Canada is facing a national crisis.
That was how Sophia Sidarous, a young Indigenous organiser and member of Metepenagiag First Nation in New Brunswick, described the feeling this week, as people across Canada came out to support members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation who were forced off their traditional lands.
Sidarous was among about two dozen people who occupied the Ottawa office of Canada’s minister of justice and attorney general, David Lametti, on Monday in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en land defenders opposed to a pipeline project on their territory in northern British Columbia (BC).
“We just wanted to remind him … that he has certain obligations to fulfill,” Sidarous told Al Jazeera in a phone interview, “including upholding human rights … [and] upholding a nation-to-nation relationship, which does not mean you have to bulldoze people over in order to get a project in.”
Federal police (RCMP) officers earlier this month evicted members of the Wet’suwet’en Nation from their traditional territories, where they had set up camps to try to stop construction on the Coastal GasLink project.
The Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who hold authority over 22,000sq kilometres (8,494sq miles) of land, said they never consented to the 670km (416-mile) pipeline, which will cut across that area to transport natural gas from northeast BC to a terminal near the town of Kitimat.
The BC Supreme Court in December granted Coastal GasLink an injunction to continue building the pipeline, and the company said it has reached agreements with 20 First Nations band councils along the route. The province also says the project has the necessary permits to move forward. “This project is proceeding and the rule of law needs to prevail in BC,” Premier John Horgan said last month.
The hereditary chiefs argue that the band councils only hold limited authority over what happens on reserves, the First Nations communities established under Canada’s Indian Act, while they hold decision-making power over the nation’s traditional territory. The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in 1997 that the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs never ceded authority over their lands.