As we go to print, disruptive actions on Canadian infrastructure organized by Indigenous activists and settler supports are happening in many places of the north of Turtle Island in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en resistance. Deborah Cowen offers us a crucially useful report and analysis. Here’s a link to donate to the Unist’ot’en 2020 Legal Fund if you’d like.
Article published in The Funambulist 28 (March-April 2020) Our Battles. Click here to access the rest of the issue.
On February 6, 2020, Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) violently raided the unceded territory of the Wet’suwet’en Nation to clear the way for construction of a natural gas pipeline. Arresting land defenders and leadership, destroying community infrastructures, and interrupting ceremony, the raid went on for days. Under Wet’suwet’en law, authority over the nation’s 22,000 square kilometers of unceded territory lies with hereditary chiefs from five clans in a system of governance that long predates colonization. All five hereditary chiefs reject the construction of the pipeline on their territory. In direct response to their calls for support and solidarity, dramatic and sustained actions have proliferated. Coast to coast occupations of rail lines for an unprecedented twelve days and counting, actions at ports, highways and bridges, political offices, and central city streets by Indigenous land defenders and their allies, are represented by the hashtags #WetsuwetenStrong and #ShutCanadaDown. The blockades are having decisive impact. In an era of supply chain capitalism and Just-in-Time logistics, disruption can hit the economy hard. Flows of commuters and commodities that have come to rely on rapid circulation are grinding to a halt.
On February 14, 2020, eight days after the RCMP raid began, industry and government issued threats to the Canadian public about the chaos created by the “illegal” blockades. They warned that “shortages of groceries, propane, drinking water and other goods are on the horizon” (Canadian Press, “Industry warns of empty shelves as CN rail blockade reaches ninth day,” 2020). One corporate leader from the pulp and paper sector called the railroad a “critical artery,” and claimed that blockage was a threat to the life of the sector. Corporate and government leaders warned that the compromised state of supply chains put the very reproduction of settler life at risk, conjuring images of downed planes, layoffs, and eventual economic collapse. This year, Valentine’s Day was informed by a particularly violent form of settler desire — for the “inconvenient Indians” to get out of the way (cf. Thomas King). And yet, aggressive industry efforts to direct settler frustration at Indigenous land defenders are failing.
Fear mongering about dwindling public drinking water supplies because of blockages to chlorine shipments for water treatment, faced fast pushback. Comparisons were immediately drawn to the atrocious conditions of Indigenous peoples’ water supplies, where many communities have lived with boil water advisories for decades. When federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer asserted those taking action “need to check their privilege,” he was met with anger, stunned silence, and even uncontrolled laughter. This was so obviously out of touch with the realities of Indigenous lives in Canada: soaring poverty and youth suicide rates, missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, failing infrastructure and housing crises, and outrageous incarceration rates.