Donna Johnson leads a solidarity march through the streets of Nanaimo in support of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation on Jan. 10 (Nicholas Pescod/NEWS BULLETIN)

Solidarity rally supporting the Wet’suwet’en First Nation takes place in Nanaimo

Supporters urge B.C. government to respect indigenous rights

Indigenous and non-indigenous people rallied through the streets of Nanaimo in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en on Friday afternoon.

The rally comes a little more than a year after RCMP officers arrested 14 people on Wet’suwet’en traditional territory, near Houston, after they refused to leave the area and allow construction work on a pipeline to begin.

At the time, officers were enforcing an injunction that ordered the removal of two First Nations camps at a place called Gidimt’en checkpoint, which were blocking the construction site for TC Energy’s Coastal GasLink project, a 670-kilometre pipeline that will run from Dawson Creek to an LNG terminal in Kitimat. Although Coastal GasLink has provincial and federal approval, it does not have the approval of Wet’suwet’en First Nation hereditary chiefs, who adamantly oppose the project in an effort to protect their lands so that future generations can continue to hunt, fish and trap on them.

Friday’s event was organized by Extinction Rebellion Nanaimo and also comes less than three weeks after a B.C. Supreme Court judge issued another injunction which prohibits protesters and the Wet’suwet’en from blocking access to the construction sites. Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have issued an eviction notice to TC Energy’s Coastal GasLink ordering workers to leave their land.

Supporters gathered at Diana Krall Plaza before making their way to the Dunsmuir Place building, where the offices of Nanaimo-Ladysmith MP Paul Manly and local MLA Sheila Malcolmson are located. Following speeches and a prayer circle outside of the politicians’ offices, supporters then marched to the Nanaimo RCMP detachment on Prideaux Street.

RELATED: Protesters rally in support of B.C. First Nation chiefs against natural gas pipeline

Robert Fuller, a member of Extinction Rebellion, told the crowd on Dunsmuir Street that although the B.C. government recently passed legislation committing itself to the United Nation’s declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples, they’re not taking that declaration seriously.

“There is no access to Wet’suwet’en territory without their consent,” he said. “They are the title holders and the province must address the issue of [Wet’suwet’en] title if they want to gain access to the land.”

Fuller also said TC Energy will “rely on RCMP violence” in order to “force their way” onto the Wet’suwet’en territory to continue the construction of Coastal GasLink, adding that today’s event was about showing support for the Wet’suwet’en.

“We stand Wet’suwet’en strong,” he told the crowd.

Leah Morgan told the crowd out front of the RCMP detachment that it is critical that everyone stand in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en and protect them from “deadly force” that is on their land. She said it’s also important for everyone to stand together and send a clear message that “colonial genocide” will not be tolerated for “one more minute.”

“No matter what religion, race, colour, background you come from. It doesn’t matter if you have money, if you don’t have money, we are all here and we are all going to face a climate that cannot sustain life on this planet if we do not protect Canada because we are one of the last places with a strong enough eco-system currently to sustain us,” she said. “But it is rapidly dwindling, therefore we need to hold hands with the Wet’suwet’en.”

RELATED: Leonardo DiCaprio voices support for Unist’oten anti-pipeline camp in northern B.C.

Julia and Bettina Thomas, Nuu-chah-nulth women from Ahousat, told the News Bulletin they came across the rally while in town and decided to participate.

“We were just strolling about and I saw a button blanket so I assumed I should go and stand with our people and the people who are fighting for our rights,” Julia said.

Julia, who also spoke during the rally, said it is important for people to understand that respecting indigenous rights also means respecting environmental rights.

“Our teachings are here to protect what we are given and what gives us life and that also means other people on this planet, not just us. It’s for everybody.”

There were a number of non-indigenous people participating in the rally on Friday. Bettina said years ago, that might not have been the case and that it was beautiful to see so many non-indigenous people really care about the issues her people are facing.

“Seeing non-native people leading these events now, they’re singing and understanding and I think when they’re out doing all this it gets the word out so much more to non-native people and it’s really good,” Bettina said. “To see and hear someone respond to what we’ve been talking about for all these years and then to have people listen and write letters, it’s a beautiful feeling.” 
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