Church leaders sign statement of support for Wet’suwet’en

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Protest participants at Unist'ot'en Camp honour missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls as police move towards the camp. Photo: Michael Toledano

A statement calling on the government of Canada and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to “immediately cease their occupation, arrests, and trespassing on Wet’suwet’en sovereign territory” has drawn signatures from 71 church leaders in in the Anglican Church of Canada and beyond.

The statement of solidarity with Wet’suwet’en Nation pipeline opposition was released by Toronto Urban Native Ministry in the diocese of Toronto. Posted Feb. 6, it was signed by several Anglican bishops, including National Indigenous Anglican Archbishop Mark MacDonald and National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada Susan Johnson. Many more signatures have since been added via the web.

The statement notes the unanimous opposition of the Wet’suwet’en Clan Chiefs to the construction of the pipeline. It says that the “militarized forced removal of the Wet’suwet’an from their own territory” is in violation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) and is “consistent with the colonial practices of genocide,” and that the RCMP “does not hold the jurisdiction or right to arrest sovereign Wet’suwet’en peoples on their own unceded Nation and territory.”

Conflict over the Coastal GasLink project, a $6.6 billion, 670-km pipeline running across northern BC, centres around the issue of free, prior and informed consent, with Coastal GasLink claiming to have consulted with Indigenous groups and negotiated “signed agreements with 20 First Nations communities,” according to its website, including the Wet’suwet’en First Nation band council. Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs—the traditional leaders of the nation’s governance before the Indian Act—however, oppose the pipeline and say they never consented to the project.

The Rev. Leigh Kern, coordinator of Indigenous ministries for the diocese of Toronto, wrote the statement, which was edited by her colleague Sandra Campbell.

“I first wrote this statement feeling the urgency and wanting to get the word out asap, basically, about how serious it is,” says Kern. She was surprised and happy, she says, to see how many people responded positively and signed on to the statement.

It is important for churches to show solidarity, says Kern, and to recognize the role that the Doctrine of Discovery—a legal framework that justified the colonization of the Americas—has historically had in propagating “this idea that Canada just has dominion and the right to extract resources and build infrastructure for those resources.”

Renouncing the doctrine of discovery means “affirm[ing] and uphold[ing] Indigenous title to their own territory,” Kern says.

Since the statement was released, the RCMP have enforced an injunction order, arresting dozens and sparking protests and blockades across the country.

In a statement February 10, the RCMP stated that it was “wrapping up its major operations” in support of the injunction. “I am very satisfied that this operation was conducted safely and there were no injuries sustained by anyone,” said Senior Commander Chief Superintendent David Attfield.

“I think it’s been really, really sad to see the aggression with which the RCMP have made their arrests,” Kern says. “I think Canada needs to see and wake up to the fact that that is a military operation within domestic lines.”

The statement also emphasizes the connection between resource extraction and violence in Indigenous communities. “[T]he final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQQIA people found that there is a direct connection between resource extraction projects and increased violence against and within Indigenous communities. The migration of settler labourers to pipeline projects sites has been connected to increased sexual harassment, murder, rape, sexual assault, the influx of drugs and alcohol, increased conflict and policing, and the undermining of Indigenous self-determination in their communities.”

“The RCMP spent millions on this raid, and we haven’t even cracked into the calls to justice from the final report. I think it really shows where we put our energy and [what] we rally behind,” says Kern.

The Anglican Church of Canada also released a statement February 11, signed by MacDonald; Archbishop Linda Nicholls, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada; Archbishop Melissa Skelton, metropolitan of the ecclesiastical province of BC and Yukon; Suffragan Bishop of the Territory of the People Barbara Andrews; Bishop of Caledonia David Lehmann; Bishop of British Columbia Logan McMenamie; Bishop of Kootenay Lynne McNaughton; and Bishop of Yukon Lesley Wheeler-Dame.

The statement expressed “disappointment, distress and ongoing concern” about the situation, and condemned the RCMP’s establishment of an “Exclusion Zone” along the service road toward the Coastal GasLink work site as contravening UNDRIP and preventing “complete and free media coverage which would assist the public in gaining a fuller understanding of what is occurring on the ground.”

“We continue to thoughtfully and prayerfully support the traditional, hereditary leadership of the Wet’suwet’en people, whose law and traditions pre-date Canadian law and is their inherent right to hold and practice and who are facing real-life hardship and danger,” the statement says.

For those who want to offer support, Kern suggests following social media accounts like Unist’ot’en Camp and Gidimt’en Checkpoint for on-the-ground information, and contacting Indigenous groups local to your area. “Connect. Hear what the needs are, hear what they’re asking, and then follow through on that.”

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Joelle Kidd
Joelle Kidd joined the Anglican Journal in 2017 as staff writer. She has worked as an editor and writer for the Winnipeg-based Fanfare Magazine Group and as freelance copy editor for Naida Communications.

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