Skewed Priorities in Canada as Police Arrest Indigenous Land Defenders Amidst Severe Flooding in Southern B.C.

indigenous activists murdered

Over the last two weeks, British Columbia has made headlines for environmental and humanitarian atrocities, both of which are linked to the drastic climate changes seen in the region this year. While southern B.C. saw flooding that caused thousands to evacuate, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) instead deployed its resources to arrest Wet’suwet’en land defenders peacefully protesting the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

On Thursday, November 18, Wet’suwet’en land defenders and supporters protested on a forest service road, demanding that Coastal GasLink workers leave the unceded Gidimt’en territory immediately. Heavily armed RCMP were flown in with canine units to arrest the land defenders, denying medicine and food to the detained Indigenous elder matriarchs. Among those detained were two trans women of color, who had been placed in the men’s prison against their wishes.

In addition to the concerns of humanitarian and environmental negligence, southern British Columbia was devastated by severe rain and snowstorms last week, caused by atmospheric rivers, leading to flooding, mudslides, and the closures of essential highways that connect major cities like Vancouver to the rest of Canada.

On November 14, 2021, enough rain had fallen that by the evening, the water levels had reached the doorsteps of many British Columbians living in the Fraser Valley area. In total, approximately 17,000 people were evacuated from their homes with a further 2,700 under evacuation alert.

The cost of the resulting damage was high with four people deceased, countless livestock and farm animals perished, access roads cutoff to Indigenous communities, and housing and major infrastructure damage to key highways across southern B.C.

While the Southern, most populous areas of B.C. reel from the floods that have happened and the severe weather events that are likely to happen again this week, it raises questions over the priorities of the provincial B.C. and federal Canadian governments. Instead of allocating manpower to assist with flood recovery, they chose to enact colonial violence on Indigenous land defenders attempting to protect B.C. from further deadly climate disasters.

This only further shows the nature of Canada’s ongoing failed relationship with its Indigenous peoples.

In 2020, the hereditary Wet’suwet’en chiefs wrote to the Supreme Court of Canada, confirming that they had never ceded their territory — the same territory where the Coastal GasLink pipeline is to run through (note: this was affirmed in 1997 by the Supreme Court of Canada, which stated the Wet’suwet’en peoples have rights to their land that cannot be extinguished by the provincial government).

The traditional Wet’suwet’en laws dictate that authority over the land lies with the hereditary chiefs of the five clans of the Wet’suwet’en Nation, all of whom oppose the pipeline. Unfortunately, the Canadian and provincial governments display immense dissonance over the unceded plots of land, simultaneously acknowledging Indigenous rights to governance over their land while also stealing the land for their own economic purposes.

Organizations like Greenpeace and the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination have called upon the Canadian government to halt the Coastal GasLink pipeline, stating that the Wet’suwet’en people need to grant free informed consent to use their land prior to the project.

Wielding police violence to protect the Coastal GasLink pipeline amidst major climate change disasters while the province’s residents were in need paints a grim picture of what is to come as we continue to see extreme climate and weather anomalies that prove to be fatal. It emphasizes the long-overdue need for the Canadian government to face and mend its broken relationship with its Indigenous peoples.

And if it hopes to protect its citizens from further climate disasters, this government needs to acknowledge Indigenous stewardship for land protection and take heed, exploring truth and reconciliation beyond buzzword concepts.

Alicia Khan
Alicia (she/her) is passionate about bringing equity to life through a critical and fearless lens, even if it gets uncomfortable (that is where growth happens after all). When she isn't busy writing, working, or studying, she loves to curl up with a good manga, build her Sailor Moon collection, binge-watch Netflix, or catch up with friends over comfort food.