A Salt Spring woman is using the time-honoured tradition of walking to protest and generate political solidarity.
Jan Slakov is currently walking to the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia in support of actions by five hereditary clan chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation near Houston, B.C. Contractors working on a Coastal GasLink pipeline delivering natural gas to a facility owned by LNG Canada near Kitimat received an eviction notice from the chiefs on Jan. 4.
The workers complied with the eviction notice, which spoke of the chiefs’ hereditary powers. They had issued the notice after the B.C. Supreme Court had extended an injunction against members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation and others opposing the pipeline Dec. 31. Coastal GasLink Wednesday gave opponents 72 hours to take down any barriers after the B.C. Supreme Court issued another injunction. The company says it wants a peaceful resolution.
So why is Slakov showing solidarity with individuals thousands of kilometres away?
“We are all inter-connected,” she said. “We are learning that more and more in this world. So what happens up there affects not just people in B.C., but actually around the world.” Slakov said what also moved her was a personal meeting with several of the protest leaders, including Freda Huson, the founder and spokesperson of the Unist’ot’en Camp, a camp set up by members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation to deny access Coastal GasLink access. The camp operates under the motto of Heal the People, Heal the Land and Slakov draws an explicit link between the history of residential school program and the current opposition to the pipeline.
“Fifty years ago, we were taken the children from the land, and now we are taken the land from the children,” she said. “Probably, 50 years from now, we realize it was a terrible mistake, as bad as that one.” Ultimately, Slakov says despite their isolation, members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation opposed to the project enjoy a lot of support.
“They have solidarity right around the world,” she said in alluding to statements from the UN’s Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It has urged Canada to stop work on the project, along two others projects, without free, prior and informed consent of Indigenious groups.
Coastal GasLink says it has signed agreements with all 20 elected First Nations along the pipeline route and some elected officials of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation have signed agreements in support.
Slakov said she chose to walk for two reasons. First, walking is easy to do and has lifted her spirits, she said. “The other reason is we really don’t need half of the stuff that we have in this society, this stuff in which we are drowning in,” she said. Walking sets a message against this materialism, she said. “Anybody, practically, can walk,” she said. “So it is something accessible to all of us that is healthy.”
In walking to make a political statement, Slakov joins a tradition that has included several high-profile political marches, such as Gandhi’s Salt March in protest of British colonalism. While Slakov’s march won’t reach the same dimension as others, she would welcome others.
Slakov plans to reach the legislature Thursday afternoon, following an overnight stop at a friend’s place. On Saturday, she will take part in a protest in support of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation scheduled for noon outside the legislature.
The pipeline of 670 kilometres length is among several energy infrastructure projects generating opposition from First Nations, as well as non-First Nations, because of environmental concerns among others. Opposition by the Wet’suwet’en First Nation against the project has also been making international headlines, most recently when the British newspaper The Guardian claimed that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) were prepared to use lethal force. According to the Guardian, RCMP declined to comment on documents that informed the paper’s assessment.
Saturday’s rally will happen about a year after RCMP enforced a court injunction against the Unist’ot’en Camp in early January 2019.
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