Calls for dialogue to resolve Wet’suwet’en blockades

Published On February 18, 2020 | By Galvin Zaldivar | News
Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Perry Bellegarde speaks to the news media at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada February 18, 2020. REUTERS/Patrick Doyle
Galvin Zaldivar

National and indigenous leaders called for calm and respectful dialogue to resolve the tensions over the RCMP presence on Wet’suwet’en lands.

Since the RCMP enforced an injunction against Wet’suwet’en land defenders to allow construction of Coastal Gaslink pipeline, protests and blockades have formed across the country.

The most notable has been the ongoing protest at the Wyman road railway crossing by members of the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory.

For the past 13 days, the presence of the protest has forced Via Rail to cancel trains between Toronto and Ottawa and Montreal. Other similar protests and blockades have also shut down commercial rail traffic across the country.

Via Rail has announced that they expect to restore partial service in eastern Canada by Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: A man smokes at the site of a rail stoppage on Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, as part of a protest against British Columbia’s Coastal GasLink pipeline, in Tyendinaga Ontario, Canada February 16, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Osorio/File Photo

Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), speaking with reporters Tuesday morning, said the Wet’suwet’en people have asked for space in which to carry out their own internal dialogues and ceremonies.

“They told me they want to create their own approach to formalize discussions with the Crown, and they need to be given that time,” he said.

Bellegarde called on both the provincial and federal governments to respect the wishes of the Wet’suwet’en people.

“We say we want to deescalate, and we want dialogue,” he said. “Our people are taking action because they want to see action.”

The events of the past couple of weeks, Bellegarde said, make it clear that a new approach vis-à-vis governments and indigenous peoples is needed.

“When governments ignores First Nations’ rights, title, jurisdiction, it creates conflict and court cases,” he said. “When governments respect first nations’ rights and title, it’s a path to peace, progress and prosperity.”

Bellegarde said the concerns of the Wet’suwet’en people can be easily met. Withdraw the RCMP from their traditional territories, that industry partners such as Coastal Gaslink be open to considering options and alternatives for current and future projects, and for a formalized relationship with the Crown.

“I’ve said this before, that as human beings, we can’t give up on each other. We can not give up on peaceful coexistence and mutual respect. We can not give up on reconciliation. We can not give up on our treaty relationship with the Crown. We can’t give up on United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, it is the pathway forward,” he said.

Donald Maracle, Chief of the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, also called for calm peaceful dialogue to resolve the situation.

“I would never try to speak for another First Nation, I will say that the situation affecting the Wet’suwet’en people resonates in many other parts of this country because it strikes at the issues we all deal with,” he said.

“Respect and implementation of our rights by the federal and provincial governments, our right to make decisions that affect our land and lives, and the right to have a say when it comes to resource development within our traditional territory and its impacts on our territory.”

Maracle said that all levels of government should support dialogue and not to needlessly inflame the situation.

Speaking to the House, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government is working on a plan to resolve all outstanding issues.

“On all sides, people are upset and frustrated,” he said. “Because this is about things that matter. Rights and livelihoods, the rule of law, and our democracy.”

Trudeau said his government is committed to finding a peaceful solution to the crisis and to avoid any escalation on either side.

“What is the alternative, do we want to become a country of irreconcilable differences, where people talk but refuse to listen?” he said.

“Where politicians are ordering police to arrest people? A country where people think they can tamper with rail lines and endanger lives? This is simply unacceptable.”

The Prime Minister also cautioned against oversimplifying the complex issues involved and acting in haste.

“Patience may be in short supply and that makes it more valuable than ever,” he said.

Responding to the Prime Minister’s statement, Andrew Scheer, the Leader of the Opposition and outgoing Conservative Party leader said, “That was the weakest response to a national crisis in Canadian history.”

Scheer characterized blockades in solidarity of Wet’suwet’en as illegal and those who support them as having no actual stake in the dispute.

“[These are] a radical group of activists who won’t rest until our oil and gas industry is completely dismantled,” he said.

He also accused protestors of “appropriated an indigenous agenda they are woefully misrepresenting.”

He called on the Prime Minister to denounce the blockades as illegal and enforce the rule of law.

“Nobody has the right to hold our economy hostage,” he said.

Yves Francois Blanchet refuted Scheer’s assertion that “this side of the house,” was firmly opposed to the protests.

“Mister Speaker, I need to nuance the terms of the Conservative Leader’s proposals when he says ‘on this side of the house,'” he said. “You will never see someone from the Bloc Quebecois put themselves in the middle of a First Nations and say ‘there’s bandits, and there’s nice people that agree with us over here.'”

“We are, frankly, white society,” Blanchet said. “Who are we to get in between them and start judging them whether they agree with are interests of the moment or not?”

Setting himself against Scheer, Blanchet then asked the Prime Minister why it took him so long to respond to the crisis.

“Why did it take a crisis that was going to be national and serious from its very beginning, why was there no involvement until 12 days later,” he said.

Blanchet called the Prime Minister’s statement an election campaign speech from 2015, full of platitudes, but low on action.

“The mistakes are becoming more clear, it’s as though in this place we have to decide between necessary respect for First Nations or the Canadian economy, as though it were inreconcilable,” he said.

It is entirely possible, Blanchet said, to find a solution to lift the blockades and address the concerns of indigenous communities through peaceful dialogue.

Jagmeet Singh, leader of the NDP, said Prime Minister hasn’t shown any leadership on this issue in over a month and acknowledged the passion of the activists.

“It’s inspiring to see the youth rising, to see people of all walks of life who are standing up for human rights, who are standing up for climate justice,” he said.

Singh then acknowledged that the blockades have also impacted the livelihoods of hundreds of Canadians.

“But I’m thinking about the people at the blockade who are standing up because they are so frustrated and angry, and they’re right to be angry,” he said.

Citing broken promises by previous governments, Singh said it has resulted in historic and systemic injustice that continues today.

“The Prime Minister promised to be different, but he broke those promises and he didn’t show to be very different,” he said.

Later the Prime Minister invited other party leaders, with the exception of Scheer to a private meeting to continue discussing the blockades.

The House of Commons will hold an emergency debate later tonight over the blockades and protests in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.

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