Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs Conclude Nation-to-Nation “Strengthening Our Sovereignty” Tour
An important tour took place in the month of August by the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en nation which is defending its unceded territory in British Columbia. The tour was organized to visit other Indigenous nations in different parts of Canada. The chiefs informed that this tour was to “build on our existing relationships and build new relationships based on braiding together the importance of ceremony, land, and the future generations.” The initiative was launched at their Peace and Unity gathering on Wet’suwet’en territory (yintah) in late July. Below is a report of the tour to bring you up to speed on recent developments which reflect the growing unity of opposition to Canada’s colonial practices taking place today.
The tour began on Haudenosaunee territory where they were welcomed by the Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs in Six Nations on the Grand territory, August 2.
Thomas Deer, a representative of the Longhouse stated: “It is an honour to receive our Wet’suwet’en brothers and sisters into our Longhouse again. They’ve demonstrated to the world repeatedly their tireless will to protect their territory and their sovereignty. From one traditional government to another, we share the same values.”
“There is strength in unity, and we stand a better chance resisting colonial oppression together than separate. We both know we’re not alone in this struggle. The more like-minded Onkwehón:we [Original People] nations that join together, the better chance we have to effectively assert our sovereignty,” Deer continued.
Meetings, ceremonies, demonstrations and other events took place following first stop with Indigenous nations across the country: from Kahnawà:ke, Kanehsatà:ke, Tyendinaga and Aamjiwnaang to Winnipeg, Regina and Edmonton with stops in Vancouver, Merrit and Blue River, BC before returning to the yintah.
On August 6, around 30 community members participated in a ceremony in Kahnawà:ke and talks with the Chiefs inside the Kahnawà:ke Longhouse, south of Montreal, at the fourth stop of the cross-country tour.
Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Na’Moks explained that they were visiting other Indigenous nations to share their experiences, not to advise on future actions: “Do you know in our law it is actually illegal to tell another nation what to do? That’s an act of war. We will never direct another nation. Canada is trying to direct us. They are another nation. We are a nation.” He also said he hoped that the situation on Wet’suwet’en territory resolves itself peacefully and that the police leave the yintah soon.
During their visit to Kanehsatà:ke on August 7, activist and Longhouse representative Ellen Gabriel stated that what the Wet’suwet’en have been going through reflects the struggles that all Indigenous people have experienced over the last 500 years as their homelands and communities have been invaded and taken from them. “And we are being pressured into accepting the colonizers’ terms on how to proceed forward,” she said.
She continued, “They [the Wet’suwet’en] essentially wanted to have support and maybe a renewal of relationships with other nations because we have the same struggles in regard to land and dispossession, to figure out a way how we could work together to support each other.”
“When I think about the position that we were in 32 years ago [during the Oka crisis], the public support and the support in ceremony lifted up the spirits of the people.” she stated.
Before beginning their caravan through BC back to the yintah, on August 15 Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and their supporters participated in a rally and march against the ongoing construction of the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline on their territory. The Hereditary Chiefs were there at the invitation of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation Sacred Trust, which is opposed to the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion crossing through unceded Tsleil-Waututh territory.
The action began outside Vancouver city hall. During the action, Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Na’Moks addressed the crowd regarding opposition to the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline on their unceded territory. “That is our land, that is our air and humanity should stand together to protect that for everybody,” he said.
Chief Na’Moks further stated, “With ourselves, our 22,000 square kilometres is unceded, non-treaty and undefeated. So the province of British Columbia and the federal government only have assumed and presumed authority. We’ve never given that up and for the consultation process, they’ve not come to us. They’ve gone to the band elect system. The band elect only have jurisdiction within the reserve boundary, which is the same as a municipality.
“The territory itself, that belongs to the Houses and the Clans. We are the head speakers for our houses and clans and they have said ‘no,’ we have said ‘No, these pipelines will not exist on our territory.” He said, “That is the territory of the Wet’suwet’en people and we will continue to access that.”
Chief Na’Moks also explained that currently Coastal GasLink has constructed a drill pad site on the side of the Morice River, “which is our main river that we have for our salmon, our clean water. It’s all glacier-fed and they are proposing to set up another drill pad site on the other side. And they’ve described it as micro-drilling, and yet the drill pad site itself, which is all concrete, you can fit a semi-trailer truck on it. And they call that micro-drilling.”
“They had proposed to do this in July, but we’ve been halting their construction all the way through, so their timelines have changed. And I have to say that their construction costs went up 70 per cent from the time they proposed it to where it is now, and so they are behind. But constantly the province of British Columbia just readapts their permits to continue the work and the destruction on the land. So, when we have the violence coming at us from RCMP, then it’s in support of this industry and it is totally backed by the NDP of this province,” he stated.
The nation-to-nation tour concluded August 20 when the hereditary chiefs returned to the yintah. They invited Indigenous peoples from other nations to join them in ten days of ceremonies for the land and water to “build our relationships with one another based on our core value Wiggus (respect)” on their territory.
On August 30 Gidimt’en Checkpoint posted on their Facebook page, “The 10 days of ceremony on the yintah have concluded, it was beautiful and powerful.” They stated further, “Boots on the ground are still needed and we welcome applications to come to the yintah to help finishing the balhats (feast hall), preparing for winter, and general camp activities!
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