Portage and Main blocked by pipeline protesters

Winnipeggers act in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en First Nation land protectors

Winnipeg protesters flooded the Portage and Main intersection during rush hour Thursday in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en land protectors in B.C.

Members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation have been attempting to block construction of the planned Coastal GasLink pipeline, which would run through their territory, by setting up checkpoints along the proposed pipeline.

On Jan. 7, the RCMP set up a roadblock near one of the camps and arrested 14 people. Multiple reporters and protesters reported that communication signals — namely WiFi— had been disrupted at the time of the arrests.

By Jan. 10, a deal was reached with the RCMP that allowed construction crews to reach the site.

While the nation’s band councils have approved it, hereditary chiefs in the area say they are still opposed to the pipeline.

The positions are two separate levels of First Nations leadership. While band councils are elected representatives of the land reserves in Indigenous communities, hereditary chiefs are community leaders wherein the position has been passed down through families.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was criticized for the RCMP’s actions during a town hall in Kamloops, B.C., Thursday. He said he understood people’s frustration and that the process would take time, adding that the current government has been doing “a better job of” reconciliation efforts.

In Winnipeg, protesters carried signs in support of the activists in B.C. and called on local politicians to condemn the pipeline.

River Steele Guillas, a U of M student, said he came out to protest not just the invasion of Wet’suwet’en territory, but all “unsustainable” pipelines being built.

“Frankly, as we’re harvesting the resources from this planet, the planet’s throwing it right back at us with extreme weather patterns,” he said.

Guillas said it was provincial lawmakers’ “sovereign jurisdiction and right” to speak up on the issue.

“I think with all provincial lawmakers, and this applies to every single province out there, it is up to them […] to do something about this,” he said.

“That’s why the provinces were formed in the first place.”

B.C. premier John Horgan has expressed support for the pipeline project.

The Winnipeg protest lasted just over an hour and comes after several other efforts — protesters met earlier in the day to create signage at the University of Winnipeg Hive, and a 24-hour sacred fire was lit on the Manitoba legislature grounds Tuesday in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.

One person in attendance who clarified he would prefer to be referred to as a “land defender,” Ryan Beardy, came with his two children because it was “the right thing to do.”

“I think it’s about time, and it’s also about setting a good example.”

His daughter, Chyanna, eight and son Isaiah, six, carried signs that said “Our rights my future” and “Water is life.”

“It’s about standing up for what’s right in this country and raising the next generation,” Beardy said.

“This isn’t only about us — this is about them.”