Around 200 people marched through downtown Ottawa in solidarity with members of Wet’suwet’en First Nation
Hundreds of people rallied and marched through the streets of downtown Ottawa Friday afternoon to show solidarity for several members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation who were arrested this past week for protesting the construction of a natural gas pipeline on their ancestral land in northern B.C.
The RCMP began its enforcement of a court injunction approved for Coastal GasLink on Thursday by moving through the Wet’suwet’en members’ checkpoint camp at the 39-kilometre mark on the Morice Forest Service Road, where they arrested six protestors that morning.
The police continued further into the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, making four more arrests Friday morning following a standoff between protesters and the RCMP, where authorities in tactical gear dismantled a fortified Gidimt’en checkpoint located at the 44-kilometre mark of the Morice West Forest Service Road.
“The government had no right to do that. Water and land protectors are putting their lives on the line because that’s their territory. Their ancestors are buried there,” said Sophia Sidarous, a second-year conflict studies and human rights student at the University of Ottawa who helped organize Ottawa’s rally with several other groups, such as Climate Justice Ottawa.
Sidarous, who is a Mi’kmaq from the Metepenagiag First Nation, said that her decision to help organize the rally was fuelled by her desire to make a statement against the Canadian government.
“We keep needing to make statements. The Canadian government needs to understand that this is not acceptable,” she said. “They need to understand that Indigenous Peoples are the first stewards of this land and that we’re not going to go anywhere.”
The rally began at noon outside of the Parliamentary Visitors Centre building on Wellington Street, where rally organizers spoke before a spirited crowd of around 200 people.
“As Canadians, if we want to support reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, we have to show up for them when stuff is happening,” said Ashley Meijer, a second-year political science and history student at the U of O.
Meijer said that it was her professor who encouraged her and her classmates to attend the rally by cancelling class that day.
“We have to stand up for (Indigenous Peoples’) laws, for their land,” said Meijer. “We have to stand with them because otherwise, we can’t really claim to support them.”
Lindsey Bacigal, a climate justice activist with Climate Justice Ottawa who helped organize the rally, told the crowd that she doesn’t believe that the Canadian government cares about reconciling with their Indigenous population.
“The government is on our lands, invading our lands, regardless of what our hereditary leaders are saying, regardless of what Indigenous youth are saying,” said Bacigal. “We have people putting themselves out on the front line — putting their lives at risk, putting themselves at risk. The government will not do anything about it.”
Equipped with a variety of colourful signs that showed support for Wet’suwet’en protesters, the group embarked down Wellington Street before turning onto O’Connor Street, reciting chants such as “Water is life, water is scared, stop the pipeline, stop the hatred” along the way.
The crowd continued down to Laurier Avenue West before forming a circle at the intersection of Slater Street and Metcalfe Street, where drum songs were performed in the middle of the circle by Sidarous and others.
Once the performance wrapped up, the demonstrators mobilized once again and headed towards Elgin Street, where they marched their way to their final destination at the Extinction Rebellion camp outside of the National War Memorial.
Final speeches were made here, with the rally concluding with demonstrators joining hands and breaking out into a round dance as drum songs were performed in the background.
“I think it was a good turnout. But definitely more actions will be coming,” said Sidarous. “Indigenous Peoples are unifying all over the country and all over the globe. I don’t think Canada knows what they’re up against.”