RCMP stand down
Regina’s most recent solidarity action in support of Wet’suwet’en land defenders took place on Saturday, Feb. 8, at noon on the Albert Street bridge. The action prior to this one, which responded to the B.C. Supreme court giving Coastal Gas Link (CGL) permission to enter Wet’suwet’en unceded territory despite Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs issuing an eviction order, happened on Jan. 13. While this earlier protest shut down the bridge’s traffic for around 15 minutes, the extreme cold meant that there were few people in attendance who had to go home relatively early. On Saturday’s action, however, the much milder weather made a significant difference – over 100 people came out to form another bridge blockade, and traffic was stopped for about half an hour. The heightened enthusiasm and support came in the wake of another militarized raid on the Unistot’en land defenders’ camp and arrests of six land defenders. As of this article’s time of writing, those people are now free – however, the raid continues to move into the camp and escalate, and more arrests have been made, including a Wet’suwet’en matriarch.
Saturday’s protest began at Speaker’s Corner, just ahead of the bridge, where an Elder led an opening prayer and smudge and Indigenous organizers spoke, including visible members of the campus community. Members of the newly formed Regina group Matriarchs on Duty were also in attendance, and led the chants and the march. Slogans in chants and on signs that day included “Water is life,” “RCMP stand down,” “Solidarity with Wet’suwet’en,” “No trespassing” and “No pipelines on unceded land.” Several students from First Nations University and the U of R also protested.
Notably, as several other news outlets in Regina have reported since, two cars that were stopped by the blockade attempted to drive through the crowd on Saturday. This crowd contained children, including some in strollers, and elders. As the first car began to move, protesters around it quickly attempted to push it back to protect these vulnerable members of the crowd. One of these was a student at the U of R who said it was an act of instinct in the moment. Video of the car has circulated online, showing people pushed back by the car with considerable force. The crowd hit the car with their signs and fists as it drove off, but were otherwise unmoved and continued to blockade the bridge. Later, a second car did the same, but was this time successfully pushed backwards by several protesters and eventually turned around. Meanwhile, police had arrived and were directing traffic to turn, which they could do safely and successfully. The crowd also parted at one point to allow the passage of an ambulance.
While those on the bridge on Saturday were protesters, Wet’suwet’en and their allies have asserted many times throughout their battle with CGL that what they are doing is not strictly a protest. Wet’suwet’en people are not trespassing anywhere; they are on their traditional territories, which are unceded. That is, they have never been handed over to the Crown and are not covered under any treaty. The RCMP, with the blessing of the courts in British Columbia, is coming into these unceded territories with tactical teams and forcefully removing Indigenous people from them. This is a violation of the United Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which the B.C. NDP pledged to implement, but fail to do so.
For Regina, in Treaty 4 territory where anti-Indigenous racism is rampant, this was a significant act of solidarity where, as organizer Saima Desai wrote in a Facebook post, protesters “put their bodies on the line.” The Wet’suwet’en nation continues to call for solidarity actions with the hashtags #ShutDownCanada and #ReconciliationIsDead, and efforts here are joined by many others blocking roads and ports or occupying offices. Students, always uniquely situated to be strong voices in protests and revolutionary movements, have a sure role to play in this moment. FNU student in attendance Karlene Pruden said she was empowered by the boldness of the direct action taken.
“I was filled with many emotions that gave me empowerment to be able to stand among other people who want the same rights and freedoms as other people … I may only be one person, but when a group connects we can make a drastic change. Saturday was an act of resilience against the violation of reconciliation.”
Amanda Leader was another student in attendance.
“My late grandfather, Paul Leader, stood up for Indigenous rights, and I feel like it is in my blood to do the same. The Wet’suwet’en water protectors simply want to keep the water clean, for me, for you, and for a future for seven generations of children.”