TIMMINS – A peaceful demonstration was held in Timmins, Saturday, February 29 by local Indigenous people in solidarity and support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary Chiefs, who are protesting the construction of a gas pipeline on traditional lands in northern British Columbia.
The event was located on Highway 101, Riverside Drive on the western entry point of the city near some of the largest box store outlets. The gathering was organized by Jennifer Wabano, an artist and college professor from Peawanuck First Nation and Lorraine Naveau, a First Nation advocate and member of Mattagami FN.
A large group took part consisting of regional Elders, supporters and traditional performers that included drummers, singers, and dancers representing First Nations from throughout northeastern Ontario. They were all in attendance to hear Nishnaw-Aski Nation (NAN) Deputy Grand Chief Walter Naveau, Wabano and Lorraine Naveau speak. Deputy Grand Chief Naveau is a member of and former Chief of Mattagami FN.
“Today we are here for this rally called by the grassroots Indigenous people of our area in support of our Wet’suwet’en brothers and sisters in their fight regarding the construction of a pipeline on their traditional lands. This is all about hereditary claims and traditional rights on traditional territories,” explained Deputy Grand Chief Naveau.
The peaceful demonstration drew over 50 supporters who braved freezing weather with traditional drumming, singing and dancing in regalia. Elder David Faries, an Elder from the James Bay region, provided prayers. Traffic was not stopped and there were no negative reactions from the public.
“We prayed and smudged for this event and everyone was in great spirits today with the cold yet sunny day and unlike a few of the other protests down south, no one had any negative responses towards us today,” commented Lorraine Naveau.
Many protests have sprung up all over Canada in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary Chiefs in their fight against a pipeline on their traditional lands. Many of the elected and federal government recognized First Nation councils in the area have signed Impact Benefit Agreements with Coastal GasLink (CGL), a subsidiary of TC Energy regarding the construction of a pipeline through a vast area of pristine land. A group of Wet’suwet’en hereditary Chiefs did not agree with the pipeline and have blocked the route in protesting the development. On January 7, RCMP officers moved into Wet’suwet’en territory to enforce an injunction to remove the blockades. Since then, the protesters have asked for the RCMP to leave the traditional lands involved in order to have any discussions with the government. Although there have been arrests, the Liberal government has decided to move ahead with dialogue with the Chiefs rather than apply force. Opposition Conservative members of parliament have been pushing for the injunction to be enforced and they have condemned protests by Indigenous people across the country. There has also been the development of reactionary counter-protests by non-Native groups in some parts of the country and an increasing number of reported threats, racism and intimidation towards the national Wet’suwet’en protests.
“There is an ugly side of our society that has come out of this and it has to do with racism. I am here today not only as the Deputy Grand Chief of NAN but also as a father and I want to see a future for my children that continues on a path of reconciliation but the way forward has to be with governments honouring our treaty, land and traditional hereditary rights,” explained Deputy Grand Chief Naveau.
A draft accord was announced on Sunday, March 1, 2020 among government representatives and the Wet’suwet’en hereditary Chiefs. Work on the pipeline will resume.