Protesters block streets in Hamilton to support Wet'suwet'en anti-pipeline camps

Protesters in downtown Hamilton blocked traffic Tuesday and marched in support of people from a northern B.C. First Nation which has been preventing a pipeline company from accessing their traditional territory.
Over a hundred protesters marched in Hamilton Tuesday in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en people. (Jasmine Kabatay/CBC)

Protesters in downtown Hamilton blocked traffic Tuesday and marched in support of people from a northern B.C. First Nation which has been preventing a pipeline company from accessing their traditional territory.

Major intersections in the downtown core were shut down at various points throughout the afternoon after over a hundred demonstrators took the streets to stand in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en people.

Traffic at King and James streets and John and Main streets was blocked as demonstrators formed large circles with cheers and round dances as cars honked. Supporters also yelled out statements in solidarity.

The demonstration started at Gore Park and moved from there, stopping at major intersections and banks that have funded the pipeline. GO Buses were also delayed for a time. Police tweeted just after 6 p.m. that the protest had ended.

Fighting complacency

Stone Stewart, one of the organizers for the rally, spent time in Unist'ot'en working as a farmer, and says while she was out there she grew love for the space and being there "challenged a lot of my views and ideas."

"There's been so much violence against First Nations throughout history and contact and colonization, and the water they're protecting you can take a cup and drink from that river and it's just people wanting to live their lives on their territory where they grew up," said Stewart.

She says one of the major issues is how "complacent people have become."

"I think a lot of folks are not seeing the importance of the water, like here in Hamilton we have very polluted water and people are just used to it, they don't see that it's abnormal that we can't actually drink from Lake Ontario, they're just like 'oh this is the way it has to be.'"

As traffic backed up and motorists became angry, the group of demonstrators continued to cheer at their honks. One man passing by said he had never seen downtown Hamilton shut down in this way.

Protecting the future

Lela George came from London to join the demonstration and brought her son along with her. She says that what most people worried about is money and things that are "accessible"

"We're not thinking about our resources, we're not thinking about our foods, our medicines, our natural medicines, we're not thinking about our water, our fish or our future, the next seven generation depends on the people that are rallying together today," said George.

"Our allies should be very much worried about what's going on with our people because if it's not our people it's gonna happen to their people."

Lela George marched in Hamilton in support of people from a northern B.C. First Nation who have been preventing a pipeline company from accessing their traditional territory. (Jasmine Kabatay/CBC)

For Danielle Bourque-Bearskin, the whole event struck "many heartstrings" with her as her own community Beaver Lake in Alberta. It is in a decade-long legal battle with the government of Canada and the province of Alberta over development on their lands.

"Putting a pipeline in or approving the coastal link pipeline has serious detrimental and environmental effects for all Indigenous people across Canada, it infringes on our rights as Indigenous people, and so I think it's very important and why I'm here today.

Activists across Canada on Monday were protesting the RCMP's intervention at a fortified checkpoint on a forest service road near Houston, B.C. Fourteen people were arrested at the site, where some members of the Gidimt'en clan of the Wet'suwet'en Nation had set up a camp to control access to their territory.

The RCMP were enforcing a court injunction, granted in December, ordering people to stop preventing Coastal GasLink from gaining access to the road and a bridge.

Camps and roadblocks

Members of the Wet'suwet'en Nation had established two camps along the forest service road with fortified checkpoints: Gidimt'en and Unist'ot'en. They had been preventing Coastal GasLink workers from getting through their checkpoints, asserting they can only pass if they have consent from hereditary leaders.

The Coastal GasLink pipeline is meant to transport natural gas from northeastern B.C. to the coast, where a liquefied natural gas project is scheduled for construction.

TransCanada has said it signed agreements with all First Nations along the proposed pipeline route to the $40 billion LNG Canada facility being built in Kitimat, B.C., but some hereditary chiefs say those agreements don't apply to the traditional territories.

An RCMP statement says the arrests on Monday came when officers determined a resolution was unlikely after they spoke with camp members about complying with a court order and removing the blockade.