How have Indigenous land defence struggles emerged during the Canadian election?

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Photo from Secwepemc land defender Kanahus Manuel’s Twitter feed.

There are several key Indigenous land defence struggles happening during this federal election in Canada.

They include the blockades against Teal Jones logging old growth forests at Ada’itsx (Fairy Creek) on Pacheedaht and Dididaht territories, the Tiny House Warriors resistance to the Canadian government owned Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline on unceded Secwepemc territory, and the ongoing Wet’suwet’en opposition to the TC Energy Coastal GasLink fracked gas pipeline on their territory.

There is also the Enbridge Line 3 tar sands export pipeline now being resisted by the Giniw Collective and others in Minnesota.

How have these issues surfaced during this federal election?

RCMP repression of land defenders at Ada’itsx (Fairy Creek)

On August 24, Indigenous land defenders opposed to old-growth logging at Fairy Creek gathered outside the Marriott Pinnacle Hotel where Liberal leader Justin Trudeau was staying while on a campaign stop in Vancouver.

CBC reported: “Protester xʷ is xʷ čaa [Kati George-Jim] said it was necessary to come to Vancouver to get the leader’s attention.” She is quoted as saying: “We’re here because Justin Trudeau doesn’t believe that clear-cut logging puts Indigenous people at risk of dying. We have to come here because Justin Trudeau is funding, through the federal government, the RCMP, who are now invading sovereign Indigenous territories.”

That article adds: “The Liberal Party later told reporters that Trudeau had gone out for dinner rather than heading straight to the hotel as planned because of security concerns from the RCMP.” When asked by a reporter why he didn’t engage with the Indigenous youth, Dogwood tweeted Trudeau “dodged” answering the question.

While this is happening under an NDP provincial government, several NDP federal candidates have been critical of the police repression of the land defenders.

Leah Gazan, the NDP candidate for Winnipeg Centre, tweeted: “The BC Provincial Court condemned RCMP tactics & methods at #FairyCreek.Excessive force used against this Nuu-Cha-Nulth & Coast Salish woman & others is wrong. The RCMP are obliged to follow the rule of law & must stop this brutality NOW!”

And Matthew Green, the NDP candidate for Hamilton Centre, tweeted: “The State’s monopoly on violence is always employed to protect corporate profits and capital at the expense of planet and those fighting to protect it. I strongly condemn these brutal paramilitary attacks on peaceful protestors at #FairyCreek.”

Paul Manly, the Green Party candidate for Nanaimo-Ladysmith, who has visited the blockades at Fairy Creek, has commented: “These land defenders aren’t going to stop. They’re not going to stop even with this brutality that we’re seeing from the RCMP. They are determined to protect these forests, and these forests are key for climate change.”

Trans Mountain pipeline on unceded Secwepemc territory

On August 27, the Toronto Star reported: “NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh — a vocal opponent of the Trans Mountain expansion — might not scrap the controversial pipeline project if his party wins power in the Sept. 20 federal election.”

The video of his comment can be seen here.

The pipeline expansion project is currently being built on unceded Secwepemc territory in British Columbia without their free, prior and informed consent. The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has called its construction to be stopped until that consent is given.

On August 29, Singh again made similar comments about the pipeline being built on unceded Indigenous territory, but this time noting: “When we form government we will look at the asset and make the best decision for Canadians.”

The Liberals and Conservatives support the construction of this pipeline, while the NDP (keeping in mind Singh’s recent comments) and Greens have opposed it.

The Coastal GasLink pipeline

While NDP leader Singh has said he is opposed to Trans Mountain, he has expressed his support for the Coastal GasLink fracked gas pipeline being built on Wet’suwet’en territory. Two militarized RCMP raids on that territory – on January 7, 2019, and February 6-10, 2020 – resulted in the arrest of 36 land defenders.

On January 13, 2019, just after the first RCMP raid, Singh stated: “I’ve already mentioned my support for this project given the fact that they’ve done consultation in a very meaningful way broadly speaking and the vast majority of Indigenous elected bands and chiefs have all shown support.”

In that interview, Singh says: “The treatment of the protesters [by the RCMP] was concerning.”

The Liberals, Conservatives and NDP support this pipeline, while the Greens oppose the pipeline on Wet’suwet’en territory.

“Critical infrastructure”

On August 19, The Narwhal reported: “Erin O’Toole’s Conservative Party is proposing to amend Canada’s Criminal Code to stop protests that disrupt key infrastructure such as pipelines or railways — a federal election proposal that many say will unfairly target Indigenous land defenders.”

The Conservative Party platform says (on page 33): “Last year’s rail blockades [in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en land defenders] demonstrated the importance – and vulnerability – of the infrastructure that ties our country together. Canada’s Conservatives will amend s. 431.2 of the Criminal Code to create an offence of interference with an infrastructure facility or a public transportation system punishable by either summary conviction or indictment, depending upon the severity of the offence.”

Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation has urged the Conservatives to reconsider its proposal because “the more the state tries to repress defenders and people supporting Indigenous people, the more pushback they’ll get.”

Line 3 pipeline

The Trudeau government approved this export pipeline on November 29, 2016. If completed it will move 760,000 barrels per day from a terminal near Hardisty, Alberta through northern Minnesota to Superior, Wisconsin.

While the Canadian portion of the pipeline has already been built, more than 700 people have been arrested since June in Indigenous-led protests against the construction of the pipeline in Minnesota.

To date it does not appear that the Line 3 pipeline has been raised in the context of the federal election in Canada.

This is somewhat surprising given the pipeline is being built by Calgary-based Enbridge and the concerns about their funding of police operations against land defenders, as well as the intelligence sharing by Minnesota public officials with Enbridge.

Ojibwe water protector Tara Houska who is on the frontline of this struggle has stated: “[Minnesota police have] billed over $1.7 million to the Public Safety Escrow Trust, in which Enbridge is dumping millions of dollars to incentivize and encourage police officers to repress, suppress and surveil, harass Indigenous people and our allies that are helping us try to stop this pipeline from happening in our treaty territory.”

Debates and election day

Indigenous land defence struggles, and other issues related to climate change, megaprojects, Indigenous sovereignty and human rights, may still come to the fore prior to election day on September 20. This could even potentially happen during the French-language debate on September 8 and the English-language debate on September 9.

As of August 28, polling suggests that none of the parties will achieve the 170 seats needed for a majority government in the House of Commons. For instance, Eric Grenier is now projecting 138 seats for the Liberals, 132 for the Conservatives, 40 for the NDP,  27 for the Bloc Québécois and 1 for the Green Party.

This short article does not review the position of all political parties with candidates in this election and we encourage you to review all the party platforms and statements.

The Indigenous Environmental Network and Oil Change International report can be read here.

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