On Monday night, in the middle of Winnipeg’s busiest intersection, Sadie-Phoenix Lavoie, who is two-spirit Anishinaabe, shouted into a megaphone: “I was watching Wet’suwet’en today. I wanted to cry so much and so hard. We will stand up and fight back.”
Next to Lavoie, two women knelt in the middle of the road while drummers played and sang and hundreds of supporters danced in a circle around them. Similar acts of solidarity took place nearby, simultaneously shutting down three of the city’s busiest intersections at the height of rush hour.
It felt like a furious and cathartic unleashing of emotions, but this week has been one of fury, heartbreak and courage across this land some call Canada.
Days earlier, I had shed tears as I watched on social media while RCMP made arrests on Wet’suwet’en territory.
Last Thursday, police, acting on a court injunction, began a pre-dawn raid along a remote logging road in northwestern B.C. Their target was the first of three encampments established by Wet’suwet’en land defenders in defiance of a liquid natural gas pipeline slated to be built across their unceded territory.
Some Wet’suwet’en elected chiefs and councils have signed agreements with Coastal Gaslink, the company building the pipeline. However, hereditary leaders, who hold title to their traditional territory, an area much larger than the reserve lands governed by elected governments, have unanimously rejected it.
More on Broadview: Electricity comes with a devastating cost for Indigenous communities
Under cover of darkness on Thursday, RCMP, supported by tactical teams in military gear, police dogs, and drones with infrared sensors advanced on the first of the Wet’suwet’en checkpoints and began arresting the occupants.
Police reached a second outpost on Friday and took more land defenders into custody.
On Saturday, two helicopters touched down at the third encampment. Wet’suwet’en clan matriarch Freda Huson was ready for them, dressed in her regalia and performing ceremony, drumming and singing, The Tyee reported. She refused to speak to the police, who left a copy of the injunction. Later, Huson threw the injunction into a fire. “They tore down our traps. They’ve disrespected my chiefs,” she said. “So that is why it comes to this. Why we have a cremation ceremony for Canada.”
Two days later, Huson and other occupants of the encampment were arrested. A powerful photo taken by a camp supporter swiftly circulated on social media: On a bridge lined with red dresses representing missing and murdered Indigenous women, police used a chainsaw to cut through a wooden gate painted with the word “reconciliation.”
11:01 am – RCMP dismantling gate on the bridge.
6 arrests, including Freda Huson. #AllEyesOnUnistoten #AllEyesOnWetsuweten #WetsuwetenStrong #ReconciliationIsDead #shutdowncanada #unistoten #landback #thetimeisnow pic.twitter.com/TAa2BYKnSi
— Unist'ot'en Camp (@UnistotenCamp) February 10, 2020
The anger unleashed by these scenes has poured into the streets in cities across Canada, over railroad tracks, and onto the steps of legislative buildings. In Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto, protesters have blocked rail lines, leading to the cancellation of countless freight and passenger trains.
As the environmental chaos we’ve long seen coming begins to unfold in real time, I often feel like I’m teetering on the edge of an abyss of grief. What gives me courage is witnessing a generation of young leaders stepping up to meet this crisis with passion and resolve.
Last week, I was with a group of young people—some still in high school—who walked into the Winnipeg office of MP Dan Vandal, minister of northern affairs, and vowed to stay there until he publicly denounced the RCMP invasion of Wet’suwet’en territory.
As I coordinated media interviews for the group, I saw two young Indigenous women, 20-year-old Emily Amos and 19-year-old Bianca Ballantyne, take centre stage and speak with eloquence and passion. The colonial state will have these two and others like them to reckon with in the years ahead.
After six nights of sleeping on the thinly carpeted floor of Vandal’s office, Amos, wearing a denim jacket with the word “Land Back” painted onto it, led the march down Portage Avenue wielding a megaphone and calling out: “No justice, no peace, no racist police.”
In an interview, Amos said that Indigenous youth are the ones putting their bodies on the front lines of the struggle, but they’re doing so with the guidance of their elders. Their actions are surrounded by song, ceremony, prayer and teachings. Right now, a sacred fire is burning in front of Vandal’s office; others like it are alight across the country.
Broadview is an award-winning progressive Christian magazine, featuring stories about spirituality, justice and ethical living. For more of our content, subscribe to the magazine today.