After ten years of political action against the proposed GasLink pipeline through Wet’suwet’en territory, it would appear some sort of agreement has been settled on. Whilst the guarantee of all band chief signatures or the consolidation of political aims cannot be ascertained, both parties have been assured they are working on a platform of mutual respect.
The pipeline – designed to channel gas from Dawson’s Creek to coastal Kitimat for export to Asian markets – passes through several First Nation lands. ‘First Nation’ is a slightly different term to ‘reservations’ in the US, where federally delegated reservations are organised into ‘states within states’, or micro-economies that exist in mainly geographical terms. Navajo Nation, the largest of these, has 350 000 residents. First Nations are effectively bands: far smaller, more heterogeneous and antiquated. They often have hereditary chiefs, and nations can be established via the government band registry. Bands often represent members who live outside of territories in legal and political matters, and operate more as semi-territorial political unions, due to the relative lack of unceded territories compared to the US.
Following initial Wet’suwet’en protest, a blend of solidarity and hysteria swept the nation
Since the pipeline got the go-ahead in 2018, Wet’suwet’en protestors have obstructed construction; injunctions granted by regional courts have enforced continuation via the arrests of over 100, some of them reporters. A blend of solidarity and hysteria quickly swept the nation: demonstrators blocked Victoria Island’s ferry port (its only commercial link to the mainland) and several ports in Metro Vancouver. Canada National Railway cancelled the only two East-West rail lines from Toronto after a blockade on the route. This is especially damning when once considers that mining, which accounts for 20% of exports, relies on rail for most transport. Several far reaching, barely-livable population centres have predicted shortages of chlorine for water purification. Rail – responsible for exporting 4 500 cars a day and generating $200 billion a year from trade – is something of a lifeline for the Canadian economy. Thus seen, “solidarity” is being used in the most abstract and damaging sense of the word.
The evidence suggests that the construction of the pipeline is inevitable
The infrastructural repercussions of the protests and the economic rewards of the pipeline suggest the thing is inevitable. After the protests have subsided or been trampled, what will be made of their political effectiveness?
Native affairs have always had a significant cultural dimension in the US, with self-mythologising literature depicting a ‘noble savage’, or a warrior constantly embattled with westward expanders. Canada has dealt with its Native population with what are without question ethically despicable means. Indigenous children were forcibly abducted from homes and put up for adoption, sometimes in Western Europe, as recently as the 1980s. Up to 1996, indigenous children went to church-led “integration schools”, where those forced to board faced squalid conditions, as well as sexual and physical abuse. In the 100 years of their running, around 5 000 children died in school related incidences.
The political response should draw attention to what can only be described as genocide. In one of the world’s only “super-diverse” nations, the aim of this awareness should not be to instill some sort of collective guilt, but to provide the historical and cultural validation that minority communities have gradually been granted. Consider Canada’s recent liberal strides in cannabis and immigration under the “enlightened” Trudeau. Although the protests may have been damaging, they may see Native discussion edged into its rightful place.
Last modified: 4th March 2020