Logan Staats and Skyler Williams remember being surrounded by towering pine trees and snow-capped mountains in northern B.C. as they dipped their hands into the Wedzin Kwa (Morice River) and took a drink a week ago.
“You can drink from this river … the actual river we’re protecting,” said Staats, a singer and songwriter.
“The beauty around you is a constant reminder of what you’re fighting for.”
The two Haudenosaunee men from Six Nations of the Grand River, near Brantford, Ont., spent 10 days in British Columbia to stand in solidarity with the members of Wet’suwet’en Nation protesting a pipeline project.
They did so after Haudenosaunee Confederacy Chiefs Council issued a letter on Oct. 9, voicing its support for the Wet’suwet’en demonstration.
Staats and Williams returned earlier this week, tired but inspired.
“When a nation calls our for aid and our hereditary chiefs answer that call and said they would stand behind them, there’s an obligation for us to do what we can,” said Williams.
Williams is also known as the spokesperson for 1492 Land Back Lane — the year-long occupation of a housing development in Caledonia, Ont., that resulted in the cancellation of the project in July.
What’s happening in B.C.?
In northern B.C., some members of Wet’suwet’en Nation are occupying a Coastal GasLink construction site.
The proposed $6.6-billion, 670-kilometre pipeline will deliver natural gas from the Dawson Creek area in northern B.C., heading west near Vanderhoof to a liquefaction facility in Kitimat. It’s part of a $40-billion LNG Canada project.
The province and all 20 elected First Nations councils along the route, including Wet’suwet’en elected council, approved the construction — but Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs said the project needed their consent too.
They said elected councils are responsible for only the territory within their individual reserves, which were created through the Indian Act.
But the hereditary chiefs say they are following Wet’suwet’en law that predates colonization and the Indian Act, meaning they assert authority over the broader 22,000 square kilometres of traditional territory that the pipeline would cross.
National protests and rail blockades, including one in Hamilton, followed, in early 2020.
‘The time is now’
During their time in B.C., Williams and Staats were among others from various First Nations across Canada, they said.
They wouldn’t specify which First Nations or how many were there, in order to protect people’s identities amid recent confrontations with RCMP.
At the camp, they said they built blockades, collected water, hunted, gathered supplies and maintained the camp. Staats also said he played some songs for his fellow activists.
Williams said being in northern B.C. was “real nation to nation” solidarity, and a prime example of that were the rallies with Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.
He also said Indigenous communities reclaiming their land is key to solving other issues like dealing with the harsh legacy of residential schools, and missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
“This is the thing that perpetuates the missing and murdered Indigenous women, the over-incarceration of our people.”
Williams has been at the forefront of local Haudenosaunee demonstrations, while Staats is known more for his music than activism — but that could change.
“It was such an eye-opener. I’ve been playing music for years professionally and I was just filled with this feeling of ‘this is what’s important right now,'” he said.
“It’s always been in my blood, but growing up just woke up this different part of me.”
Staats said he and Williams plan to return soon, maybe even in early November.
“I know that’s where I’m meant to be. The Creator dealt me these cards for a specific reason,” Staats said.
“This movement is happening now, the time is now and it’s the most important thing in my life.”