Members of St. Andrew's United in North Bay, Ont. organized a February rally in support of the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs. (Photo courtesy of Michael Lee/The Nugget)

Topics: UCC in Focus | Indigenous

How the United Church supported Wet’suwet’en

People in the church took action through letters, discussions, marches and meetings

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In February, the RCMP arrested protesters in northwestern British Columbia who were opposing the construction of a Coastal GasLink pipeline in unceded Wet’suwet’en territory. Supporters across the country shut down rail service in much of Canada and helped to spur direct negotiations between Wet’suwet’en traditional leaders and federal and provincial cabinet ministers. United Church people took action, too, through letters, discussions, marches and meetings.

Among those arrested in British Columbia was Natalie Maxson, a Christian Peacemaker Teams member who spent two weeks at the protest camp. She says she could only be there because supporters from Oasis United in Penticton, B.C., and the shared Anglican-United Naramata (B.C.) Community Church provided child care for her daughter.

In early February, United Church moderator Rt. Rev. Richard Bott and Indigenous church elders published an open letter, saying that divisions within the Wet’suwet’en were “being used by governments and the pipeline company as a wedge to push this project through.”

What’s needed, they wrote, is “genuine dialogue honouring the sacredness of the land and Indigenous people.”

More on Broadview: From the frontlines of the Wet’suwet’en struggle

The open letter was read during worship at St. Andrew’s United in North Bay, Ont., at the urging of congregants Donna Sinclair, Rev. Jim Sinclair, Kay Heuer and Rev. Teresa Jones. The four persuaded other nearby congregations to print the letter in weekly bulletins. They also met with their MP, organized a local event supporting the Wet’suwet’en chiefs and joined a march led by local Indigenous people. 

Many concerned United Church people also signed on to a statement of solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en pipeline opponents published online by the shared United-Anglican Toronto Urban Native Ministry (TUNM).

Rev. Evan Smith, the United Church’s staff minister at TUNM, is encouraged to see non-Indigenous supporters stepping up to counter anti-Indigenous racism in online conversations. “When settler allies are willing to take on the responsibility of education and take away that emotional labour from Indigenous people,” says Smith, “that’s a really big step.”

This story first appeared in Broadviews June 2020 issue with the title “United Church support for Wet’suwet’en.”

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