Chants of “consent” and “sovereignty” were matched by “build that pipe” at duelling rallies in downtown Calgary on Tuesday, as a crowd gathered at lunchtime to voice opposition to RCMP actions at a northern B.C. First Nation’s pipeline checkpoints a day earlier.
About 100 protesters joined the rally outside the TransCanada Tower building, one day after RCMP breached a checkpoint gate that members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation had erected to block access to a natural-gas pipeline project, leading to the arrest of 14 people.
The checkpoint was one of two meant to keep workers away from the construction site for TransCanada PipeLines Ltd.’s $4.7-billion, 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink pipeline, which will deliver natural gas from Dawson Creek to a planned LNG Canada facility near Kitimat.
“We’re here because obviously consent matters,” said Michelle Robinson, co-organizer of the event, which was held in conjunction with almost 60 other rallies across Canada.
“Sovereignty issues are issues that Indigenous people have faced for years and that’s really what we’re trying to talk about.”
Those in attendance voiced their opposition to the events in B.C. and performed traditional Indigenous rituals such as smudging, a ceremony that involves the burning of sacred herbs. They held signs with messages such as “people over profit,” “native lives matter” and “reconcile this.”
But pro-pipeline activists, including those in yellow vests, met them from across a police barricade, at times overtaking the chants with their own message.
Mounties say various offences, including alleged violations of an injunction order against the blockade, prompted Monday’s arrests in B.C. They allege officers saw a number of fires being lit along the roadway.
Members of the Gidimt’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation had set up a camp and a checkpoint in the area, which they said was to control access.
In a statement, RCMP said officers spoke with representatives of the camp about the removal of a roadblock and set up a meeting between hereditary chiefs and Coastal GasLink. But they later realized the matter couldn’t be resolved and took action.
“I think a lot of our people are very hurt and very traumatized from it, so we’re going to have a new layer of inter-generational trauma from watching the police hurt our people,” said Robinson, speaking to media as two individuals holding a pro-pipeline banner stood behind her.
“Our message is anti-violence and I think that a lot of Indigenous people are pro-pipeline. But I think that there’s not room for us to have our voice here because a lot of racism has come from these type of protests and they haven’t made space for Indigenous people at all,” Robinson said.
“We do need to have dialogue and we do need to have all Indigenous people who are pro-(pipeline) and against to have their voice . . . I think those are conversations that we need to have that we aren’t having enough of.”
But Sean Alexander, one of those holding an “I (heart) Oil & Gas” banner, said a respectful conversation isn’t possible.
“They only want dialogue if it works in their favour. They don’t want dialogue,” he said. “Our voice needs to be heard . . . we’re not going to give this small minority a voice anymore. They’re all in favour of using the courts when it works in their favour and when the courts go against them, they immediately come out here and say they’ve been treated unfairly, and that’s wrong.”
Curtis Running Rabbit-Lefthand called the gathering “powerful.”
“I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve had to come here and stand and see a big opposition happening when we’re just peacefully talking, peacefully lending our voices,” he said.
“We have a long history, 151 years-plus even, of history, of colonization and of forced assimilation in our territories . . . As nations, we know when to stand for each other.”
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