Dozens of Indigenous people and supporters joined protests across Canada Friday in Chilliwack in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and their opposition to the Coast GasLink pipeline in northern B.C.
Starting at noon, the protest blocked off a portion of Knight Road east of Vedder Road at the rail crossing on the line used by the Southern Railway of B.C.
The well-organized group had a moving sound system on the back of a pickup truck, and after not too long, with RCMP escort and support from City of Chilliwack workers, the protest marched to the much busier intersection of Vedder Road and Knight.
The protest then moved methodically and without incident, again with RCMP support, north to the busiest intersection in Chilliwack at Luckakuck Way and Vedder where they stayed for nearly an hour.
(See below for more photos.)
Dubbed the “Sto:lo Day of Action in Support of Wet’suwet’en,” organizers invited all “Sto:lo warriors, elders, leaders, matriarchs, drummers, dancers and singers” to show up at noon for the rally scheduled to go until 4 p.m.
The protest cause considerable traffic disruption over several of the busiest blocks in the commercial corridor just south of Highway 1.
Organized by three young Sto:lo women, including Carielynn Victor and Theresa Warbus, who is the daughter of jurist and former lieutenant governor Grand Chief Steven Point and Gwen Point, they were joined by dozens of Indigenous people and supporters of all ages.
Respected elders who spoke included Steven Point, Grand Chief Doug Kelly, Grand Chief Clarence “Kat” Pennier, elder and activist Eddie Gardner and others.
“Industry and Crown corporations do not run our country and they shouldn’t,” Point told the crowd at the intersection of Knight and Vedder, as he recalled previous protests in years past.
Gardner addressed what he called a misunderstanding of the big picture by government and the mainstream media.
As the speakers gave their messages, there was also drumming and dancing interspersed, all while RCMP guided traffic away from the intersections from more than a block away in every direction. There were only a handful of people close enough to be heard complaining about the temporary traffic inconvenience.
“Get a job!” one man yelled at Luckakuck and Vedder as he crossed the street.
“Go home!” another man yelled from the window of his pickup truck as Mounties redirected him away from the protesters.
Leading up to the protest, and in response to similar protests in Vancouver, up north in Wet’suwet’en territory, and as far away as in Mohawk territory in Ontario, there have been numerous vitriolic comments posted on social media.
The most extreme was from a person who commented: “Bomb them” on a Progress Facebook post in advance of the planned protest.
In introducing Grand Chief Kat Pennier as a respected elder, Warbus addressed the posts shared online in recent days.
“We’ve faced a few days of racism and online hate,” Warbus said. “They’ve faced a lifetime.”
The topic is a controversial one in Canada with a split in a recent poll over support for the B.C. pipeline. The Angus Reid poll found 51 per cent of Canadians support the 670-kilometre natural gas pipeline, while 39 per cent support the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and 63 per cent believe there needs to be more consultation.
On Feb. 12, a protest at the B.C. Legislature delayed the Throne Speech, while blockades all around the country have stopped both freight and passenger rail travel. Protests have gone on all week on the streets of downtown Vancouver and across many cities in Canada.
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