Canadian academic and scientist David Suzuki joined Indigenous youth at the University of Victoria Friday evening for a press conference in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and supporters.
Suzuki joined leaders of the Greater Victoria movement Kolin Sutherland-Wilson and Ta’Kaiya Blaney, who said they were disappointed with portrayals of the demonstration.
“We have essentially been vilified in the media for simply standing up for our rights and doing everything we could in order to communicate with a government that essentially does not want to hear what we have to say,” said Sutherland-Wilson.
The press conference followed a rally of Wet’suwet’en supporters across Victoria, standing in solidarity with hereditary chiefs in opposition of the Coastal GasLink pipeline. Indigenous youth and allied demonstrators gathered in peaceful protest outside at least 30 government buildings.
The Victoria Police Department noted afterwards that there were no traffic disruptions or serious incidents during the protests.
“Officers are thanking the protest organizers and participants for their efforts to keep this morning’s protest safe and peaceful.”
That movement followed weeks of demonstrations in Victoria, as RCMP began enforcing injunctions on Wet’suwet’en anti-pipeline camps. In South Vancouver Island, demonstrations began on Jan. 20 with the shutdown of the Swartz Bay ferry terminal and were followed by sit-ins at government buildings, include a six-day camp on the steps of the BC Legislature building.
Protests outside the government building grew heated on Feb. 11 when supporters blocked MLAs from entering to attend the speech from the throne. In the days that followed the Victoria Police Department said it was investigating allegations of assault that included non-life threatening injuries and damages to equipment.
At the Friday press conference, Indigenous speakers addressed those claims, saying that legal observers documented their observations and found that “Indigenous youth and their representatives communicated regularly to supporters to stay peaceful, abide by police requests and refrain from engaging in violence.”
Premier John Horgan has said the pipeline – part of a $40-billion LNG Canada export terminal project – offers vital economic and social support to northern B.C. The pipeline has received approval from 20 elected First Nations councils along its proposed route, however hereditary chiefs say the elected chiefs’ power comes only from the Indian Act and is limited to reserve land.
|David Suzuki spoke at the University of Victoria’s Student Union Building in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en supporters. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)|
Sutherland-Wilson said the history of the issue has been largely left out of the popular narrative.
“The Indian Act system was deliberately introduced to replace our governments, to confine us to reserves and to ultimately control us in order to have access to our territories, and that’s the history of it,” he said.
David Suzuki spoke briefly of his history as an environmentalist.
“You’re engaged now in a battle, that I believe is the Titanic battle over the future of this planet that is going to be fought over the next few years,” he said. “Over the next few years we’re going to determine which way we’re going to take it across this moment in time.”
– With files from Kendra Crighton.
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