Nfld. & Labrador

Wet'suwet'en supporters building pipeline through minister's St. John's office

Roughly 25 people are occupying federal Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan's office in St. John's in solidarity with the First Nation.

About 25 protesters occupying federal Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan's office

A group of protesters has begun to build its own pipeline through Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Reagan's office in St. John's on Thursday. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Supporters of the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs — and opponents of the Coastal GasLink pipeline — built a symbolic "pipeline" Thursday inside the St. John's office of Natural Resources Minister Seamus O'Regan.

About 25 people are occupying the office in St. John's, and some aren't saying when they plan to leave. 

Indigenous members brought drums and are leading the group in singing of traditional songs, and some of the protesters have written "Reconciliation is Dead" on miniature Canadian flags.

Others are constructing a "pipeline," made of PVC pipe, through O'Regan's office. According to Robert Leamon, a member of the Qalipu Mi'kmaq First Nation, it's a symbol of the disruption that a gas pipeline will cause in the Wet'suwet'en nation.

"It is obviously not a good situation to be in that there's a pipeline being built on the land, where it's getting in the way of everything else you are trying to do," he said. "Indigenous people have been trying to live peacefully on this land for generations." 

Tensions between supporters of the Wet'suwet'en, police and government have begun to bubble over the last week as protesters have attempted to shut down rail lines across the country, some engaging in scuffles with officers.

Protests are being held to show solidarity with Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs who oppose a natural gas pipeline project that would cut through Wet'suwet'en territory in northern British Columbia.The St. John's protest on Thursday has been peaceful.

About 25 protesters are occupying O'Regan's office. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Office staff have been welcoming to protestors and say there is no plan to ask them to leave. 

In a statement, the Department of Natural Resources said O'Regan and his staff "staff welcome the opportunity to speak to constituents about their views."

"Our work on this matter has always focused on finding a peaceful and lasting resolution in a way that builds trust and respect among all parties involved," says the statement.

Leamon said the group was targeting O'Regan's office because they believe he has the power to "put an end" to the conflict.

"He's the minister of natural resources, so he's clearly a very influential player in the way that pipelines proceed in this country," he said.  "So yeah, we absolutely are hoping that he will step up and bring truth to the conversation around reconciliation."

In mid-February a group in St. John's blocked traffic on downtown streets on a Saturday, and about 100 people showed up to a Muskrat Falls announcement at Memorial University to stand in solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en Nation. A small group in Corner Brook took to Remembrance Square to do the same.

Stan Nochasak, an Inuk from Labrador, says even if the protesters leave O'Regan's office, their message will stay. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Stan Nochasak, an Inuk from Labrador who now lives in St. John's, said he has great environmental concerns about the Coastal GasLink pipeline. He said he decided to attend the protest at the last minute to support other protesters across the country.

"We all need land, and when you destroy it you eventually destroy generations," he said. "We can't see it, but the spirit has an eye that can see ahead of time." 

Angelica Vincent, a university student in St. John's from Hopedale, says she wants to see the RCMP leave Wet'suwet'en lands. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Mark Quinn