The time is long past for the barricades to come down.
What started earlier this month as a protest of TC Energy’s plans to build its Coastal GasLink pipeline through the traditional territory of B.C.’s Wet’suwet’en First Nation has become a convoluted mess. Blockades, supposedly set up in support of the Wet’suwet’en are now threatening our economy and are hurting innocent people as they endure the fallout of the protests.
Those protests are far from straightforward.
The 20 band councils along the pipeline route all support the gas line project which is committed to hiring Indigenous people and supporting Indigenous economies.
It’s the non-elected hereditary chiefs who inspired the protests and it’s worth noting that this is a group that does not automatically assume any office. In fact, it was only last year that three hereditary chiefs were stripped of their titles by the others in their group. The three women, who supported the pipeline, were replaced by three men who did not. A similar move in 2016 saw two hereditary chiefs stripped of their titles by the Haida Clan for supporting the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline.
The practice of stifling dissent amongst its own people should be a cause for concern about the legitimacy of the group.
And beyond the questionable representative authority claimed by the indigenous protestors, there is some question of what exactly, is being protested.
The protest having the most deleterious effect is actually a CNR rail-line blockade in Ontario by a small group of the Mohawk First Nation. That blockade is not endorsed by the local band leadership and, although it is ostensibly there to support the Wet’suwet’en, their demands seem to have more to do with their own land claims.
The blockade of the rail-line has already led to more than 1,450 layoffs by the rail companies.
Our ports have been impacted with more layoffs there, and some goods are now in short supply as their transport is disrupted.
Other, non-indigenous protesters have glommed onto the opportunity with a variety of grievances— many related to environmental concerns.
Some indigenous leaders have called for this to be a time for a renewed effort at reconciliation — a reconciliation apparently motivated by being held, metaphorically, at an economic gunpoint.
It’s a poor way to garner support or resolve grievances.
In the end, this strategy will hurt both our Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations.