A diverse group of Seattle activists and students gathered Tuesday at Westlake Park to demand the Canadian government respect sovereignty of the Unist’ot’en First Nation, as well as its own national and international laws.
The demonstration, organized in solidarity with the Unist’ot’en people, supports the clan’s five-year struggle to keep big oil drilling off their land in northern British Columbia. The Unist’ot’en First People have built their own camp to block the construction of several pipelines within their territory. Earlier this month, camp activists blocked the police from entering their nation.
“Right now, Chevron is threatening to go onto [Unist’ot’en peoples’] land without their consent to build a pipeline. This land is actually a sovereign nation,” said Sarra Tekola, one of the organizers of Tuesday’s downtown Seattle rally. “We’re hoping we can raise attention to these issues. We are hoping … we can urge Canada to honor United Nations’ and Canada’s own government [law], which says you have to get consent before you can go onto the Natives’ land.”
According to a 1997 Supreme Court of Canada decision, parties must consult with indigenous owners about land use intentions before acting on them. Unist’ot’en Camp officials stated in a press release that their sovereignty is “upheld firstly by our Wet’suwet’en Laws, which pre-date the colonization of the planet by thousands of years.”
Former Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, who attended the rally at the invitation of activists, saw this solidarity event as part of a larger conversation on fossil fuel divestment.
“What is going on with the Unist’ot’en is kind of similar to what’s been going on with the Lummi up in Bellingham [and] down here in Seattle as well,” he said at the rally. “The fossil fuel companies want to figure out how they can get oil, coal and natural gas from the deposits of the interior of the country to the places where it would be consumed, and what we know is, we need to keep a lot of that oil, coal and natural gas in the ground.”
Seattle rally organizers called the Unist’ot’en Nation violation “The Keystone XL In Seattle’s Backyard.”
As part of the demonstration, activists paid a visit to the Canadian Consulate, delivering a letter demanding that the Canadian government honor United Nations-guaranteed human rights and the sovereignty of the Unist’ot’en Nation. The office, however, was closed. Despite this, one activist read the demand letter as cops watched.
“The tides are rising! Stop the colonizing!” demonstrators chanted both inside and outside of the Fourth Avenue building where the Canadian Consulate is housed.
From outside the consulate building, several activists took a two and a half-block walk to the Seattle branch of Fidelity Investments, asking the company to withdraw its investment from Chevron. (The company is one of Chevron’s largest shareholders). A representative of Fidelity Investments threatened one activist, saying she was going to call the cops unless everyone left immediately.
As the representative went ahead with calling the cops, the rest of the group entered the building chanting. A few minutes later, the police appeared. After discussing the situation with the Fidelity Investment representative, the police told activists to leave the building.
Activists continued protesting against Fidelity Investments and Chevron outside of the building. They shouted, among other slogans, “No consent means no pipeline!”
The Unist’ot’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en Nation built their camp along British Columbia’s Northern Gateway and Pacific Trail where several pipelines are proposed or in the process of construction.
Protestors in Canada assert that new pipelines can’t be built as long as the camp is there.
Meanwhile, Seattle activist groups, including The Raging Grannies, Rising Tide Seattle and 350.org Seattle, hope that by standing with the Unist’ot’en Camp, they will not only help the clan maintain their sovereignty, but prevent further environmental destruction from widespread fracking and tar sands expansion.
This story has been updated since its original publication.