Protestors temporarily blocked traffic in downtown Fredericton on Tuesday in support of a northern B.C. First Nation which has been fighting to restrict pipeline company access to their traditional territory.
Around 60 people gathered at Officers’ Square and marched across the Westmorland Street Bridge in the afternoon, blocking one lane of traffic to vehicles during the demonstration. Accompanied by a police escort, protestors chanted, sang and walked to drumming while holding signs with the message “people over pipelines.”
Emma Hassencahl-Perley, a Fredericton artist and gallery curator, said she came to support the fight for clean water for the Wet'suwet'en First Nation and send a message about the need for clean energy.
“We deal with these same issues across the country,” she said. “It happens time and time again.”
Wet'suwet'en First Nation members have set up checkpoints on a bridge and a remote stretch of road to prevent pipeline company workers from accessing their traditional territory, which is located about 300 kilometres west of Prince George, B.C.
Police entered one checkpoint and arrested 14 people on Jan. 7, enforcing a court injunction issued last month which ordered people to stop blocking the area. Following three days of talks, the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs reached an agreement last Thursday with the RCMP concerning a temporary injunction.
TransCanada Corp., the company running the pipeline project, has said it signed agreements with all First Nations along the proposed route. But the hereditary leaders say those agreements don't apply to the traditional territories.
Kyanna Kingbird, a student at St. Thomas University majoring in criminology and sociology, organized the rally after an elder asked her to take the lead on planning the event. She is originally from Esgenoôpetitj First Nation and works at Indigenous Student Services on campus.
Kingbird said in an interview on Monday that she is primarily hearing the issue being discussed amongst Indigenous students on campus, and hopes that others will be compelled to learn more after seeing the protest.
“This rally is really a way of showing solidarity and support to the people of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation, and a way of bringing light and attention to this issue,” Kingbird said.
As the crowd marched to the steady beat of drumming, First Nation flags waved and dozens of passing cars honked horns in solidarity with the protestors. Similar marches have been held in cities across Canada over the past week.
“I think it’s important to show that unity and have each others’ backs,” Hassencahl-Perley said.
Isabelle Leger contributed reporting