More than 200 people crowded the steps of the Halifax Regional Police headquarters on Monday to show their support for a West Coast First Nation whose resistance to a pipeline has captured national headlines.
“Who do you serve? Who do you protect? Get your boots off native necks,” they chanted, to the beat of drums held by members of the local Indigenous community.
The demonstration was one of several held across Canada on Tuesday in response to the arrest of 14 people at a blockade maintained by the Wet’suwet’en First Nation on its traditional territory in central British Columbia.
The blockade is one of two major encampments aimed at disrupting TransCanada’s Coastal GasLink pipeline project, a proposal that aims to ship natural gas from nearby Dawson Creek through Wet’suwet’en territory to a planned export facility near Kitimat, B.C.
The arrests — made by RCMP for alleged for violations of an interim court injunction — compelled some people in Halifax to raise their voices in support for the First Nation.
“I feel like we live in an age of reconciliation and questioning what that means, which I think is action,” said demonstrator Angela Henderson, who is originally from British Columbia.
“It means action from our governments and as a citizen, I feel like the way I can act is to turn out. I mean, it’s betrayal, it’s greed, it’s corruption, it’s obscene. Yeah… It’s hard not to react to that.”
While the Wet’suwet’en First Nation’s elected leadership signed a benefits agreement in support of Coastal GasLink, the project is unanimously opposed by its hereditary chiefs, who exert jurisdiction over the nation’s vast swath of traditional territory.
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Demonstrators in Halifax on Tuesday called on provincial and federal governments to respect First Nations sovereignty on Indigenous land, respect the land and water rights guaranteed by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and uphold their own commitments to reconciliation.
One demonstrator called the nationwide show of solidarity for the Wet’suwet’en a “Standing Rock moment” in Canada, whose momentum would not disappear in the wake of a handful of arrests.