As South Africa takes israel, the U.K. and the united states to the International Court of Justice for genocide, canada takes Indigenous people to court for defending their land. On January 12, three of my comrades, Sleydo’ (Wet’suwet’en), Shay (Gitxsan), and Corey Jayohcee (Haudenosaunee) were criminally charged for defending Wet’suwet’en territory that, even by its own law, the canadian state has absolutely no jurisdiction over. The fight, however, is not over, as January 15 began the second proceeding for abuse of process due to charter rights being violated during police investigation, arrest, and custody. The trial is ongoing.
Sleydo’, Shay, and Jay are facing these charges after defending the territory against the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline (CGL) which was responded to by a violent and brutal police raid on November 18th and 19th, 2021, where we were terrorized with guns, dogs, and dozens of cops. Chief Woos’ cabin (Chief Woos is the Chief of Cas Yikh, or Grizzly Bear House, of the Gidimt’en Clan) was burned to the ground. Indigenous land defenders were targeted and harassed such as officers on recording calling Indigenous men orcs and Indigenous women monsters, the territory was torn apart, Queer and Trans women were subjected to horrifying treatment in custody, and the last two years since the raid and jail time have left all of us traumatized and still working to heal. Yet land and water defenders who experience these raids like Sabina, Dsta’hyl, Logan, Miranda, and now Sleydo’, Shay, and Jay, are having to navigate an expensive, retraumatizing, and drawn out colonial court proceeding for crimes committed against them.
Being one of the supporters who was arrested in this raid, over the last few years I have had long and fruitful conversations with supporters, with people who are against these actions, and with people who know nothing about these movements. I have also learned more about the history of Indigenous land defense here on Turtle Island (so-called north america) and globally, and the historic and ongoing public response to this form of organizing. This article leans heavily on Glen Coulthard’s work, especially his article also titled For Our Nations to Live, Capitalism Must Die, which focuses on ways to rebuild Indigenous governance and grow Indigenous economies through direct action, but I will focus more on settlers and the ways we can support Indigenous-led movements.
“(Un)acceptable” Indigenous resistance
Glen Coulthard writes of what feels to be a finite amount of options for “acceptable” Indigenous resistance:
“There is a significant and to my mind problematic limitation that is increasingly being placed on Indigenous efforts to defend our rights and our lands. This constraint involves the type of tactics that are being represented as morally legitimate, and those which are viewed as morally illegitimate because of their disruptive and extra-legal character.”
Coulthard expresses the countless limitations of the “morally legitimate” forms of resistance (and I encourage you to check out his book Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition if you want to learn more) so I will focus on approaches increasingly deemed “illegitimate,” which “include but are not limited to forms of protest and direct action that seek to influence power through less mediated and sometimes more disruptive measures like the re-occupation of a portion of Indigenous land (rural or urban) through the establishment of reclamation sites that also serve to disrupt, if not entirely block access to Indigenous territories by state and capital for prolonged periods of time. Regardless of their diversity and specificity, however, most of these activities tend to get branded in the media in a wholly negative manner: as reactionary, threatening, and disruptive.”
I think of the narrative around these forms of land defense and how it comes from the racist, colonial, and capitalist notion that canadian industrial projects conducted on Indigenous land that are violent towards Native women, children, men, 2Spirit people, families, Nations, and to all of the planet, are somehow less disruptive than Indigenous people simply existing on their territories. I think of the industry man camps that are genuinely threatening due to their ongoing history of violence against women. I think of how many settlers somehow expect Indigenous people to not react: to take all of this on alone, out-of-the-way, and deal with these relentless centuries of oppression in what is deemed to be a “moral” manner.
I also think of how, yes, these actions are intimidating to the canadian state because of how many times Indigenous land defenders have won. Coulthard writes, “Blocking access to this critical infrastructure has historically been quite effective in forging short-term gains for Indigenous communities.”
This past November 2023, Panamanians successfully shut down Cobre Panamá, a massive mine owned by one of canada’s largest mining companies, thus ending an unconstitutional contract with canada and dropping the values of the mining company’s shares over 60% in a month and a half. In June 2021, Keystone XL Pipeline, run by TC Energy—the same corporation currently invading Wet’suwet’en territory—officially ended for good, majorly due to Sioux Nations’ resistance to the pipeline since its conception.
Considering the enormity of these wins for the climate and that 80% of global biodiversity is stewarded by Indigenous Nations who currently only have access to 20% of the land, returning land rights to Indigenous Nations around the world and following their leadership in the struggle against capitalism is crucial.
Fighting settler-colonial capitalism
As the people organize, however, so does the ruling class. Coulthard writes:
“Over the last couple of decades, state and corporate powers have also become quite skilled at recuperating the losses incurred as a result of Indigenous peoples’ resistance by drawing our leaders off the land and into negotiations or court cases where the terms are always set by and in the interests of settler capital.”
The current trial of Sleydo’, Shay, and Jay represents such a court case with CGL and the Crown.
“Without such a massive transformation in the political economy, any efforts to rebuild our nations will remain parasitic on capitalism, and thus on the perpetual exploitation of our lands and labour.”
Coulthard’s recognition of the limitations of direct actions as they exist right now is also crucial, as well as his specification of, not only the ongoing exploitation of the land, but the ongoing exploitation of our labour.
“We have to acknowledge that the significant political leverage required to simultaneously block the economic exploitation of our people and homelands while constructing alternatives to capitalism will not be generated through our direct actions and resurgent economies alone. Settler-colonization has rendered our populations too small to affect this magnitude of change. This reality demands that we continue to remain open to, if not actively seek out and establish, relations of solidarity and networks of trade and mutual aid with national and transnational communities and organizations that are also struggling against the imposed effects of globalized capitalism.”
The collective organizing Coulthard speaks of extends far past blockades and resides everywhere in between and beyond. He highlights how solidarity surpasses “moral” or theoretical sentiments of allyship to a practice that is deeply practical and material: we cannot liberate our labour without liberating the land, and we cannot liberate the land without liberating our labour.
Settler solidarity, from Turtle Island to Palestine
This is where settlers come in and where we, especially fellow white settlers, can learn much from how widely Indigenous peoples are connecting the dots between our common enemies. The long-standing solidarity between Indigenous people of Turtle Island and colonized people globally is a massive power we are witnessing growing ever since israeli forces escalated their attacks on Palestine on October 7th. Calling “From Turtle Island to Palestine, Occupation is a Crime!” and “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance!” on the streets, Indigenous Nations across both north and south Turtle Island (so-called canada and u.s.a.) have been leading action after action alongside Palestinians, with a recent rally on Squamish, Musqueam, Tsleil Waututh, and Coast Salish territory (so-called vancouver) bringing out thousands of people. The Red Nation, an Indigenous-led organization based in so-called u.s., created an Indigenous solidarity letter which now has over 650 signatories, and counting. Wet’suwet’en leaders have also collaborated with Otomi, Nahua, Tepehua and Totonaca in Mexico who are also resisting a TC Energy pipeline on their territories.
There is an expanding understanding that Palestine, Turtle Island, and global liberation are deeply intertwined. For example, Caterpillar (CAT), one of the BDS Movement’s target companies, not only manufactures israel’s military infrastructure as well as CGL’s pipeline equipment, but is also the world’s largest manufacturer of mining equipment. With 75% of global mining industry headquartered in canada and over four thousand mineral projects abroad, we are living in the belly of the beast in the fight against colonial capitalist projects, as Caterpillar not only steals life and land from Palestinians and all Indigenous people, but does the same to workers who create and operate these machines—both here and internationally. We must recognise our relationship with the oppression of Indigenous people in tandem with our combined subjugation and unified power as working class people.
Settler and Indigenous workers united
Yet the story peddled to the masses is one of opposition, painting industry workers as being targeted by Indigenous people, while the reality is that workers—including CGL workers—are often aware it is the ruling class who are at fault, not land defenders. The idea that for-profit mineral industry is good for jobs is also widespread, while in truth Keystone XL, for example, said the pipeline would create nearly 119,000 jobs and were later debunked by a report showing the number of full-time, permanent jobs would hover around 50. The very nature of the mineral industries themselves are of short-term profit that will inevitably run out when no more resources can be extracted, causing a loss of land, labour, and life—every single time.
“Yes we are dependent on the mine, but the mine created that dependency which was not necessary. The company just leaves crumbs in the community. They paint a church; they put their name here and there. But they are taking our wealth. There are several cities around without mining, but they have better development rates than Paracatu. The mine hasn’t contributed significantly to the city. Comparing what they take from here and what they leave is very unequal.”
The attempt to obscure this working class consciousness is highlighted in the omission of the critical role industry workers and unions play in historical and current records of successful Indigenous land defence, as well as the ending of South African apartheid. The cancellation of the mine in Panama was largely due to trade unions’ cooperation with Indigenous people, who joined in the direct actions. Currently, workers around the world are answering the call by workers in Palestine, refusing to transport weapons to israel in solidarity with Palestinians, namely Yemeni workers who are showing this solidarity in the midst of their fight against the same imperialism. And of course, this binary between Indigenous land defenders and union workers is non-existent, with a long history of Indigenous trade unionists and activists on Turtle Island fighting for land and labour rights since the beginning of European colonization, like Claudia Jones, Huey Newton, Howard Adams, Lee Maracle, Berta Cáceres, Mariame Kaba, Mike Gouldhawke, and Taté Walker. Indigenous union members like Molly Swain consistently work “to push our unions in a new direction: closer to the grassroots struggles from which we have been distant for so long.”
We learn, we teach, we organize—together
This inseparable connection between the abuse of the environment and the abuse of the people make it clear: in order to return land rights to Indigenous people we must fight for our labour rights as workers. Turning our anger to one another—rather than learning from each other, organizing together, and directing our attention squarely at the shared enemy who forces us into this extractive relationship with the land and one another—hurts no one but ourselves. We have learned to villanize those who may not be in the same place on the journey of anticapitalism and decolonization. We have been taught to forget that we have much more in common than we disagree.
Now being a Queer and Trans AFAB (assigned female at birth) person in the trades as an auto service technician, I see how these forms of ignorance fester and are exacerbated by an unwillingness from “farther along” people on the solidarity journey to patiently and directly share this knowledge. Thomas Sankara said, “as revolutionaries, we don’t have the right to say we are tired of explaining. We must never stop explaining. We know that when the people understand, they cannot help but follow us.” As long as we see industry workers as an obstacle rather than as fellow working class people with key knowledge and potential to join in our struggle, we will continue punishing ourselves and each other rather than embracing our collective power and overturning our common enemy.
Beyond all these deeply pragmatic purposes for organizing with fellow workers, supporting Indigenous land defenders like Sleydo’, Shay, and Jay, and bringing our joint power together, there lies another purpose for these movements. Coultard explains, “what tends to get ignored by many self-styled pundits is that these direct actions are also an affirmative gesture of Indigenous resurgence insofar as they embody an enactment of Indigenous law and the obligations such laws place on Indigenous peoples to uphold the relations of reciprocity that shape our engagements with the human and non-human world – the land.” Our support for Indigenous resistance needs to be both sensible and spiritual, understanding and undertaking the responsibility and power we as workers in the imperial core have with our fellow working class people, including our comrades who have been here living on the land practicing socialist relations globally, long before the term ‘socialism’ came to be.
Updates about ongoing court cases surrounding Wet’suwet’en land defence can be found on Gidimt’en Checkpoint’s website.
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