by Nate Rosenberger
Since 2010, the Unist’ot’en homestead in the settler colonial territory of British Columbia, which includes a healing center and permaculture garden, lies in the path of an illegal pipeline. Coastal GasLink/Transcanada is proposing a 670-kilometer fracked gas pipeline that would carry fracked gas from Dawson Creek, B.C. to the coastal town of Kitimat. The problem with proposal is it cuts through the sovereign and unceded territory of the Wet’suwet’en people, and since 1997 when the settler colonial Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Wet’suwet’en people, as represented by their hereditary leaders, had not given up rights and title to the 22,000 square kilometers of Northern British Columbia that make up the Wet’suwet’en Yintah (land).
For some time this has protected the indigenous lands from extractive resources and allowed anti-colonial projects like the Unist’ot’en healing center which provides spiritual and mental health healing to the Wet’suwet’en. When the Transcanada pipeline was proposed all the hereditary chieftains unanimously refused to allow it to pass through their Yintah and corrupt their land. Not only was this decision to preserve the land but also to protect indigenous women and two-spirit people from the worker camps that accompany these projects. In 2015 a report, by the National Inquiry into Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls commission, determined that “state actions and inactions rooted in colonialism and colonial ideologies” were the root cause of the suspected 4000 missing and murdered indigenous people.
However, even settler colonial laws and treaties will never get in the way of Capitals interests and in December 2018, B.C. Supreme Court issued an interim court injunction granting Coastal GasLink the go-ahead to proceed with their fracked gas pipeline on unceded Wet’suwet’en territory. Through this interim injunction, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) forcibly and violently invaded the Wet’suwet’en Access Point which restricted access to the land via a gate. This began the now two years of active struggle against the invasion of their sovereign territory.
On February 10th, 2020 once again Canada escalated their violence and a convoy of fully armored RCMP disrupted a ceremony to call on the Wet’suwet’en ancestors and to honor missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. During the ceremony, they hung red dresses to remember the spirits of the murdered women, girls and two spirit people taken from them. Unist’ot’en Matriarchs Freda Huson (Chief Howihkat), Brenda Michell (Chief Geltiy), and Dr. Karla Tait were forcibly removed off the territories and arrested along with some land defenders, including Victoria Redsun (Denesuline), Autumn Walken (Nlaka’pamux), and Pocholo Alen Conception.
Following this the Wet’suwet’en tribes called on the international community to rise up in solidarity with them, sparking a wave of protests, train blockades, and port blockades. These actions threatened the Canadian economy and were violently shut down by the RCMP. Uniting these actions, many carried out by other First Nation tribes, was the rallying call that, “Reconciliation is dead. Revolution is Alive.”. These actions varied in militancy and size across Canada and the U.S. but by following the guidelines provided by the Wet’suwet’en brought attention to their struggle.
Locally, it was the Greensboro HUB of the Sunrise Movement, a youth led climate action organization, that heeded the call for international solidarity and on February 24th the group distributed educational literature and dropped banners at Guilford College and UNC Greensboro calling for the Canadian government to halt the illegal invasion. The group had three demands: 1) to divest your money if you had accounts with Wells Fargo and Citibank, the two American banks funding the pipeline. They instead suggested investing in local credit unions as a more ethical way to store your money. 2) they encouraged students and faculty to follow closely and share the struggles of the Wet’suwet’en in order to keep international eyes on the events. 3) to donate to the Unist’ot’en legal fund which has been crucial to the defense of their lands.
I spoke to Josh H., a local organizer and leader in the Sunrise HUB about the action and why he felt inclined to join it. On a personal level he spoke about how important many indigenous scholars have been to his own anti-imperialist politics and how his recent trip to see speakers from the Red Nation, an indigenous revolutionary socialist organization, solidified his commitment to the de-colonial struggle. Here is some of our conversation and his responses to my questions.
Interviewers questions in bold. Answers have been edited for clarity.
You work with a few organizations but what made you use the sunrise movement as the way that you engaged with this call for solidarity rather than other left organizations in the Triad?
Sunrise fights for the adoption of the Green New Deal and within that policy platform is a recognition of indigenous rights to land and so it fits with the Sunrise mission and goals. So it made sense to organize with the Sunrise Movement. Why not the other socialist organizations I am a part of? We did bring it up within the other socialist organization and many of the members were very supportive and eager to help out, but it primarily had to do with the fact that the Sunrise movement was a lot more mobilized right now around this type of action at the moment.
Talking more about the work that Sunrise does, it being more of a climate action group would you speak a little bit about the connection between the climate crisis and indigenous struggles?
Sure, so a slogan that I think ties it together the best is, “Indigenous sovereignty is climate action.” and it becomes clear when you learn that 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity is protected on indigenous protected land. So if we want to take seriously the threat of mass extinction which is tied very closely with the changing climate and how that’s affecting ecosystems and making it difficult for all sorts of land to adapt. We really need to have bio diverse and resilient ecosystems to defend it and protect it and indigenous people cannot do that without their sovereignty so yeah, defending indigenous sovereignty is climate action.
Speaking more specifically about the action itself, what were the goals going into it? And if you could speak a little about how those developed in the group?
So when we found out about the solidarity call we had a meeting of just you, me and another comrade where we shared what we knew about the situation and, within the time constraints, focused on how we could lend solidarity towards the Wet’suwet’en people.
We wanted to take that feeling of solidarity, compassion, and hope for the Wet’suwet’en people and give that away to as many people as possible. Particularly students who, for whatever reason, I think can have more openness to messages about indigenous people and their plight. So that was my main goal was to take that feeling of solidarity and try to communicate that feeling to others.
So you said that students are more receptive to indigenous struggles. Do you want to talk a little about why you think that and some of the responses you got from the action? Was there pushback?
The reactions from people on the different campuses were very supportive and people generally had heard of something going on in Canada with indigenous people but they didn’t know specifics.
My analysis of why I think students may be more receptive [of indigenous struggles] one of them is that young people skew left of the political spectrum, they are less patriotic, less receptive to nationalist appeals, the youth, in general, are more accepting of difference, they are more interested in difference, difference is actually a part of their mode of resistance, despite that difference being the way that they are often sold a lot of new products under Capitalism. Some of that has to do with age and some of that has to do with the political environment. They have grown up in the recession and are more skeptical of the status quo because of that. So that’s my analysis, I don’t know I could be really wrong, I think this creates an opening for socialists who want to push socilaist policy.
With the hindsight of the action being behind you and you’ve had time to reflect on it were there any particular successes in the organizing of or carrying out of the action?
Well, none of this would have happened without my comrades contributing labor. We had a work party where we put together our banners for the event, got language for the flyers, which was really important and you on your own put together an amazing flyer with all the correct information and then printed it off as well and that was vital. Will was able to provide rides to the members without their own transportation, which was important and helpful.
Despite the fact that we didn’t get the turnout we wanted from volunteers, well really what contributed to the overall success was that from the beginning we were very clear that we weren’t going to spend a significant amount of time trying to work on getting the broadest, most perfect language to appeal to everybody. We were going to go and do a solidarity action, we were going to do this in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en people, and we were going to use the language that was pre existing[from the Solidarity toolkit], and then do an action around that. I think that took a lot of pressure off of everybody from having to have perfection and allowed us to instead focus on our feelings of solidarity.
So on the same note you already highlighted a little bit of a feature of the plan, knowing there would be low turnout due to the quick turnaround, but were there any other lessons to be learned from the action?
I will say that, we set up the action with the expectation that we may not get the turnout we need to do a huge event like a march or protest. We knew that going into that so we needed to figure out how to use small numbers to our advantage so our initial plan was to Flying Squadron based on the lessons of the textile strikers, where organizers would go location to location using the small numbers they had to make a bigger impact than just one place. I still believe that is a great idea but the execution of it, this time, was hampered by not having done the due diligence to figure out what the locations were and what kind of things we should know about this location so we didn’t get in trouble or so didn’t get into unnecessary friction, for example going to A&T without any students in our group being from there would have required us to figure out what our approach was ahead of that so we weren’t just outsiders, we needed to figure out what our message was knowing that we were outsiders. Having not done the due diligence of contacting people at the school first and inviting them to participate or inviting them to criticize beforehand. So, I think that the plan was good and I like the idea of doing the Flying Squadron but I think the execution was a little rough because I didn’t take into account the specifics of each location and how we would be received there.
So is there anything about the action or its planning that you didn’t get to talk about but would like to?
Umm. Yeah, I think it was, we went out with people who hadn’t done this type of action before, that hadn’t flyered and talked to people about a political perspective, and were very nervous, which is totally understandable. And it was rewarding to be reminded of what it was like when I was first in that position. It was rewarding to be with people in the process of how they were learning to find their voice and learning that it is only through repetition that they are going to be able to be confident in their own perspective and the people who went out with us have continued to be strong organizers with us. I think that’s something I want to remind people, if they are discouraged about the political development of their group or whatever it may be, a lot of times all the the trepidation isn’t something you can talk about you just need to physically put yourself in a position where you get a chance to use your voice, over and over and over again. And figure out how to present your politics, and it’s not online. It can’t be online.
Is there any way for folks interested to stay connected with Indigenous struggles through Sunrise? Is there a regular political education component to sunrise?
I would have said yes but due to COVID-19 we went online and are now not doing anything. So I would recommend people follow the social media of indigenous activists that are talking about these struggles. There are a lot of indigenous people online who are posting stuff, media, scholars, etc. If you are not following indigenous people online I really recommend that you do that and that you listen to the lessons they are asking us to learn to develop our conscience.
This Wet’suwet’en solidarity action is just the latest in a long history of resistance against settler colonialism on the North American conti-nent. Indigenous people are continuing to fight back against eco-nomic, property, and violent oppression from the Unist’ot’en home-stead to right here in central North Carolina. To be in true solidarity, we can start with divesting from banks that stand to profit off of this oppression, follow and spread awareness of the struggles, and con-tribute to the aforementioned Unist’ot’en legal fund.
Indigenous Organizations and Activists on Social Media
International Indigenous Youth Council
Instagram and Twitter: @iiycfamily