About a dozen people who support the hereditary chiefs, many with red hands painted onto their faces, stood on the north side of the rail tracks that dissect Saskatoon, between 20th and 21st Street and Avenue J S. and I S.
Roughly the same number of people stood on the south side of the tracks with signs and chants indicating they want construction on the LNG Coastal Gaslink pipeline to continue through Wet’suwet’en traditional land.
It was the second round of major protests and counter-protests, which have swept across Canada and paralyzed the country’s rail system, to take place in Saskatoon.
The blockades began as a response to RCMP after the police removed protestors from unceded Wet’suwet’en territory in northern B.C. so that work crews could continue building a pipeline.
On Friday Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for the obstructions to come down but an organizer for the demonstrators who support the chiefs told Global News they had arrived at the rail tracks around noon. By 2 p.m. they had erected wooden skids as barricades on railway property, but not on the tracks.
“It’s our goal to stand in solidarity with the people in Wet’sewet’en and Tyendinaga to show that Saskatoon is unceded territory, too, even though we have treaties and different history,” said Erica Violet Lee.
Less than an hour later, several pickup trucks, some adorned with Canadian and Saskatchewan flags, arrived carrying the pro-pipeline demonstrators. They walked up to the tracks and stood across from the other camp.
Some of the pipeline supporters asked the Wet’suwet’en supporters why there were there, arguing that the Wet’suwet’en chiefs had consented to the pipeline.
“I don’t even think they know what they’re here for,” he said.
One man wearing a yellow vest was especially aggressive, frequently crossing the tracks and yelling at people.
Those supporting the hereditary chiefs largely remained in or near their camp and chanted “Trudeau is not our chief” and “Not your land.” One man handed out bannock to the pipeline supporters.
When asked about the counter-demonstration and heavy police presence, Lee said, “I think we’re always scared for our safety as Indigenous peoples in Saskatchewan.
“The Colten Boushie and Gerald Stanley verdict showed there are very few safe places for Indigenous people in this province.”
Around 12 police officers separated the two sides when tensions were highest and when members of both sides were centimetres from each other and yelling. Police explained a train was coming, but it was almost two hours before it crossed between the demonstrations. People did not retreat and some were within a metre of the tracks as it did so.
The pipeline supporters left shortly after the train passed, with the majority of the police following shortly afterwards.
Lee said they were planning to stay as long as they could hold out.