Eve Saint is the daughter of a Wet’suwet’en First Nation hereditary chief; she was arrested and removed from her land
A Wet’suwet’en land defender said in a panel discussion at Ryerson Wednesday that students need to be aware of the dispute between her nation, Coastal GasLink [CGL] and the B.C. government, so that the next generation can bring light and stop the cycle of violence against Indigenous peoples.
Eve Saint, the daughter of a Wet’suwet’en First Nation hereditary chief, described at the event how she was arrested and removed from her land on Feb. 7 at Gidimt’en. This location is one of two checkpoints the Wet’suwet’en people made to stop the construction of a pipeline they oppose.
Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs are in conflict with CGL, which plans to build a pipeline that would cross into their traditional territory.
On Thursday, the day after the Ryerson panel discussion, pipeline construction was halted for two days, as the hereditary chiefs will meet with provincial and federal ministers, according to the Toronto Star.
At Wednesday’s event, Saint said: “Hopefully the next generation can see how damaging it is to have a racist mindset and how dangerous and violent that can be. It’s important to tell the truth and to get it out there because we need to heal as a generation and for humanity to come together.”
The $6.6-billion CGL pipeline project would transport natural gas across northern B.C. from the Dawson Creek area to a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export plant near Kitimat, according to the company’s website.
The approved 670-kilometre route was determined by “considering Indigenous, landowner and stakeholder input, the environment, archeological and cultural values, land use compatibility, safety, constructability and economics,” according to the website.
However, Saint and thousands of Inidgenous peoples disagree.
“It was designed to take land and resources and to oppress us,” Saint said. “These industries and the government can manipulate to continue taking and extracting and stealing.”
CGL said it signed agreements with the elected bands of all 20 First Nations throughout the path of the pipeline, which included the Wet’suwet’en.
An elected band council member told the Canadian Press that they signed because a lot of Wet’suwet’en people on the reserve are living in poverty and the agreement offered an opportunity for a better future.
While the 20 band councils voted in support of it, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs are not in favour of it.
The Wet’suwet’en nation is made up of five clans, which are all governed by band councils and include over 20 small reserves. Each Wet’suwet’en tribe is led by a hereditary chief who represents different houses that make up the First Nation. They inherit the title that is passed down through generations and have authority over their unceded territory. Elected band councils, on the other hand, are elected members of the community. They only control reserves and not the unceded territory that the pipeline would go through.
The dispute has been intensifying since Dec. 31, following the B.C. Supreme Court granting CGL an expanded injunction against the members of Wet’suwet’en nation blocking access to the project. The RCMP then moved into Wet’suwet’en territory to enforce the injunction.
This has led to a number of solidarity protests across the country blocking railways, port entries and legislatures.
“We are in an uprising and this is what we have to do to get heard, this is what we have to do to be seen,” Saint said about the protests. “This is a fight that just doesn’t affect Indigeous people, it affects the world right now. The fight isn’t over. Everybody else out there that is doing actions and blockades are keeping the fight going.”
Hayden King, an Indigenous education adviser to the dean of the Faculty of Arts at Ryerson, echoed Saint, saying the protests have more meaning than people think.
“When you see those blockades, it’s not just a bunch of ‘angry Indians’ stopping trains trying to inconvenience Canadians,” said King, who is also director of the Yellowhead Institute research centre. “It’s Indigenous peoples honouring those legal obligations to the land.”
The federal government said the controversy between CGL and the Wet’suwet’en First Nation is a problem for the company and the B.C. government to solve.
Saint said this is discouraging for Indigenous peoples because the government says it supports Indigenous rights but its actions do not reflect that.
“Reconciliation is dead,” Saint said. “It died when the [RCMP] came in pointing guns at me. It died when they ripped me off my own territory… [The governments] talk about reconciliation and they all try to sell mainstream Canada this nice pretty bow after they were exposed and had to admit the taking of children into residential schools… It’s a lot of just ‘talk’ because there is no action. We have not seen any rightful actions.”
Saint, who shared her experience of getting arrested and being taken off her territory at the panel discussion, said that by educating the next generation about the Wet’suwet’en conflict, the youth can create a better future for the relationship between Canada and Indigenous peoples.
Victoria Pacione, a third-year Ryerson sociology student, said she came to the event to be a part of creating that better future.
“We live in a society that is colonialist,” Pacione said. “We have a very bad history. It’s important to acknowledge it especially because we engage in it every day. Doing things like this, will it make astronomical changes? Will it fix all the wrongdoings? No. But it’s important to learn and to acknowledge and to stand as allies to the Indigenous communities.”
This article has been updated to correct the spelling of a name. A previous version of this story spelled Eve Saint’s name as “Eva.”