It appears that an end to the railway blockades is in sight. It was announced last week that half of Canada’s most disruptive railway blockade, at Tyendinaga in Ontario, has broken up. This is to allow the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in British Columbia time to review the latest proposal regarding the Coastal GasLink pipeline. In light of this and the fact that police started making arrests, protesters vacated their camp outside of the BC Legislative Assembly. It is unclear if this will be the last we’ve seen of the nationwide solidarity protests which have crippled our railways and cost hundreds of jobs.
A video posted by the Wet’suwet’en Access Point on Gidimt’en Territory page on Facebook suggests the protesters are not finished. It states that the talks are “part of a disinformation strategy aimed at isolating indigenous resistance” and declares “this is not the time to sit back and hope that it all works out. This is the time to keep pushing.”
Few arrests have been made, despite protests progressing from traffic blocks to attempts to set trains on fire. How far will these protesters go given the notoriety they’re receiving is unclear. They say they will stop when the RCMP leave Wet’suwet’en land, but will they merely find a new reason to “Shut Down Canada?”
To say the protests are about a pipeline is an oversimplification. They are about indigenous sovereignty and land rights. Many protestors have emphasized that the Wet’suwet’en territory is unceded land and therefore not part of Canada. They argue that the authority of the elected band members who support the Coastal GasLink project is invalid because it was granted under colonialism, while the word of the hereditary chiefs is the true law.
Many protesters insist that Canada is not their country, and some feel it is fake. It is a question as to whether they and those supporting them are willing to prove their dedication to this belief by forfeiting the modern-day benefits of being Canadian. Universal healthcare, prescriptions at a far lower cost than our friends in the US pay, and their Canadian passports, are only a few of those advantages. Probably not.
At a Toronto-based protest, someone screamed that all “settlers” should leave Turtle Island. This won’t happen. Rather than quarrel and expect all non-indigenous people to be forever held accountable for the actions of past governments, we should all re-examine the idea of Reconciliation so that we may forge a better future together.
The protesters declare that reconciliation, defined by Cambridge as “a situation in which two people or groups of people become friendly again after they have argued,” is dead. Many argue that reconciliation never existed as relations were never friendly. Cambridge’s second definition, however, is more apt in the Canadian context. This defines reconciliation as “the process of making two opposite beliefs, ideas, or situations agree."
We can all agree that the people who called Canada home before it was even Canada have suffered at the hands of governments who opposed their way of life, all but wiping out their collective cultures. There are ongoing concerns to this day.
But protesters may be inflicting harm upon those who have welcomed the process of reconciliation, and upon indigenous people as a whole. In an article in The Globe and Mail, Wet’suwet’en hereditary subchief Gary Naziel said that the Wet’suwet’en name “is being dragged through the mud and used by other First Nations across Canada to wage their own battles.”
In the same way that these protesters do not speak for all indigenous people, past government actions are not reflective of the average modern-day Canadian’s views. There is reason to be angry, but blaming all non-indigenous people in perpetuity is as irrational as trying to destroy entire cultures. It will only sow more division and apathy.
Reconciliation, that process of healing from cultural trauma, will not be simple or easy, but it is essential. To declare that it’s dead is to take the easy way out. Maybe the government isn’t doing enough to make up for its horrific actions against the people who called this land home before it was even Canada, but punishing the rest of the country by seeking to “shut it down” is not the way to win friends and find the peace that is needed.