Indigenous youth across this country are blocking entry doors to the BC legislature, stopping trains in southern Ontario, Quebec and Northern BC; blocking entrances to ports in Vancouver and Delta; taking over offices of MP’s in Alberta, Manitoba, Ottawa and Nova Scotia; and walking in the streets in Regina all in solidarity with the Wetsuwet’en. These youth are not going to stop until the RCMP withdraws from Wet’suwet’en lands. They are angry and distrustful of governments who say good things but do not walk their talk. Is this what reconciliation amounts to: nice rhetoric but no action?
When I was at the negotiations table for a treaty or other agreements, I would repeatedly warn governments when they stalled or lacked a mandate that they really needed to negotiate with my generation. We were taught patience and standing strong until we were able to achieve what we want. But we had hope that we would achieve change in our generation so the next generation would not have to fight as previous generations have had to do. This next generation coming up has no patience. They want immediate results. They are tired of waiting for governments to come to the table with anything meaningful on lands and resources and protective mechanisms for what is important to us. They are tired of no progress. They are now finding creative ways to express their voices and views in the age of social media. They are effectively spreading the need for change and risking criminal charges in order to do so.
As time goes on, there are fewer and fewer actions being achieved by government so the youth are taking action. Sure, there may be the BC Declaration of Rights Act, there may be reconciliation agreements, but what has changed? What has been accomplished? Unist’ot’en camp has been in place for over 10 years, Delgamuukw was decided in 1977, and still no resolve on the Wet’suwet’en title. Even within Canadian law, the government has not acknowledged the Aboriginal Title of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs despite the Delgamuukw decision. The Wet’suwet’en are asserting their legal order, under the authority of the Hereditary Chiefs, which was never surrendered. The government and First Nations are not close to being on the same page. They are not even reading the same book! The times have changed. We are not merely seeking recognition within Canadian law. We are asserting our own legal orders -as we have done since time immemorial.
Indigenous peoples across the country are creating unrest and speaking out about RCMP actions against the Wet’suwet’en. The impact of solidarity actions across this country has grown as government (in)action grows. The injustice is becoming increasingly clear with the help of social media. Before we had to rely on traditional media to report in newsprint (and as we see with media blackouts and the arrest of journalists trying to document RCMP actions at checkpoints in Wet’suwet’en). When one Indigenous Peoples is under attack, all Indigenous Peoples are attacked. We cannot stand by in silence. Not when youth today know that climate justice includes Indigenous sovereignty and rights. This is what you are seeing today: youth taking action.
Hope is gone – hope that governments will resolve Aboriginal Rights and Title, that UNDRIP and reconciliation will be implemented – and our youth especially are feeling the sense of hope being taken down just as the RCMP tore down the barricades at Unist’ot’en. We see it in their actions and their words.
The RCMP actions have raised the ire of many. Raids in the middle of the night. Putting out sacred fires or interrupting ceremonies. Taking down red dresses from the bridge, arresting Matriarchs, banning chiefs from their own territories, keeping out media on seeing what was really happening. This should never have happened in this way. The Wet’suwet’en actions are peaceful, yet the RCMP have acted violently.
“Reconciliation is dead”, the youth say, as they chant in front of the legislature. Banners hang with those powerful words. If I was a government leader or CEO, I would be worried, very worried. They thought they were making progress and now whatever they think was accomplished, has gone out the door. Trust is gone, and it is very hard to rebuild. The governments are not acting because they don’t know what to do. Their advisers are not telling them the right thing. This has become an issue of national importance yet we see nothing from the Prime Minister or the Premier.
You see, to achieve reconciliation, you can’t just say the words, you have to mean them and act on them. You have to prove that you are committed to what you promised. With reconciliation, you have to find out what Indigenous peoples require and not just do the bare minimum and then label it reconciliation. You cannot reconcile with a people if you don’t know what they want and need reconciled. It is indigenous peoples who have to set the reconciliation agenda, not governments or institutions or corporations. Empty words, empty promises and empty meaning are the status quo. This has to change. The status quo is no longer acceptable.
The governments have let the issue of title fester for too many years while imposing projects on First Nations who say ‘no’. The wounds are ripped open and immediate healing is required. The youth are demanding it. Will governments just continue to use the courts, injunctions and police to do their “dirty work”? Or will they roll up their sleeves, make issues like Coastal Gaslink and TMX a priority and find the answers everyone can live with? Or will people be wondering where is the next blockade? Protest? Slowdown? Time to talk to your politicians who you put in place to be leaders. Now is the time for leadership and strong political will to move from the status quo they are comfortable with to a new relationship based on respect, peace, and friendship. We need to build new political and legal realities that do not require violence against First Nations people and the land in order to expand fossil fuels and fuel climate crisis.
It is time to listen to our youth and prepare for today and tomorrow I want to close with words of my son Cole Sayers who powerfully has put this in a youth perspective:
“From Unistoten / Wet’suwet’en to Elispogtog, from Enbridge to Lelu island, from muskrat falls to Site C, TMX to Line 3, Kanasatake / Oka to Gustafson lake, we stood up and fought back. When one of us is attacked, it is an attack on all of us. We cannot afford to stand in complicitous silence - not in our time of climate crisis; not in our time when we are again having to fight not only for our own territories but for our collective livable future.
I’d say that we shouldn’t have to fight our own governments to protect the lands and waters from destruction. But it is all I’ve known so you better be ready to stand up and fight for justice and fight for the future generations over the long run. Our lives are but a chapter in the story of our Nations, and we must act in the interest of the next generations. Remember that this work has a long history and that we are taking on the responsibility to carry it on. It is sacred work, carrying out our original instructions to the Creator.
Don’t lose our hope and keep standing up and fighting back.
What we are doing is planting the seeds for the children not yet born
so they may know this love of our lands and waters
And rejoice in the shade
Or the trees we will not see”