by Frances Nguyen
The peoples of the Wetʼsuwetʼen and the Tyendinaga Mohawks are still fending off a colonial oppressor. The state of so-called Canada continues to ignore the sovereignty of First Nations unceded territory in their campaign to build a natural gas pipeline across thousands of acres of forest in northern British Columbia. Both Indigenous and non-Indigenous fighters have risen to the call from matriarchs and hereditary chiefs to shut down Canada until their sovereignty is recognized and these lands left alone.
The insistence of the Canadian state in its dominion over all lands and peoples contained within its borders reminds us that colonialism is in fact alive and well. This inherently violent practice touts its supremacy as progress toward a greener, cleaner future, trading one passé natural resource for another in endless cycles of depletion and abandon. It attempts to convince us that we need coal, more oil and gas, lithium and sulphur, and the proportional isolation that comes from a life extracted. Isolated. Removed from that which truly sustains us. We find ourselves forgetting the rivers, the fish, and the fowl because the new highway makes it faster to go the other way.
Resource extraction and its flows insist that no place is sacred, that every land is subject to domination, and every people disposable. It insists that we all lose contact with the earth and with each other – walling-off and closing-in what should be open and free, paving over the memory of a stream for a high-rise condo.
The trappings of the city are many. Living in common seems possible with such density. Yet even our connections to each other in urban centers are managed through hallways and fences and bandwidth. There’s an app for everything. We don’t need each other anymore. We don’t need the Earth. It’s all just down at the corner store or a click away. Our desire for change is channeled into consumer choices. We buy local, shop small, or go green when we’re feeling out of balance. We keep voting. We do our part and forget that everything that creates life as we know it is born of extraction, oppression, and violence. That everything that keeps us alive is ecocidal, genocidal, and virulent.
Settler colonialism developed this world through the historic and ongoing dislocation of Indigenous peoples. Centuries of erasure have propelled the colonial myth of progress, now so familiar that it’s hard to remember any other. We have been deskilled by the ease of convenience. We have forgotten how to produce food or medicine or cloth for ourselves, how to care for each other or steward the land. We have taken for granted everything that came before industry and accepted the illusion of choice as a substitute for autonomy.
It’s time to put things back together, to bring new myths of old to the old places we newly inhabit.
We must re-member – putting ourselves and our struggles in common to bring more life to a dying planet. Finding each other at a critical crossroads between the past and what is to come, we have a choice to tow the line or to shut it down. To live now is to resist. To resist now is to live together in dignity for a chance at something else: worlds of our own making, giving rise to new forms and possibilities and magic where there has been trauma and repression and exclusion and pain. We must heal before we can be strong, and recognizing one’s trauma and the traumas committed daily in the name of progress is the first step.
Recognizing one’s privilege and the ways to use that power to build communities strong enough to fight colonial forces is the next. We must accept our own complicity in the ongoing processes of extraction, displacement, and cultural genocide – that we are living and building this resistance on stolen land. We can reject guilt, atone, and embrace a sympathetic future for all living and non-living inhabitants of this earth. We can find our way back to the river and protect it.
The land defenders of the Wetʼsuwetʼen and the Tyendinaga Mohawks have shown that bravery, tactical invention, and consistency are critical to continuing the fight against dispossession. An impassioned commitment to their way of life, their traditions, and the lands and rivers that hold and feed them fuel their defensive spirit. They do not wish to negotiate for the right to remain on their traditional lands. They know their story. They’re living their myth. We can fight with them, for them, like them, in this struggle against colonization – spreading gestures to cripple invading forces and the infrastructures that carry their world.
The declaration “Reconciliation is Dead” is more than a denunciation of failed negotiations with a colonial oppressor. It’s a battlecry. It calls for solidarity from Indigenous peoples and non-Indigenous settlers to stand behind the sovereignty of the First Nations of this continent. It calls for courage, bravery, and sabotage.
It’s time to cut fences, to block everything, to shut it down – to incarnate the spaces and actions for our gestures to mean more than the sum of their parts. We need each other, but we also need the water and waysides to be in our favor. We can find gratitude in this struggle, but the liberation that follows cannot reassert a human supremacy. If we are to inhabit this earth, we must find ways to do so in harmony with what is here now and what comes next.
Analyze the mechanisms of settler colonialism. Study infrastructure. Act in solidarity with those on the frontlines. Stop traffic. Block the flows. Feel powerful with strangers. Be water. Move. Do it again. Gather tires. Find the firekeepers and burn brightly side-by-side in continued defiance of a world you didn’t choose, then burn it down. Act with intention and envision that these moments of collective power are part of a larger strategy to disrupt and harm the worlds we wish to see perish, but more than that, to locate within us the will to act – the capacity to take risks that bind us to the defensible new worlds we imagine. On the other side, be prepared to provide the care and intimacy these sorts of actions require of us, for each other. Then pick through the wreckage and add to your arsenal the materials, people, and affects to inform a different kind of life together.
As the faceless voices from the recent rail blockade at St-Lambert urged us all:
“To all those who care about the future of the next generations, to all those who care about water, the earth and life, to all those who respect Indigenous sovereignty: the time to act is now. Respond to the call from the hereditary chiefs. Block – by any means – the ports, bridges, roads, and rails. Everywhere. Now.”
In recent months we have seen a widespread and consistent response to the call for solidarity with the Wetʼsuwetʼen struggle against the TC Energy Coastal GasLink Pipeline in so-called British Columbia. Actions across Turtle Island have caused hundred million dollar losses to the Canadian economy through diffuse and clandestine acts of sabotage and occupations of critical infrastructure. These blockades and their affective ripples have revealed the vulnerability of the rail system as a means to shut down an entire country, bringing the ongoing Indigenous struggle for sovereignty to the forefront of Canadian politics. While negotiations continue to fail, the signal boxes burn, banners drop, occupations pop-up – and there’s no sign of it stopping.
The following is a contextual primer for the historical and ongoing territorial struggle against resource extraction happening now in Wetʼsuwetʼen and Tyendinaga Mohawk territory.
tawinikay (aka Southern Wind Woman)
Interactive map of current and past blockades
Podcast covering the Wet’suwet’en struggle and the rolling blockades across Canada
A new film about the Unist’ot’en Camp and the Wet’suwet’en Nation
A timeline of the St-Lambert blockade in Montreal
Jaskiran Dhillon & Will Parrish
Eve Tuck & K. Wayne Yang
Kyle Powys Whyte
1993 feature-length documentary by Alanis Obomsawin