The Current

Rail blockade protesters 'dragging our name through the mud,' says Wet'suwet'en woman

The Wet'suwet'en protests against a proposed pipeline have drawn support across the country, but are solidarity protesters always welcome? Two Wet'suwet'en members give their perspectives.

Part of the Wet'suwet'en is 'unrepresented' in pipeline conflict: Bonnie George

Bonnie George supports the Coastal GasLink project that has sparked protests across Canada. (Submitted by Bonnie George)
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People protesting in solidarity with the anti-pipeline rail blockades aren't considering the wishes of the wider Wet'suwet'en, one member has said. 

"Our chiefs and elders are really hurt about what they see, and how our name of Wet'suwet'en has been blasted all across Canada," said Bonnie George, a member of the Witset First Nation and a former Coastal GasLink employee.

"The way they feel is that they're dragging our name through the mud," she told The Current's Matt Galloway.

The dispute centres on a proposed Coastal GasLink pipeline in B.C. It was agreed with the elected First Nations councils along its route, but opposed by some of the hereditary chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en.

After the RCMP cleared protest camps along the proposed route earlier this month, rail blockades were set up by Tyendinaga Mohawks near Belleville, Ont., and by Kahnawake Mohawks near Montreal. A new blockade was set up Wednesday on Edmonton's western boundary.

Around 20 demonstrators set up a blockade on a CN Rail line west of Edmonton on Wednesday morning. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

The blockades have stopped passenger trains and cargo shipments across eastern Canada for nearly two weeks. Marches in solidarity have also been held in cities across the country.

George, who supports the pipeline, said that "blocking the railway and the highways and the bridges," is an exercise in "power and control — that's not the Wet'suwet'en way."

She told Galloway that a part of the Wet'suwet'en is "unrepresented" in the current conflict, and urged protesters to explore other perspectives. 

"Reach out to our people, reach out to our elders, reach out to our hereditary chiefs that feel that they've been unheard and find out what they want, and find out how they feel."

Instead of the protests, she wants people to refocus their energy and "to sit down and work together collectively as a nation."

'Solidarity means all of us'

A close friend of George, Montreal-based Marlene Hale said that the Wet'suwet'en First Nation is in "dire" need right now, and the help of non-Indigenous protesters is welcome. 

"The people of the Wet'suwet'en Nation right now need the world's help, they need the recognition, and it is there — they have received it, and they are welcoming it."

Marlene Hale, a chef turned activist who opposes the proposed Coastal GasLink pipeline in B.C., welcomes the support of people outside the Wet'suwet'en community. (Submitted by Marlene Hale)

She said she loved her friend George dearly, but that "I don't really think that 'dragging us through the mud' is a phrase that I would probably use."

"We welcome everybody, we are a solidarity. Solidarity means all of us."

George said she was glad Hale was part of the discussion and wished her well, but urged her to "reach out to some of the members of our nation — our elders — and find out how they feel about all of this and how it's impacting them back home."

Even after fiery debate in the House of Commons, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, his ministers and some Indigenous leaders are calling for calm and dialogue as the way to end the ongoing rail blockades. 4:17

Speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged patience and for Canadians to work together to find a solution to the stand-off. 

Hale said she understands that people are frustrated with the blockade, but thinks the onus is on the prime minister to find a solution — not on the protesters to stand down.

"Who is 'we?' He needs to work with the people, not with 'we,'" she said.

Trudeau should go to B.C. and speak with the hereditary chiefs opposed to the pipeline, she said. 

"That is really what is needed right now."


Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Julie Crysler, Ines Colabrese and Mehek Mazhar.