Early in the morning on Feb. 20, activists raised a banner high above the University of Maine’s Raymond H. Fogler Library in support of Wet’suwet’en Nation in their struggle against the installation of a massive pipeline through their ancestral lands in southwestern Canada. The banner was emblazoned with the words “All Eyes on Wet’suwet’en, No Access Without Consent” and included a URL to a website providing information on the tribal nation.
The banner above Fogler Library was removed by mid-morning on the same day of its hoisting in accordance with university policy that prohibits non-university material to be hung from any of the buildings on campus. However, a similar banner appeared this past Tuesday, Feb. 25, on the railway bridge connecting Bangor to Brewer across the Penobscot River. In a similar fashion, this banner bore the name of the embattled tribal nation. This second banner remained in place significantly longer, likely due to its perilous placement high above the river. It also was strategically placed in a high traffic area and was visible to commuter crowds on the nearby State Street bridge and surrounding downtown area.
The Wet’suwet’en people currently reside in unceded territory in British Columbia and have been fighting against projects like the TC Energy Coastal Gaslink pipeline for decades. The pipeline threatens to disrupt life at Unist’ot’en camp, home to numerous indigenous people, and the heart of recent protests. The construction of the pipeline through the territory and camp has sparked fierce debate across the country about how the Canadian government deals with indigenous land recognition. Wet’suwet’en Nation serves as an especially interesting case, as they have never made any formal agreement ceding the land to the Canadian government, and have fiercely defended their rights in court.
On the other hand, TC Energy, a natural gas company based out of Calgary, contends the pipeline will bring various economic benefits to the region without altering it in an impactful way. Many of the nation’s chiefs disagree, arguing that the installation would defile their lands, hinder food gathering and settlement and function as another harmful example of how Indigenous land rights are being overlooked by the government. Yet TC Energy might just get their way. With backing from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Force, demonstrations have become increasingly scrutinized with multiple arrests having occurred, and officers allegedly being prompted to use violence to dispel protesters. The RCMP has since entered talks with the Wet’suwet’en Nation, but neither the arrests nor protests have ceased.
The Wet’suwet’en people continue to fight, as they have for the past century, against the erasure of their culture and heritage at the hands of government-backed energy corporations like TC Energy. Not only are there economic and political implications to consider, but cultural ones as well. The nationwide protests have received attention from officials in Canada, as well as outside of Canada, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying that “the fact remains that the barriers need to come down.” The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination released a statement urging Canada to “immediately suspend work on the Coastal GasLink pipeline, the Trans Mountain pipeline and the Site C dam until free, prior and informed consent is obstained from Indigenous peoples.”