and impeded a major rail thoroughfare that feeds into the port. Spokeswoman Natalie Knight said about 150 people were there on Monday afternoon.

“We want to send a clear signal in at least two different directions. We want to signal to ourselves that we are strong, that we are not afraid of the colonial legal courts, and that we stand with the Wet’suwet’en,” she said.

Vancouver police said it was monitoring the protest and no arrests had been made.

The Vancouver Fraser Port Authority said it had not heard of any terminal delays due to demonstrations on the rail lines but it continued to monitor the situation.

Knight also said she has seen public opinion shift toward support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.

The situation reminds her of pivotal moments in history, such as the 1990 Oka crisis, a 78-day standoff involving a group of Mohawk people that led to the federal government taking a closer look at its relationship with Indigenous Peoples, she said.

In the years that followed, residential schools were closed and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was launched, Knight said.

“The ripple effects of these kinds of actions for Indigenous sovereignty are much bigger than we can predict or see in this current moment.”

In St. John’s, N.L., dozens of protesters gathered outside Memorial University, where Natural Resources Minister Seamus O’Regan was set to speak.

“Natural resource development in this country, at a time when we’ve committed to net zero, when a majority of Canadians have voted with clear concern about climate change, there are going to be protests and people feel very strongly about it,” O’Regan said.

“I was more than happy to hear their concerns and I’m sure I’ll be hearing a number of others as I go across the country.”

READ MORE: 47 pipeline protesters arrested while blocking Metro Vancouver ports

About 30 people waited for six hours in the lobby of the federal justice building in Ottawa until a trio of department officials came down to hear their concerns. The officials said Justice Minister David Lametti was travelling and unavailable, but protesters said they wouldn’t leave until they spoke to someone in a position of authority.

Emma Buchanan, who attended the protest, said the national show of support for the Wet’suwet’en was a sign that people are waking up to the need to support Indigenous people.

“Indigenous issues are Canadian issues and they are for everybody to care about,” she said.

Lametti said in a statement that he had spoken by phone with the protesters and was committed to bringing their demands to his cabinet colleagues.

“Advancing reconciliation is a crucial priority for our government and our country,” he said. “I take this responsibility very seriously.”

On the B.C. legislature steps, protester Kolin Sutherland-Wilson said he feels a responsibility to stand up for Wet’suwet’en members.

“In this day and age, it is immoral, it is unjust and it is inhumane for Canada to continue to criminalize and vilify Indigenous law,” he said.

All 20 elected band councils along the pipeline route, including the Wet’suwet’en council, have signed benefits agreements with Coastal GasLink. However, the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs say the council established by the Indian Act only has authority over reserve lands.

The hereditary chiefs assert title to a vast 22,000-square-kilometre area because they have never signed a treaty ceding their traditional territories.

Premier John Horgan has said the pipeline is of vital economic and social importance to northern B.C. He said the courts have decided the pipeline can proceed and the rule of law must prevail.

B.C.’s Indigenous relations minister did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

— With files from Dirk Meissner in Victoria, Rob Drinkwater in Edmonton, Stephanie Levitz in Ottawa and Holly McKenzie-Sutter in St. John’s, N.L.

Laura Kane, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coastal GasLink

Just Posted

A young Sicamous Canada Day parade-goer is awed by a colourful float filled with beloved Disney characters during the July 1, 2020 community event. (File photo)
Editorial: Now is the time for Sicamous to shine

Shuswap community might be just what people who work from home are looking for

Greyhound Canada announced May 13 it was closing operations permanently after more than a century of operation. (Black Press file photo)
COLUMN: Goodbye to a never forgotten friend

Greyhound bus trips played a big role in columnist’s life

The BC Conservation Officer Service (COS) handed out fines to two anglers on Shuswap Lake who were both casting more than one line, in violation of provincial regulations, Saturday, May 15, 2021. (COS photo)
Conservation officers snag Shuswap anglers for unlawful fishing

Two anglers were given $150 fines for casting two lines at once, against provincial regulations

The future of the Okanagan Lake watershed land use will be subject of a new study supported by a $300,000 grant from the Vancouver Foundation. (Contributed)
Grant to help develop Okanagan Lake protection strategy

Study receives $300,000 grant from the Vancouver Foundation.

As they carry out a FireSmart assessment in Salmon Arm, firefighters Carmen Guidos and Steve St. Denis show one of the easy-to-rectify fire hazards that can exist for unsuspecting residents. (Martha Wickett-Salmon Arm Observer)
Column: Lessons on welcoming a wildfire into your home

The View From Here by Martha Wickett

Daily confirmed COVID-19 cases reported to B.C. public health, seven-day rolling average in white, to May 12, 2021. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C. preparing ‘Restart 2.0’ from COVID-19 as June approaches

Daily infections fall below 500 Friday, down to 387 in hospital

A man and woman, both 33 and from Kelowna, were arrested on Postill Lake Forest Service Road in possession of two stolen vehicles Friday, May 14, 2021. (File photo)
Kelowna duo arrested with stolen vehicles after ‘brief’ bicycle getaway attempt

A man and a woman were arrested on a forest service road on numerous pending charges

On Friday, May 14 at Meadow Gardens Golf Club in Pitt Meadows, Michael Caan joined a very elite club of golfers who have shot under 60 (Instagram)
Crowds at English Bay were blasted with a large beam of light from an RCMP Air-1 helicopter on Friday, May 14. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Marc Grandmaison
Police enlist RCMP helicopter to disperse thousands crowded on Vancouver beach

On Friday night, police were witness to ‘several thousand people staying well into the evening’

Lynda Saundry, born 1961, is charged with the murder of North Okanagan resident Barry Jones in July 2020. Saundry will appear in Vernon court May 17, 2021, to fix a date for a preliminary inquiry. (Facebook public photo)
North Okanagan murder suspect to be tried by judge and jury

Lynda Saundry is charged with the first-degree murder of Barry Jones in July 2020

Vernon Search and Rescue’s Legacy vessel is returning to Okanagan Lake for boating season, the society said Friday, May 14, 2021. (VSAR photo)
Vernon Search and Rescue vessel returns to Okanagan Lake

VSAR’s Legacy is back with a fresh coat of paint and some other upgrades

People shop in Chinatown in Vancouver on Friday, February 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Vancouver community leaders call for action following 717% rise in anti-Asian hate crimes

‘The alarming rise of anti-Asian hate in Canada and south of the border shows Asians have not been fully accepted in North America,’ says Carol Lee

Sinikka Gay Elliott was reported missing on Salt Spring Island on Wednesday, May 12. (Courtesty Salt Spring RCMP)
Body of UBC professor found on Salt Spring Island, no foul play suspected

Sinikka Elliott taught sociology at the university

The first Black judge named to the BC Supreme Court, Selwyn Romilly, was handcuffed at 9:15 a.m. May 14 while walking along the seawall. (YouTube/Screen grab)
Police apologize after wrongly arresting B.C.’s first Black Supreme Court Justice

At 81 years old, the retired judge was handcuffed in public while out for a walk Friday morning

Most Read