Manitoba

Winnipeg protesters lock arms in support of Wet'suwet'en fighting B.C. pipeline

Hundreds of protesters spilled onto Winnipeg's downtown streets Monday to defend land thousands of kilometres away in northern B.C. where Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs and supporters are trying to stop the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

Monday's demonstration was one of many happening across the country

Critics of the RCMP's conduct in northern B.C. were among the protesters who were marching in Winnipeg in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs and others. (Ian Froese/CBC)

Hundreds of protesters spilled onto Winnipeg's downtown streets Monday to defend land thousands of kilometres away in northern B.C. where Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs and supporters are trying to stop construction of a natural gas pipeline.

"When I say land, you say back!" the shout emanated from Portage and Main, as protesters hollered their approval.

They locked arms in a round dance while blocking traffic at three intersections early Monday evening, in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en people's fight against the pipeline and RCMP enforcement actions.

Anger boiled over last week after the RCMP began arresting people trying to prevent the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline. Marches in solidarity with the protesters were held across the country on Monday.

The epicentre of the battle may be far away, but protesters in Winnipeg carried the displeasure of the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs with them as they congregated at Portage Place mall before splitting off.

"We're trying to let the world know that we aren't going to back down and we're going to keep this up as long as we have to," said Kimberley Kostiuk, a member of Long Plain First Nation, clutching an eagle feather and sweet grass.

'Destroyed just over money'

"I don't appreciate the corporate greed — pipeline people wanting to destroy and rape our land," she said. "Our people live out there, they fish, they hunt, this is their way of life. And it's getting destroyed just over money, it's just not worth it."

Kostiuk and her friends were trying to raise enough money to join the Wet'suwet'en people in B.C., but the price tag is prohibitive, she said.

In the meantime, she gathered with hundreds of people at the downtown mall before walking down either Portage Avenue or Edmonton Street. They ended their march at three separate intersections — Portage and Main, Broadway and Main, Balmoral and Broadway — for round dances where they sang and heard the beat of the drums. It's estimated some 300 to 500 people took part.

Emily Amos leads protestors down Portage Avenue during rush hour on Monday in a solidarity march supporting the Wet'suwet'en hereditary leaders in B.C. who are opposing the Coastal GasLink pipeline and RCMP enforcement actions. (Ian Froese/CBC)

In B.C., RCMP have arrested dozens of people since they started enforcing a court order last Thursday. Police are confronting camps at several checkpoints along the road to Wet'suwet'en territory.

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

However, the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs say those councils are only responsible for the territory within their individual reserves because their authority only comes from the Indian Act.

Monday's demonstration in Winnipeg shows people are watching what's happening in Wet'suwet'en, and condemning the RCMP's conduct as well, said Emily Amos, one of the organizers.

"Everybody is related to everybody in some way. Just because this is happening all the way in B.C. doesn't mean it won't affect us and our family lives," said Amos, a Prairie Cree and Coastal Salish protester.

Amos is among the youth who have taken over the office of Winnipeg MP Dan Vandal  — who is also minister of northern affairs — for nearly a week. 

Demonstrators first gathered at Portage Place Mall before setting off on downtown Winnipeg streets. (Ian Froese/CBC)

Grace Campbell, a great grandmother, said she was marching on Monday for generations to come, and the generations before her. A member of Ebb and Flow First Nation, she says her ancestors wouldn't have approved of a pipeline's imposition.

"We have to stand up for our own," she said. 

She worries the pipeline, which carries natural gas that is later liquefied, will break and cause environmental damage. 

Claire Brandenbarg said, as a settler of these lands, it's important to be in solidarity with those at Wet'suwet'en and the youth occupying Vandal's office.

"We can't just be armchair activists," she said while participating in the round dance. "We need to be out here on the streets."

Amos was looking to return to Vandal's office on Monday night to continue her demonstration.

The Indigenous Youth for Wet'suwet'en in Winnipeg plan to remain there until their demands — a public statement from Vandal condemning the RCMP actions in B.C. — are met, she said. Despite the lack of progress after the first meeting with Vandal, Amos is hopeful the MP will take the protesters seriously.

Last week, after meeting with the protesters, Vandal tweeted that he respected and shared their passion, but "this project falls fully under provincial jurisdiction, and no order of government can direct the RCMP and their operations."

He encouraged the group to share their concerns with the B.C. government.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ian Froese

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Ian Froese covers provincial politics and its impact for CBC Manitoba. He previously reported on a bit of everything for newspapers. You can reach him at ian.froese@cbc.ca.

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