*This article is a follow-up on Natalia Ibáñez’s article “You Should Care About Wet’suwet’en”, which was published in the March 11th print issue of The VCSA Insider.
The building of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, part of which would be situated on Wet’suwet’en territory, has sparked controversy in the past year. The elected band councils have signed the agreement papers, some of which cited the economic opportunity for their approval of the project.
However, the hereditary chiefs, who are traditionally responsible for the land, disapprove of the project entirely and deem it illegal; the land is unceded and confirmed to operate under pre-colonial Wet’suwet’en laws by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1997. The pipeline’s negative environmental impacts, which would, in turn, affect the community’s traditional way of life, is another reason behind their opposition to the Coastal GasLink project.
These tensions have incited demonstrations in favour of protecting the land; other protests have immerged in solidarity across Canada, especially following a face-off between Wet’suwet’en demonstrators and the RCMP, who were enforcing a court injunction given to Coastal GasLink by the B.C. Supreme Court.
Now, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, meetings with hereditary chiefs, which were intended to reach a collective agreement and a peaceful resolution, have been postponed as a result of the social distancing measures that are in practice worldwide. Despite this decision, construction along the Coastal GasLink’s pipeline route has not been halted, and, while the company affirms that their workers are being protected, the same is not necessarily true for the indigenous communities whose unceded lands are to be used for the project.
This revelation has caused outcries over social media, as people began pointing out how the blatant land dispossession, though inherently posing a risk for the communities involved, now also poses a health risk; the lessened access to healthcare and clean water posits Indigenous communities at a greater risk amid the pandemic.
Speaking on this issue in an article for Non Profit Quarterly, Erin Rubin explains: “[L]and-based violence is a threat to indigenous communities’ health. […] The presence of Coastal GasLink workers on Wet’suwet’en land was always a threat, and the pandemic has made it worse. It’s time for them to leave.”
That being said, as a result of the pandemic, mainstream media has been saturated with news surrounding that topic. Despite this fact, as well as the panic surrounding our current circumstances, it is still important to remain up to date with the issues that concerned us prior to them, especially when it comes to matters of social justice and advocacy.
By Mel Spiridigliozzi