Canada on trial: War on Wet’suwet’en nation

April 29, 2020

From the May-June 2020 issue of News & Letters

TC Energy (formerly TransCanada) continues building the Coastal GasLink pipeline despite the COVID-19 crisis in Canada. It is projected to run 420 miles through Wet’suwet’en First Nation territory—territory that has never been ceded to Canada—from Dawson Creek in northeast British Columbia to Kitimat on the West Coast.

Instead of complying with health requirements, the company is using the global pandemic to divert attention from their actions.


Three Wet’suwet’en women warriors—Freda Huson, Brenda Michell, and Victoria Redsun—just freed from jail on Feb. 10, 2020, after participating in demonstrations to stop the Coastal GasLink pipeline. Photo by Unist’ot’en Camp.

The BC government has allowed construction to continue during the pandemic, at great risk to workers and others, while outlawing protests against the pipeline and other public assemblies. The violent behavior of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and its declaration of “lethal overwatch” of the protests is cause for alarm by anyone who has concerns about Canadian democracy.

TC Energy is in violation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). But the duplicitous Michaelle Jean, former Governor General of Canada, signed UNDRIP only as non-binding, while she refused to ratify it.


There are as well questions of authority within the Wet’suwet’en between the elected band councils and the hereditary chiefs. Some elected band councils, established as administrative bodies by the Indian Act of 1876, have signed agreements with TC Energy, while hereditary chiefs, who under tribal law have authority over the land, have not been consulted. That authority is recognized by Canada’s Constitution and was confirmed by the Supreme Court in 1997, though the decision was not finalized and was sent back to a lower court.

Most tribal members live in deep poverty, and TC Energy is using that as leverage to take rights away from the Wet’suwet’en and other indigenous groups (as an establishment of legal precedent). These are agreements made under duress—people are being asked to negotiate under conditions that are much like having a gun to their heads. It is no dialogue between equals.

Every sort of question is involved: what is property and ownership; what is self-determination; and what does this mean for the entire world?


The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs sent an open letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about the danger that continued construction brings of increasing the risk of COVID-19 transmission. There have been massive protests across Canada and, most notably, work stoppages and the blocking of rail service between Toronto and Montréal by indigenous groups and their supporters.

Even the pandemic will not stop this. It has brought together people from all areas of Canada: Indigenous, workers, environmentalists—English and French speakers—feminists, gender activists, and more, and they are in it for the long haul. It has brought Indigenous issues to the world stage.

Now the New Democratic Party (NPD), once the party of labor and of oppressed minorities, has lost much of its reason to exist. BC Premier John Horgan and others in the NDP-dominated provincial government have lost credibility, and seem unaware of the harm that they have done. Canada is losing its reputation as an enlightened social democracy, especially with its $15 billion bailout of the energy industry, as it cuts the social safety net to a level that endangers millions.


The disregard for human rights is obvious. It calls into question the fetish of “development” and reveals its anti-social nature.

However grim the situation may appear, the movement for human emancipation is growing in Canada in the protests and in the movements in thought. In working together with the deepest collective spirit of respect for each other, we are seeing a glimpse of a new society to come. In these difficult times, we are witnessing an awakening of the human spirit and of a greater idea of freedom and respect.

—D. Chêneville & Ti-Ouistiti

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