'People are afraid to speak up': Wet'suwet'en member defends her support for pipeline
Bonnie George used to work for Coastal GasLink, which is building the 670-kilometre pipeline in B.C.
A Wet'suwet'en woman says people in her community who have spoken up in support of a controversial pipeline project in B.C. have been bullied and called traitors.
Bonnie Georgie is a member of the Witset First Nation and a former Coastal GasLink employee. She supports her former employer's 670-kilometre natural gas pipeline plan, despite protests across the country in support of Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs who oppose it.
All 20 elected band councils along the pipeline route, including Wet'suwet'en councils, have signed benefits agreements with Coastal GasLink. However, the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs who oppose the pipeline say those councils were established by the Indian Act and only have authority over reserve lands.
George spoke with As It Happens host Carol Off on Tuesday. Here's part of that conversation.
How much support is there in Witset First Nation … for this project?
There's quite a bit of support for this project. But people are afraid to speak up because, in the past few years, people that [have] spoken up were either ostracized … ridiculed, bullied, harassed, threatened, and being called a traitor — a sellout.
Even with me accepting [an] employment contract with Coastal GasLink, I was called a traitor and I was just totally, you know, bullied on social media and so on.
People are afraid to speak up.
There's a small group of members from the Wet'suwet'en Nation that doesn't support the projects.
But Witset Band Council is among those 20 First Nation band councils who have given their support to the Coastal GasLink project. The argument back has been, "Well, you know, were people on side with that?" The members of those First Nations, did they support it? ... What did Witset Band Council do to consult or to say that they actually have the support of the people in your community?
There was community meetings.
There was obviously a small group of individuals that didn't support that crashed the meetings and was very outspoken.
Then it had to come to a vote through band council. And again, there was a lot of resistance from a small group of people. So it went to a blind vote in camera, and the results came out as it is now that they voted to sign.
So from there, the resistance built and gained a lot of momentum from a lot of outsiders from the U.S. and from Eastern Canada, which unravelled to what it looks like today.
There's a lot of support of Wet'suwet'en members and there's members that work out on the projects … that's being withheld from going to work because of the block.
You say it's a small group who are the ones making the noise about this ... but [it is] a small group that includes hereditary chiefs who oppose the project — who say that their role in your society … is to protect the land. It's not to protect the interests of any particular band council, but a more global — more widespread — responsibility to safeguard the unceded territory.
That's absolutely correct.
To say in the same breath as what you just said … I would also like to say that there is two sides of the story.
Within our band council, we do have hereditary chiefs that sit on the council and that also know their role and understand their role as a hereditary chief and as band council.
They're able to hold those two roles to the utmost respect for the betterment of the people, of their membership, because it's a membership that voted them ... into these positions.
As you're watching events unfold these days, how the protest and the opposition is escalating, this has come from a court ordered injunction enforced by police who arrived in tactical gear to dismantle the protest against the pipeline.
How do you feel about how the government has dealt with this? Do you think that the authorities could have done a better job at handling this?
The authorities, they're just like the rest of us. They have a job to fulfil. They have an injunction in front of them that they have to enforce and they did all possible, you know, to try to de-escalate.
As a Wet'suwet'en person, it's really disheartening to see all of this unravel as it has, because our people — our hereditary chiefs and our elders in the past — they've always had discussions. If there was disharmony or disagreements within the clan or house or within a nation, they would come to the table together as one and try to discuss and, you know, look at all the aspects of what the issues are. And they would keep discussing until they come together with a conclusion that both parties agree with.
It's obvious that hasn't come to that level yet. And my hope and dream is that we do do that.
Looking at all the support from all across Canada and all over the world, hearing about people ... blockading the bridges and the train tracks, you know, it's a two-sided coin.
You know, it's good that people come together to support other nations, but on the other hand, it would be good for them to hear both sides of this story and to see that there are people that support projects and that want to move forward with the projects.
Before jumping the gun and jumping on the bandwagon, running … with their sign to block off the CN Rail, you know, find out the facts first — like what we have done. And that's why we support the projects.
We did fact finding. We asked the questions. And, you know, talked to our grassroots people who work out there. Talked to our individuals that's losing out.
Every day that this is holding them back from work, it's holding back their paycheques.
What kind of a reaction do you think you're going to get to this interview?
Well, I've endured a lot of criticism and a lot of rude, bad, remarks on social media. Being called … a traitor and every dirty name that you can think of.
But I overlook that because I hold a lot of pride in myself and I keep my integrity very high.
I will not jeopardize my integrity because I was taught by my leaders and my elders and my family. I come from a line of hereditary chiefs — both sides, my mother's side and my father's side — and they're the one that taught me what I know today.
I will not jeopardize or dishonour that integrity.
Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. Written by Katie Geleff and Sarah Claydon, with files from The Canadian Press. Interview with Bonnie George produced by Chloe Shantz-Hilkes.
- An earlier version of this story stated that host Carol Off asked Bonnie George what the Wet'suwet'en Band Council did to consult with her community about approval for the Coastal GasLink pipeline. This was a transcription error. In fact, Off asked about the Witset Band Council.Feb 12, 2020 11:22 AM ET