Solidarity rally held as RCMP invades Wet’sewet’en territories
Canada is a company
On Sunday, November 21, around 20 people gathered outside Regina’s RCMP depot for an emergency solidarity rally in support of Wet’suwet’en Nation Land Defenders. The rally was one of many that took place across so-called Canada over the weekend. Protesters filled the streets in many cities and in places like Tkaronto (Toronto) and Tiotiake (Montreal) where hundreds of people blocked CP rail lines for hours in solidarity with the land defenders and their allies, who are using non-violent tactics to resist Canada’s attempts to invade their unceded, unsurrendered territories on behalf of the Coastal GasLink. This is the third time since 2019 that Canada has used its paramilitary police force to invade Wet’suwet’en territories.
While the RCMP Depot, located on Dewdney Avenue at the west edge of the city, is less accessible for those without vehicles than other rallying sites such as the Legislative Building, City Hall, or the Albert Street bridge, the site was chosen deliberately. “It was the RCMP that went into the Wet’sewet’en territory,” said Natalie Owl, one of the rally’s organizers. The RCMP, which was originally established as a paramilitary force to remove Indigenous people from their lands by whatever means necessary to support Canadian expansion, have been caught on camera physically assaulting land and water defenders and their allies at the contested pipeline drill site near the Wedzin Kwa (Morice) River. On Friday, they arrested more than a dozen people, including journalists Amber Bracken and Michael Toledano who were documenting Canada’s ongoing war campaign against Wet’sewet’en. It’s also a fitting spot to protest Canada’s continued colonization of Indigenous lands since the current RCMP depot is located at the site where Métis leader Louis Riel was executed, also for his resistance to the Canadian state and the corporations to which it has always been beholden.
“We’re showing support for our Indigenous brothers and sisters that are [in those territories],” said Owl. “We understand the human rights violations they’re suffering right now, as well as the resource extraction without consultation, the violation of their Aboriginal rights that are constitutionally protected.” Owl said organizers invited drummers to come out and a singer sang a song of solidarity. “It was really a song about standing up for your rights, for your community.”
Although the event was planned “overnight,” according to Owl, “We plan to make it a sustained effort [going forward].” Both as an act of solidarity and to raise awareness among people who may not know what’s going on. “There hasn’t been a lot of mainstream media coverage of what’s happened,” Owl said. “We have resource extraction to the point of endangering our world. It’s important to make sure that Canadian society is aware of how widespread the problem [of climate change and resource extraction] is.”
“What’s happening with Wet’sewet’en is not an isolated event,” Owl said. “It occurs across Canada and when we see the Wet’sewet’en and other groups standing up, they’re actually defending our Earth. And in doing that we’re standing up for all the people that live here. Not just Indigenous people but for all the people and all of the other parts of creation that live here.”
“I don’t think that our position as Indigenous people is different from any other marginalized group in other countries that have their human rights violated, that have their territories invaded and the resources that are there extracted and their right to a livelihood violated,” Owl said. She’s speaking to a long history of state governments using their legal systems and militarized police forces to defend the rights of resource extraction companies and to threaten and intimidate land and water defenders and their allies. Steven Donzinger, an American human rights lawyer who was part of a team that won a $9.5 billion lawsuit against Chevron on behalf of 30,000 Indigenous people in Ecuador is currently being punished for that win by the United States government with more than 800 days of house arrest and a six-month jail sentence in a federal prison in Connecticut. In 1995, the Nigerian government executed poet Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other members of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People in service of Royal Dutch Shell, one of the five companies that is currently involved in the LNG Canada project that Canada is attempting to invade Wet’suwet’en territories to build. And across the Global South, and in particular Latin America and Africa, Canadian companies are regularly linked to the murder and intimidation of land and water defenders and then shielded from responsibility by the colonial legal system.
“The Wet’sewet’en’s right to govern their territory is constitutionally protected,” Owl said. “But it doesn’t arise from Canadian government.” Their lands are unceded and unsurrendered and they have an inherent right to govern them that cannot be given or taken away by the colonial state government. Owl added that even in places where treaties were signed, like Treaty Four territory, where oskana kâ-asastêki (Regina) is located, “what you have are unilateral treaty interpretations. So while the provincial and federal governments might state that Indigenous people who signed treaty have signed away all their rights, Indigenous people will say ‘no,’ and back that up with our oral history,” said Owl. “We did not give up our rights to self-govern, we did not give up our rights to our territory.”
Essentially, where Canada has made treaties, it has also decided, without engaging the other parties, what is meant by those treaties. Where it has not made treaties, it uses its own legal system, terrorism, and paramilitary forces to obtain access to the land and resources it needs to feed the companies that run it.
“There is existing case law that recognizes Indigenous rights both for those who have signed treaty and for those who have not,” Owl said. “And those legal precedents are continually being violated.” Solidarity protests are expected to continue throughout so-called Canada this week.