“Stand with Unist’ot’en” pledge comes to life in the streets of Vancouver as emergency rally takes demands to the door of Coastal Gas

Marching through the streets of downtown Vancouver in the morning hours of Monday December 10th, a crowd of 100 chanted “Coastal Gas steals! Unist’ot’en heals!” The spirit of this chant was a stark contrast to the glass towers of the financial district, the slick concrete of the streets, and the police officers in reflective jackets and oversized motorcycle helmets. The crowd was catalyzed by the fact that one of the hundreds of mining corporations with an office high in these glass towers is applying for police powers to break up the Unist’ot’en camp – smashing the land-based, decolonizing, healing work of that camp – in order to force a fracked gas pipeline through the territories of the Wet’suwet’en.

The “stand with Unist’ot’en” rally was called by an ad-hoc group of urban Indigenous people, non-Native Indigenous solidarity activists, and environmentalists drawn together by the interlaced issues of defending Wet’suwet’en sovereignty, Unist’ot’en healing work, and the land and climate against corporate profit. Monday’s solidarity action was organized as a quick-response action following a pledge to defend Unist’ot’en that was signed by more than 3,000 people and hundreds of organizations since Coastal GasLink/TransCanada announced their court injunction application last week.

At issue is Coastal GasLink’s liquified natural gas (LNG) pipeline, a project of the massive TransCanada Corporation, which would send fracked gas from Dawson Creek to Kitimat, B.C. The Unist’ot’en Healing Center is along the proposed route of multiple LNG pipelines, including Coastal GasLink. The Unist’ot’en Camp is a permanent Indigenous re-occupation of Wet’suwet’en land in northern British Columbia, which has existed for eight years as a homestead and healing centre. The Unist’ot’en Healing Center currently has several Wet’suwet’en patients in residence, who are receiving holistic and land-based treatment for addiction. Freda Huson, Unist’ot’en’s appointed spokesperson explains, “All five Wet’suwet’en Clans have rejected the pipeline because our medicines, our food, and our water are all here and not replaceable. These legal challenges ignore the jurisdiction and authority of hereditary chiefs and our feast system of governance, which was recognized in the 1997 Deglamuukw-Gisday’wa Supreme Court case.”

Beginning in front of the provincial law courts at 800 Smithe Street, a crowd gathered to hear inspiring speeches by Cedar George-Parker from Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, and Malcolm Tourangeau, Northern Tutchone from the Yukon territory, who is a board member of Western Aboriginal Harm Reduction Society (WAHRS) and Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users (VANDU). The solidarity rally then took to the streets, marching to the Coastal GasLink/TransCanada building on Granville. Meanwhile, a delegation snuck in and made their way up to their offices.

When the crowd arrived they were greeted by security outside the glass doors of the building. Aiyanas Ormond, who was attending representing the International League of People’s Struggles (ILPS) and VANDU, was holding the megaphone and chanting “We stand with land defenders!” and “Indigenous rights not corporate greed!” as the crowd pushed up against the security guards and doors. Natalie Knight, a Yurok/Diné member of Alliance Against Displacement was at the front edge of this crowd and was the first through the doors when the security guards lost control over the entrance way and the crowd pushed in.

They filled the lobby of the office tower with chants and cheers until the members of the delegation came back down and emerged from the elevators. Danelle Zitro, the woman who led the delegation to the doors of the Coastal Gas office, explained that when they got to the office they were stopped by security guards. “We stood outside, we pasted our demands on the front doors, and we read them out,” she said. A security guard filmed them as they read the demands and said he would take them in to the executive.

Zitro, a member of Canada-Philippines Solidarity for Human Rights, read to the crowd the statement she had read for the security guard’s camera a moment before:

We are gathering here today in solidarity with the Unist’ot’en Clan. This week Unist’ot’en will be in Supreme Court in Prince George, British Columbia against Coastal GasLink/TransCanada. The Unist’ot’en Clan is facing the criminalization of their right to land and the use of their land – a right protected by the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Coastal GasLink has applied for an injunction as well as served notice for a civil lawsuit claiming financial damages for “occupying, obstructing, blocking, or physically impeding access.” Instead of recognizing the collective hereditary leadership of the Wet’suwet’en, the legal notices are targeting Freda Huson and Dini ze’ Smogelgem (Warner Naziel).

We denounce any attempt by Coastal GasLink pipeline, the Federal government, the Provincial government or the RCMP to interfere in the rights of the Unist’ot’en to occupy, manage, or maintain their land. We demand that any and all actions of the Federal and Provincial government, industry, and policing agencies must be consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and Wet’suwet’en laws and collective title.

Alongside Vancouver, over 100 rallied in both Toronto and Montreal. Actions are scheduled in Seattle to call for an end to Chase Bank’s loans to TransCanada, as well as scheduled actions in Prince George and Victoria on Thursday, December 13th, the date of the emergency court injunction hearing. The solidarity demonstrated by all of these cities is sure to be the beginning of a wave, as actions against the corporate-colonial attack on Unist’ot’en escalate.

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