Indigenous youth vacate minister's office, ending 11-day occupation for Wet'suwet'en

Indigenous youth who took over the Minister of Northern Affairs's Winnipeg office have ended their occupation.

The group began occupying Dan Vandal's Winnipeg office on Feb. 4 in solidarity with B.C. pipeline opponents

Demonstrators gather outside Minister of Northern Affairs Dan Vandal's constituency office in Winnipeg, in solidarity with opponents of the proposed Coastal GasLink pipeline in B.C. (Submitted by Bianca Ballantyne)

A group of Indigenous young people have left Liberal MP Dan Vandal's Winnipeg office, ending their 11-day demonstration in support of the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs in northern B.C.

The group, called Indigenous Youth for Wet'suwet'en, left on Saturday without having their demands met.

The occupants were calling on Vandal, who is the Minister of Northern Affairs, to take action against the Coastal GasLink pipeline. 

The members eventually agreed their efforts would be best served on another front, and began packing up on Saturday before noon.

Bianca Ballantyne, an Anishinaabe-Cree woman, spent 10 out of the 11 days there before she left on Saturday.

Ballantyne ​​​​​​joined the youth in support of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs who are trying to prevent construction on their traditional territory.

"I feel that as people of the land, as Indigenous people, we want to stand in solidarity with our relatives out West," she said. "Because if we don't stand with them, and if something happens in Manitoba, how are we supposed to expect people to stand with us in solidarity?"

The RCMP began enforcing a court order against northern B.C.-based opponents in the Wet'suwet'en nation earlier this month, arresting dozens of people and sparking demonstrations across the country.

"It's not right what they're doing over there. That's their home, and they're being invaded, and we can't stand for that anymore," Ballantyne said.

As part of the action in Winnipeg, which was also supported by the Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition and Manitoba Youth for Climate, organizers said about five to 15 people were camping out in the minister's lobby at any given time.

The occupation is part of fragmented collective efforts to shake up business as usual in Canada. Demonstrators have temporarily shut down traffic in major cities and stalled trains on rail lines.

Select members of the group spoke with Vandal over the phone. On Feb. 7, they met with him in person.

But those talks fell short of meeting their demands, Ballantyne said.

Dozens of protesters stood outside the constituency office of Minister of Northern Affairs Dan Vandal in Winnipeg on Feb. 4, in solidarity with Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs who oppose the proposed northern B.C. pipeline. (Sam Samson/CBC)

Ballantyne said she is confident the movement will continue to build — particularly if RCMP advancement continues, the B.C. government doesn't back down and TC Energy doesn't find an alternate route that avoids the territory.

"I'm sick of it," Ballantyne said. "I'm sick of our human rights not being respected."

While the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs oppose the 670-kilometre natural gas pipeline, 20 elected First Nation band councils have signed agreements in support, including five of the six councils in Wet'suwet'en nation.