Indigenous youth and allies in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en are sitting in at the Ministry of Justice on Wellington Street where they say they will stay until Justice Minister David Lametti calls on the RCMP to stand down.
“If everybody can just stand up and say something, that would be great,” says Sunshine, one of about 25 Indigenous youth and allies who kicked off the sit-in Monday morning. Some youth will come and go throughout the day, others say they are willing to stay as long as it takes.
The situation has been escalating at Wet’suwet’en since last year when Coastal GasLink was granted an expanded injunction for their multi-billion-dollar natural gas pipeline. This became more pronounced last week with reports of arrests being made and reports of media being turned away on the scene by the RCMP.
This has prompted solidarity action across the country by Indigenous Peoples and supporters. Here in Ottawa, hundreds braved the snow Friday to rally in support of Wet’suwet’en.
Call off the RCMP
A spokeswoman from Minister Lametti’s office has said he is not in town with the Parliament on break. The House will sit again next week. The youth currently in the justice building say they are willing to meet with the person directly below him.
The Minister’s office shared some information from Public Safety, saying the RCMP doesn’t take orders from any federal, provincial or municipal government. They say this is effectively a provincial issue.
Katie Perfitt, who is representing the group from outside of the building, says Minister Lametti has a responsibility to call on the RCMP to stand down.
“The Supreme Court has dictated that the Hereditary Chiefs of Wet’suwet’en have legal say over their land,” says Sunshine. “It’s about what’s morally right and what’s morally wrong. What’s going on right now is morally wrong.”
The group plans to stay until they can share their demands which include:
- Ceasing construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline and suspending permits
- The RCMP and Canada respect the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP)
- The RCMP be withdrawn from Wet’suwet’en
- The RCMP refrain from any use of force on Wet’suwet’en lands
- British Columbia Premier John Horgan and other government officials meet with Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs
- Charges dropped against land defenders and supporters at Wet’suwet’en and Gidimt’en
All our Relations: Standing in solidarity no matter the distance
Many of the Indigenous youth and allies say they’ve put a lot on the line to support Wet’suwet’en but they say it’s important people across the country let the government know they’re watching next steps.
“This is what we are going to have fight for until the end,” says Sophia Sidarous. “I think that people are willing to prioritize this as an issue for them is very meaningful to the Wet’suwet’en.”
The supporters say it’s just as meaningful for them to take this action. Gabrielle Fayant says watching from afar is like watching history repeat itself.
“Why is Canada continuing to do this?” she asks. Fayant says displacing Indigenous Peoples leads to pain and systemic cycles like children overrepresented in the welfare system. She says the exact same thing happened 100 years ago when Métis Peoples were removed from their own lands.
Fayant says she and her peers at the Justice building will stay to show the government this will not be forgotten.
A peaceful occupation
We are peaceful. We are unarmed. We stand in solidarity. The group has repeated the mantra throughout the sit-in.
“I know media tends to switch Indigenous youth and Indigenous peoples in a certain light,” says Sidarous. “I think that’s a really important key today, that we are unarmed and we are peaceful and we not leaving until our demands are met.”
The group says they are committed to this action even though it isn’t on their land or on their nation.
That distance doesn’t matter says Madeleine Ienerahtahawi Kelly. She says at the end of the day the Wet’suwet’en, its land and those standing in solidarity, are part of the same family
“It’s all one turtle.”
ELMNT FM has reached out to Minister Lametti’s office for further comment.