Indigenous youth entering their third straight day gathered on the steps of the B.C. Legislature repeated a series of demands Wednesday, saying they will continue to hold the space in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs at least until those calls are met.
Speaker Ta’Kaiya Blaney said demonstrators are committed to occupying ministry offices, rail lines and other locations across the country for as long as is necessary in support of Indigenous sovereignty and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.
“We are moved by something greater than us,” said Blaney, who is from the Tla’Amin First Nation.
The demonstration at the ceremonial entrance to the Victoria building began Monday after police removed a rail blockade set up by supporters of the Wet’suwet’en on Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory in eastern Ontario. Several Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs oppose the Coastal GasLink pipeline project being built on their land in northern B.C.
A group of people has remained on the legislature steps since Monday.
On Wednesday, Blaney called on the B.C. and federal governments to begin “nation-to-nation discussions” with the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. She also called on the province to pull permits for the pipeline project and said RCMP patrols and construction on Indigenous territory must end.
She and other speakers Wednesday said their gathering is not an anti-pipeline protest, but a movement that goes beyond a single project.
“We stand with Indigenous land defenders everywhere who are being criminalized by unconstitutional injunctions for simply occupying their traditional territories,” said Blaney.
Dozens of people have been arrested after a series of countrywide rail and road disruptions in support of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs. Nearly two dozen people in B.C., including three hereditary chiefs from the Gitxsan Nation, were arrested for violating injunction orders on Tuesday alone.
“[They were] arrested in the name of a piece of paper … that prioritizes the profit of a pipeline over Indigenous livelihoods,” Blaney said. “We saw reconciliation, a colonial facade … come crashing down on that day.”
There is an injunction in place banning people from blocking access, roadways and doors to the Victoria legislature.
The current demonstration is blocking the ceremonial entrance at the front of the building, used only on the day of the speech from the throne. Other functional entrances, including one immediately to the left, are still useable.
The Speaker’s office said Wednesday the injunction would only be enforced if people are stopped from entering and leaving the building. Victoria police and legislative security have been monitoring the demonstration.
The group has camped out on the stone steps of the building for two nights, wrapped in sleeping blankets and gathered around a propane fire. Several hundred people joined the protest at its inception Monday, some locking themselves to the ceremonial iron gate, but fewer have remained after sunset.
Another speaker, Gina Mowat, said some have stayed at personal financial cost.
“Young people, we have a responsibility to be here. We all have lives. We’re students, we have jobs, but this is the work we’re called to do,” said Mowat, who is Gitxsan.
“This fight is far from over … We’re asking Canadians to hold their leadership accountable because this isn’t just about a pipeline. It’s about survival.”
Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Carolyn Bennett said the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have been meeting with one another in B.C. over the last two days. Federal officials said they were waiting to hear whether the hereditary chiefs would invite them and their provincial counterparts to discuss the protests and rail blockades.
Part of the $6-million Coastal GasLink project would run through traditional Wet’suwet’en territory, or Yintah, carrying natural gas across northern B.C.