As many as 150 UVic students left classrooms and campus Friday in a demonstration of solidarity and support for the Wet’suwet’en First Nation stand against a pipeline.
The students met on the University of Victoria campus before marching with banners and signs around Ring Road.
The demonstration was in support of the Wet’suwet’en clan chiefs in their standoff near Houston in northern B.C.
The hereditary clan chiefs say Coastal GasLink has no right to lay a pipeline across traditional land without their consent despite negotiated permission from elected First Nations leaders.
The company wants to build a 670-kilometre pipeline to carry liquefied natural gas to LNG Canada’s $40-million export terminal near Kitimat. It posted an injunction order Tuesday giving 72 hours to clear the path of pipeline construction workers. The company says it wants peaceful resolution.
After briefly shutting down traffic on the UVic campus on Friday, the students made their way to the B.C. legislature to stand with student Kolin Sutherland-Wilson, who has remained at the legislature this past week in solidarity with the First Nations stands against the pipeline.
Originally from Kispiox, near Smithers, and a member of the Gitxsan peoples, Sutherland-Wilson said his stand is motivated by traditional and personal loyalties. When he heard the clan chiefs had called for a week of action, he answered as a way to honour the ancient friendship between the Gitxsan and Wet’suwet’en Peoples.
“I have family up there,” said Sutherland-Wilson, who is enrolled in environmental studies and Indigenous studies.
“I know people who are on the front lines of this issue.”
He said the issue is relatively simple, especially for B.C., which has signed on to the UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Canada can send representatives to discuss the issue “nation to nation,” get rid of the intermediaries, lawyers and the RCMP.
But Sutherland-Wilson said he fears tensions are rising and he worries for a repeat of last year when RCMP enforced a similar injunction and arrested 14 people.
“British Columbia and Canada have a choice,” he said.
Juliet Watts, the UVic Students’ Society’s director of campaigns and community relations, said the walkout was organized by a number of campus groups but supported by the students’ association.
Watts said the group is planning on making a financial contribution to help pay Wet’suwet’en legal costs.
“We are all really proud of the students who organized [Friday’s] walkout,” she said.