I have often wondered when it comes to protests that spring up in one place and then, assuming virus-like qualities, move on across the country, if all those who come late to the party really know what they are protesting against.
It is a thought I couldn’t shake, not that I wanted to, when I started researching the present protest by the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in B.C. that has now gotten support across Canada, including here in Sault Ste. Marie.
The hereditary Chiefs oppose the Coastal GasLink pipeline that is to run through Wet’suwet’en territory, as well as through reserves and territory that is not Wet’suwet’en, from Dawson Creek to LNG Canada’s $40-billion export facility in Kitimat, B.C. They also have the support of one band within their territory.
But five bands on reserves in Wet’suwet’en territory and 15 outside it along the route have benefit agreements with LNG that they believe would greatly help their communities, where work for many is scarce.
Looking at this scenario, to me it seems to put the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs at odds with their own people..
Yet they seem to have garnered support of First Nations people all across the country. No one seems to have come to the support of those on the other side, the members of the bands that will benefit from the pipeline.
The CBC’s Rex Murphy essentially called out the news media for not doing their job, not telling us what the other side was saying and not telling us more about those across the country who were offering support to the hereditary chiefs.
It may not have been a result of Murphy’s criticism, but David Carrigg of the National Post did interviews with members of a Wet’suwet’en band that did give a different perspective.
He reported on the benefits many see and appreciate that the pipeline project has brought.
He quoted Butch Dennis, 53, a Wet’suwet’en who belongs to the Gitumden clan and Witset Band and has a business that has a dozen First Nations employees doing contract work for Coastal GasLink, as saying:
“The (hereditary) chief’s office needs to be accountable to the people and not rule everything with an iron fist,” he says. “I love this country. Not everyone wants to tear it apart.”
Others who also see the benefits being reaped are also quoted but Carrigg also captures the turmoil within the Wet’suwet’en themselves as they try to make sense of the polarization of their community, between elected and hereditary leaders, and within clans and households over an issue that has been brewing for years.
I thought one case in particular really spelled out what the community is facing with its feet seemingly in two worlds
Lucy Gagnon, executive director of the Witset (Moricetown) First Nation, is caught between the two.
While responsible for managing the band council’s agreement with Coastal GasLink, she is married to hereditary chief Alphonse Gagnon.
“It’s really hard for me because my husband is anti-pipeline,” Gagnon told Carrigg in her office at the Witset First Nation. “In my house, we just don’t talk about it because our marriage is more important than anything that happens out there. I don’t need war in my house.”
She said the percentage of people for or against the pipeline varies from clan to clan and house to house.
“There’s people who won’t disclose if they are for or against,” Gagnon said. “It may be 50-50, but in my clan there is more anti than pro. And my husband’s is the same way. But then you will have a house group that’s more for it. It’s all over the map.”
So the 5,000-strong Wet’suwet’en can’t decide among themselves which way they should go.
Yet the hereditary chiefs have set up camps in an attempt to block the pipeline and across the country First Nations have come to their support, in many instances in ways that may have the intention of getting the attention of those in high places but also have the side effect of ticking off the Canadian public.
These stands are going to have far-lasting effects on our economy and that includes for many indigenous people.
Teck Resources Ltd. recently announced it would withdraw its application to build the largest oilsands mine in Alberta’s history. The company’s chief executive, Don Lindsay, was quoted in the Financial Post as blaming politics, not economics, for the project’s demise.
He said the proposed Frontier oilsands mine had become a lightning rod for the political controversies of the day, including climate change policies and Indigenous rights.
“The project has landed squarely at the nexus of a much broader national discussion on energy development, Indigenous reconciliation and, of course, climate change. We are stepping back to allow Canada to have this important discussion without a looming regulatory deadline for just one project.”
Fourteen bands were going to benefit from this project. Some expressed disappointment at its failure. Environmentalists, of course, were overjoyed.
Even though we are not ready to go totally with sustainable resources, they would take the leap.
Do those shutting done rail lines and blocking other commerce, consider what could result from their actions?
Did they give any thought to the other side, the First Nations bands who favour the pipeline?
Or are they just supporting the hereditary chiefs over those with democratically elected councils because they just want something to protest.
The Wet’suwet’en are split on the pipeline. They should be left to work out the problem themselves without others taking sides.