What has been the response? The RCMP ramped up pressure on the Wet’suwet’en by establishing an “exclusionary zone” around the territory, allowing only the hereditary chiefs passage – other Wet’suwet’en members and the media were kept out. Such developments portended a human rights catastrophe of terrible proportions. It is for this reason that the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has called for the immediate withdrawal of the RCMP from Wet’suwet’en territory, and for the right of the Wet’suwet’en people to continue in their actions to protect the lands, waters and futures of their people.
Indigenous youth of the Nuuchahnulth, Tla’amin, Sto:lo, Namgis, Heiltsuk, Lil’wat, Xwlemi, Qayqayt, Lue Chogh Tue, Shishalh and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Nations launched an occupation of the Office of the B.C. Minister of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en. They stated that, “Indigenous people defending their lands from destruction are not criminal or disposable. As Indigenous youth, we urge you to uphold Indigenous rights and Wet’suwet’en law by advocating for the removal of CGL and RCMP from Wet’suwet’en territories.”
By February, a protest movement organising demonstrations, marches and days of action throughout Canada, was blockading major roads, bridges, railway lines and ports in support of their cause. Now in late March, during a Covid-19 public health emergency, all levels of government are moving to minimize physical interaction, and this includes the mandatory suspension of all “essential services.”
Pipeline construction continues
However, CGL pipeline construction continues. According to Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief, Dini Ze Smogelgem, the company “took advantage of the Covid-19 crisis and accelerated their project.”
As one of the Indigenous Youth leaders, Ta’kaiya Blaney, from the Tla’amin First Nation, recently stated,
“When you attack one, you attack us all… We, as Indigenous youth, know that what Canada is willing to do to Wet’suwet’en people is a demonstration of the measures they are willing to go to bulldoze and destroy Indigenous lands in the name of profit and industry.”
The government sanctioned continuation of the pipeline construction has led to the retort by Indigenous leadership, often in the form of a meme, that “Genocide is not an essential service.” Given the way in which European colonialism weaponized diseases such as small pox and used them against Indigenous communities, this rightly touches an inflamed historical nerve.
And indeed, it takes on different, enriched meaning when we recall that this pandemic can be directly linked to the Anthropocene and the human domination of nature.