Canada has a special place in the hearts of many American liberals as an example of what the United States could be, with its single-payer healthcare system, strict gun control laws, and charismatic young leader, Justin Trudeau. This sanitized image, however, hides the dark reality of Canada’s existence as a settler state occupying stolen Indigenous land. Like the United States, Canada’s colonialism doesn’t just exist in the past, but continues to this day, and liberal heartthrob Trudeau has been particularly guilty of upholding that colonial legacy. The most recent flashpoint has been the Wet’suwet’en protests of a $6.6 billion pipeline across unceded land.
On Dec. 31, 2019, the British Columbia Supreme Court gave approval to Coastal GasLink to begin clearing obstructions, such as cabins and gates, in the path of their new pipeline which runs directly through unceded Wet’suwet’en territory. Nearly immediately, the Wet’suwet’en First Nation served Coastal GasLink with an eviction notice for trespassing on their land. In response to the invasion, protests sprang up across Canada in the form of marches and rail blockades.
These rail blockades have been especially successful at halting commuter and freight traffic throughout Canada. By choosing this direct protest tactic, activists have made it impossible for the Canadian government or the general public to ignore their demands, forcing their way into the public consciousness. Protesters have been met with severe repression from the police while Trudeau continues to side against the First Nations people. Despite state repression, new barricades continue to go up and protesters have shown no signs of slowing momentum until the Canadian government leaves Wet’suwet’en territory.
This current wave of protests is among the largest displays of solidarity against oppression in Canada in years, and it exists at an intersection of multiple issues. The pipeline being protested, the TransCanada Coastal GasLink pipeline, is part of a $40 billion investment in fracked gas in British Columbia. With scientists urging world leaders that we only have 12 years to act before climate catastrophe, the decision to continue with a brand new fracked gas pipeline represents an extreme level of hypocrisy from Justin Trudeau and the Canadian government, and a lack of commitment to fighting climate change. At the heart of the Wet’suwet’en resistance against the Coastal GasLink pipeline is an understanding that we must do everything we can to protect the environment.
Another central piece to this movement is the thousands of missing Indigenous women across Canada. In 2019, the Canadian government released a report admitting responsibility for the disappearance of over 4,000 Indigenous women over at least 30 years in what they describe as a Canadian genocide. Despite this report, violence against Indigenous people, and especially Indigenous women and queer people, continues in Canada. The red dress has become a symbol for those missing Indigenous women, and have been prominent throughout the protests. As the police continue to trespass on Wet’suwet’en land, they have trampled over the red dresses and the memory of those thousands of missing Indigenous women.
It is hard to look at these protests without remembering the resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock in 2016. There, we saw another colonial government, the United States, trampling over the land rights of Indigenous people to build a pipeline. Neither of these are isolated incidents; they exist as flashpoints of a centuries long struggle against colonialism and genocide. As settlers, we are all complicit in the ongoing oppression of Indigenous people, and we must do everything in our power to respect the sovereignty of Indigenous people.
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Zoey Turturino is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.