Activists in Kanesatake blocked the highway in the community to draw attention to pipeline politics in BC. (Courtesy Al Harrington)
Before the barricade at Unist’ot’en reluctantly came down late last week, activists and community members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation found other ways to let the world in.
From across the country, people have tuned in to Twitter and Facebook live feeds from the beleaguered checkpoint in Northern British Columbia: addresses from hereditary chiefs, snapshots of militarized confrontation with RCMP officers, or a glimpse of community mobilization and rapport from behind the barricade.
Supporters, in turn, have reached out through social media from unexpected places across the globe – as far-flung as Australia, for example – to show solidarity and raise awareness of the Wet’suwet’en’s current plight.
Closer to home, however, locals tuned in to a Facebook live broadcast from The Pines on Saturday, where approximately two dozen community members from Oka and Kanesatake gathered, in spite of the cold, to send their own message of camaraderie.
“We wish peace, power, strength and love to the Wet’suwet’en people at the Unist’ot’en camp,” Ellen Gabriel said amidst cheering. As she spoke, comments began to flood the video feed – one person even reaching out to express support on behalf of their peers in the United Kingdom.
“We wish for a peaceful resolution that includes the traditional hereditary chiefs, and we hope there will be justice not only for the Unist’ot’en, but for all Indigenous peoples across Canada.”
For demonstrators gathering in Kanehsatake Saturday, the conflict at Unist’ot’en serves as a reminder of the events of the Oka Crisis in 1990 – 29 years ago.
Back then, supporters from across the country came out in droves to support and raise their voices about many issues, most notably protecting a cemetery and Mohawk land from golf course expansion.
“We have to remind Canada and its citizens that Indigenous people have never surrendered their land, and that we are the ones who are the authorities over our lands and resources,” Gabriel added.
The demonstrations continued on Sunday, when supporters from Kanehsatake erected a temporary road block on two ends of Route 344 for several hours, waving flags and donning boldly-coloured banners
Al Harrington, along with other local cohorts, redirected traffic while officers with the Surete du Quebec kept a distant – yet watchful – eye.
“Honestly, nothing has changed,” he said. “But people are starting to come together here – the youth are coming out, and this is the reason we’re showing solidarity.”
Harrington has become quite adept at bringing in audiences with his live feed videos – dozens of them going to air on Facebook each year. He says he enjoys using the tool to spread messages and broaden the scope of otherwise local events.
“Unity is the best – to be together as one, and stand up and tell Canada it’s like this: Sovereignty is the issue, Canada is the problem,” Harrington added.
Despite the progress made in awareness-raising about the struggles at Unist’ot’en, for Marlene Hale – Wet’suwet’en from B.C. – a large stressor still hangs over the community’s head.
“Our biggest battle lies ahead, and it’s called the legal battle,” she said.
But grassroots support and fundraising can play a role in reducing the imminent financial strain on the Wet’suwet’en.
“A $40 billion company is going to be a pretty big company to fight against,” Hale said. “But you know what? I have two nickels to rub together – I can make a lot of bannock, and get more nickels put together.”
A national fundraising page for the Unist’ot’en’s legal defense fund has raised over $200,000 of its $400,000 goal. Supporters, however, are finding other ways to contribute to the fund while still raising the issue’s profile in the public eye.
While following the Twitter posts while the checkpoint was being raided last Tuesday, Jack Solar and Jay Vanisle decided to book a benefit event to mobilize the community in and around Montreal in solidarity with the land defenders.
At first, they expected the small punk show to bring in only about 30-40 guests, but by Saturday night, the venue – La Vitrola – was operating at near-capacity.
“We had no idea it would get as big as it did, and we were so humbled by the response,” Solar said. “There were seven bands, drummers, singers, dancers, a few speakers, and dozens of businesses, organizations and artists donated items to the raffle.”
“La Vitrola was sold out earlier than most events even start there. The entire experience was incredible,” she added.
The benefit for Unist’ot’en amassed close to $6,000, a sum donated entirely to the Unist’ot’en legal defense fund.
“The night was nothing less than spectacular,” explained Kahnawake’s Satehoronies “Boopie” McComber – or Will E. Skandalz – who hosted the event. “It was a very supportive, packed house, and they all stuck around from the first act to the last.”