Supporters of Wet’suwet’en First Nation members and hereditary chiefs in opposition of Coastal GasLink gathered at the BC Legislature building Friday morning with a message for the public.
“We’re not going to stop until we’re treated with the same equal rights as every person on this planet should be treated,” said Nabidu Musgwama Dzawada’enuxw, addressing the crowd gathered outside the government building.
The group came together after 13 people were arrested by members of the Victoria Police Department early Wednesday morning after occupying the lobby of the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources on Blanshard Street for more than 15 hours.
The group was occupying the space in opposition of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, set to run through Wet’suwet’en territory. Activists said they were seeking confirmation that B.C. Premier John Horgan would meet with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.
In a statement about the arrests, VicPD said they worked with representatives from both the protest group and the province to find a peaceful resolution, using plainclothes community liaison officers to listen to and speak with participants.
Members of the group said they were initially denied access to food and water throughout the demonstration. VicPD denied those claims and said food and water were facilitated.
VicPD said after 15 hours, officers were asked to remove people from the building and made the arrests “under the lawful authority of the Trespass Act.”
“The minimum amount of force was utilized to effect the arrests,” VicPD said in the statement. “As such, the arrests took place over a four-hour period. During the arrests officers were required to carry protesters from the inside of the building to waiting police vehicles.”
‘Makwala (Dakota Smith) spoke to the crowd Friday morning saying the arrests fuel the group’s charge to support Wet’suwet’en First Nation members standing against Coastal GasLink.
“[The arrests] happened in downtown Victoria. We can only imagine what they are doing at Unist’ot’en and the Gidimt’en check points,” he said. “This violence has to stop. I am tired of watching my loved ones be abused.”
|A group of Indigenous activists and allies met outside the BC Legislature building Friday morning for a press conference addressing the arrests of 13 protesters on Wednesday. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)|
Activist Sii-am Hamilton was one of 13 arrested by VicPD.
“We were told that we were trespassing,” she told Black Press Media. “And I know that this is unceded Coast Salish territory and we are Coast Salish, so we’re not trespassers.”
Hamilton vocalized her frustration in an address to the crowd. “What happened two days ago is a perpetuation of violence my people have been experiencing since first contact,” she said. “What all the youth experienced that night is the legacy Canada has created. That is the relationship that Canada has with Indigenous people.”
Hereditary chiefs have taken a stance in conflict with members of the Wet’suwet’en Band Council, some of which support the Coastal GasLink project – a 670-kilometre pipeline set to run from northeastern B.C. to LNG Canada’s export facility in Kitimat.
Coastal GasLink signed agreements with the 20 elected First Nation councils along the pipeline’s proposed path.
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