By Decolonial Solidarity Ottawa
Wave of mobilization against RBC in support of Wet’suwet’en sovereignty
More than 35 Decolonial Solidarity groups across Canada, the US, and Europe are mobilizing to protest the Royal Bank of Canada’s funding of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, in response to an online call for allyship from the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who have been opposing the pipeline since it was proposed in 2012.
Despite their efforts to be heard, despite the Supreme Court of Canada’s 1997 Delgamuukw decision recognizing Wet’suwet’en title, and despite a Memorandum of Understanding in 2020 agreed in February and signed in May by the BC Government, the federal government and hereditary Wet’suwet’en chiefs regarding respect for title (in response to the widespread #shutdowncanada mobilization), pipeline construction has gone ahead, cutting through Wet’suwet’en lands and now drilling beneath the river Wedzin Kwa which is their source of potable water and livelihood. Wet’suwet’en protesters peacefully occupying their land have been arrested. The BC Government has charged TC Energy (builders of the Coastal GasLink) with hundreds of environmental violations and with two fines (the latest of $75,000) while RBC continues to invest billions of its clients’ money in this fossil fuel expansion.
RBC, as the biggest funder of the Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline, has been targeted throughout the summer during leafleting actions at local RBC branches across Canada and on social media, in efforts to raise public awareness about how RBC invests its customers’ money. RBC has provided $6.8 billion in loans for CGL and is the 5th largest funder of fossil fuels in the world, having last year increased its commitment to the fossil sector by another $23 billion, twice as much as the year before. It is now being investigated by Competition Bureau Canada for misleading advertising about its environmental record.
RBC says it stands for Indigenous inclusion and prosperity, but it refused to meet the Wet’suwet’en chiefs who traveled to Toronto in April 2022, at the time of RBC’s AGM. It continues to fund CGL pipeline despite the unanimous opposition of all Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. Since 2019, people of the Wet’suwet’en Nation peacefully resisting the destruction of their land, rivers and cultural sites are subjected to intimidation by a special unit of the RCMP (the Community-Industry Response Group, C-IRG, created in 2017 “to provide strategic oversight addressing energy industry incidents”) which is complicit with the Coastal GasLink company’s private security. In addition to ongoing incursions by RCMP into private homes, day and night, on spurious grounds, and continuous filming by CGL private security of the Wet’suwet’en daily community activities (including Wet’suwet’en children), there have been three large-scale militarized raids with canine units and heliborne troops on their homes, with forcible arrests at gunpoint of unarmed protesters, elders, legal observers and journalists; land defenders have been criminalized. https://youtube.com/watch?v=Xr8PXPVuvyE&feature=share
Now drilling has begun under the salmon-bearing Wedzin Kwa river, during spawning season. Police are on-site to protect the drilling and to deny Wet’suwet’en people access to their own land. Wet’suwet’en observation drones have been prohibited because of the blasting operations, yet there is no enforcement of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ regulation against blasting during salmon-spawning season. Furthermore, three UN letters of rebuke continue to be ignored by the governments of Canada and B.C. The latest of these letters from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (UN-CERD), dated 29 April 2022, denounces the lack of consultation with Wet’suwet’en peoples regarding the Coastal Gas Link, and denounces the “escalat[ion of] the use of force, surveillance, and criminalization of land defenders and peaceful protesters to intimidate, remove and forcibly evict Secwepemc and Wet’suwet’en Nations from their traditional lands, in particular by the … RCMP, … C-IRG, and private security firms”. The UN-CERD reiterates its prior urging (on 13 December 2019) of Canada and BC “to immediately cease forced evictions of Secwepemc and Wet’suwet’en peoples,… to guarantee that no force will be used against them, and to withdraw the RCMP and associated security and policing services from their traditional lands”.
The Wet’suwet’en have cared for their lands since time immemorial. The hereditary chiefs represent a governance system that predates colonization. Under Wet’suwet’en law, clans have a responsibility to their territories and a right to control access to them. The Wet’suwet’en Nation have never ceded their territory and this was recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1997. The band council leaders on Wet’suwet’en reserves, who signed agreements for the pipeline, have no jurisdiction over the off-reserve parts of the 22,000 km2 Wet’suwet’en lands where the pipeline would actually run. Indian bands and councils are a colonial creation within the Indian Act, which splintered Indigenous nations into multiple small (and more easily manipulated and subjugated) bands, and which legislated their subordination to, dependence upon, and daily control of all aspects of their life by the federal government. It is a farce to consider the agreement of those economically dependent band council leaders as constituting the free, prior and informed consent of the entire Wet’suwet’en nation, when ALL the hereditary chiefs refused.
The Coastal GasLink pipeline, if completed, would carry fracked gas obtained in NE British Columbia 670 km, under Wedzin Kwa and through the watershed of the Skeena river, to a huge LNG transboarding port on the Pacific Coast at Kitimat. The hereditary chiefs foresee the water poisoning and climate disasters that the pipeline would inevitably cause in the future. “We never, never allowed this project to go through,” says Chief Na’Moks. “There has been no consent from any of the hereditary chiefs or our people. We have villages that signed on, but villages only have jurisdiction within their reserve.” In an appeal for the support of allies to be heard, Chief Woos says “…to all those that are listening. I appreciate your ears. I appreciate your brain. And hopefully your intelligence will help us out in a way that is a good way.”
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