The Standstill Between Indigenous Groups and a Multi-Million-Dollar Pipeline

Joe Brusky, “End CO2lonialism”1

The Current Issue

Canada is currently experiencing nationwide protests from Indigenous groups in opposition of the Coastal Gaslink pipeline. The pipeline is roughly 670 kilometers, spanning across British Columbia; it was designed to ease the export of natural gas in the province. Although it may seem like a good idea to some, it is creating issues with Indigenous communities as the pipeline would cut directly through their land. The Wet’suwet’en Indigenous group is directly affected by this pipeline; however, Indigenous groups across the country, specifically in Ontario, have taken action to show their support.

The Coastal GasLink  pipeline is a “provincially regulated pipeline designed to safely deliver natural gas across northern B.C to the LNG Canada facility in Kitimat, B.C.”2 The current issue is a dispute over the right to land between the provincial government, Coastal GasLink, and the Wet’suwet’en Indigenous group. The pipeline is designed to run through Indigenous land, which, Indigenous leaders have stated, did not receive their approval.

Coastal GasLink reportedly claims it received approval from the province, as well as twenty First Nations band councils which signed agreements of approval for the project. Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs state that the community elected officials do not have the authority to make decisions over traditional lands.3 It is only the hereditary chiefs themselves who can approve this project. The Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs are responsible for the sustainability of their territories, and their main concern is that the project will cause pollution and endanger wildlife in the area.4

Coastal GasLink claims to have a collaborative approach when it comes to designing and constructing the pipeline. The company reports it engages with Indigenous communities often, and values “the culture, lands, and traditions of Indigenous groups” on their official website.5 Indigenous camps have been set up along the proposed pipeline route to block access to the construction sites. This movement has sparked protests across the country.

How Indigenous Groups Are Responding

Indigenous groups across the country are responding with their own form of protest. Blockades of major railroads were created, leading to the shutdown of many rail passenger trains. On Thursday, February 6th, routes between Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa were blocked by Indigenous protest groups.6 Major companies like Via Rail and its passengers were affected by these blockades through delays and cancellations.

The issue has developed from a fight between the Wet’suwet’en Indigenous group and British Columbia’s provincial government to a problem including Ontario and Quebec’s provincial governments and the Mohawk Indigenous groups. The blockades illustrate a level of strength within the Indigenous community.

A Deeply-Rooted Problem

The issue of the blockade and the standstill battle between the Wet’suwet’en and the pipeline both point to a greater, underlying problem. The idea of stolen land and the right to land ownership has been an ongoing dispute between Indigenous peoples and the Canadian government. Land and territory is extremely significant for Indigenous people, and for many it represents culture, spirituality, social systems, and traditions. There is a strong connection between human beings and the Earth. 

Land acknowledgements have also become a popular aspect of Canadian society, where people bring awareness to Indigenous presence and their rights to land. However, many argue that land acknowledgements do not do enough. Oftentimes they have been interpreted as a “token gesture rather than a meaningful peace.”7

It is undetermined how long the standstill between the Wet’suwet’en people and the million-dollar pipeline will continue; however, it is unlikely that this matter will be resolved quickly. The Wet’suwet’en have support from many Indigenous groups throughout Canada. Hence, it is extremely probable that protests and blockades will continue until negotiations are conducted and Indigenous peoples are done justice.

Edited by Mira Cantor


  1. Joe Brusky, “End CO2lonialism”, https://www.flickr.com/photos/40969298@N05/15341563602/in/photostream/
  2. “About Coastal GasLink.” Coastal GasLink. Accessed February 10, 2020. https://www.coastalgaslink.com/about/.
  3. Chantelle Bellrichard, Jorge Barrera, “What you need to know about the Coastal GasLink pipeline conflict, CBC News, February 5, 2020, https://www.cbc.ca/news/indigenous/wet-suwet-en-coastal-gaslink-pipeline-1.5448363
  4. “Land & Rights.” indigenousfoundations. Accessed February 10, 2020. https://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/land__rights/.
  5. “About Coastal GasLink.” Coastal GasLink. Accessed February 10, 2020. https://www.coastalgaslink.com/about/.
  6. Leyland Cecco, Canada: thousands of travelers affected as Indigenous-led rail blockade continues, The Guardian, February 12, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/feb/12/canada-protests-indigenous-rail-blockade
  7. “Land & Rights.” indigenousfoundations. Accessed February 10, 2020. https://indigenousfoundations.arts.ubc.ca/land__rights/.

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