More than 10 Indigenous artists, groups, duets and solos took part in the festive event aimed to support Native voices and raise awareness. (Natalia Fedosieieva, The Eastern Door)
The Wet’suwet’en crisis in BC has generated a huge reaction across Canada in solidarity with the hereditary chiefs, who oppose the Coastal GasLink pipeline, protecting their land.
Last Saturday, over 400 supporters and allies joined a benefit concert with performances from Indigenous artists to fundraise for the legal defense of the Wet’suwet’en people facing charges for rightfully defending their territory.
Hosted by the nightclub Cabaret Lion d’Or, UQAM and Montreal student associations, the event intended to take “a strong public stance in opposition to the crimes perpetrated against the ancestral rights of Indigenous Nations,” according to the organizers.
Before the concert began, elder from Kahnawake Sedalia Fazio did an opening ceremony, with prayer and narratives about all the elements on Mother Earth, where “everything was given the original instructions,” she said.
“Original instructions were simple. Love, honour, and respect one another, regardless of race, colour and religion, and give thanks each and every day for of the creation.
“The time has come for us to bring our minds together to help our brothers and our sisters who are going through a very hard time right now, this is what we are here for,” she said.
“I have to say how happy I am that so many non-Indigenous people who are supporting us. I have to say, ‘thank you.’ You are the voices that the governments listen to; they will listen to you.”
Fazio underlined without pipeline and development projects, the government is losing money.
“We’ve had 500 years of losing our culture, losing our languages, losing our children, losing our land, and it needs to stop,” she said.
“No matter how much money we have, if we have no land to live on,” “that money does nothing. So this needs to stop.”
Émilie Lorrain-Bélanger, organizer and event coordinator, believes it is important that people understand the problematic situation happening in BC, where the hereditary chiefs are fighting to protect their land.
“We take that close to heart,” she said. “We really want to invest; we took the responsibility to organize something helpful.
“We contacted the Wet’suwet’en people there, we asked what we could do.”
Marlene Hale, a member of Wet’suwet’en Nation who has lived in Montreal for eight years, feels she has to contribute to the anti-pipeline fight of her people.
Speaking about the situation on her Native land, she also talked about the meeting with Kahnawake chiefs and the firekeepers right before attending the concert.
“Today is such a historical moment in Canada’s life, something so huge,” she said. “We went through the process in Kahnawake, and the welcome we had there was just so touching. Unist’ot’en and Kahnawake, two of the toughest nations who might just put an end to this.”
It all started on January 7, 2019, after 14 people got arrested in the Unist’ot’en camp.
“The Supreme Court of Canada decided to grant an injunction a month ago, and our hereditary chiefs were in discussions with the RCMP commissioner, but they were saying they still needed to monitor the roads going to Unist’ot’en. They’ve had military helicopters flying over, so obviously they are watching us,” she said.
“Then the prime minister did his things as usual, putting out the press conference packed with lies,” she said. “We know anything that he is saying and what he is doing is just talk.
“This is un-pardonable,” Hale said. “It is against human rights and it’s genocide.”
However, she believes there is a little bit of hope, if there can be reasonable negotiations.
“All the nations, not only Canada-wide, are telling them (Wet’suwet’en): you stand for your ground, because you are setting a template for the rest of us to keep the pipeline out of everywhere, not just Unist’ot’en,” she added.
One of the organizers from the Circle of First Nations at UQAM Alexander Huard was in charge mostly of contacting the elders and food suppliers.
His team jumped in preparing the show about a month ago, before the rail blockades, so “now it is even more relevant,” he said.
“We wanted to do the event when people just gotten arrested,” he said. “It is kind of the whole answer to the whole of Canada.”
Huard thinks such support is important, “because we all share this land and everything that happens anywhere will have consequences. We need to uphold our government as settlers accountable to respect our own laws,” he said, “The Canadian laws, the UNDRIP (United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People) and the Wet’suwet’en laws. So, right now the government is not respecting those laws.
“I think we need to feel concerned as citizens of state, when our own state doesn’t even obey its own laws,” he continued. “Because they can decide to run anything to make sure their projects work, so we got to make sure that we stand in solidarity with Indigenous people right now, because it can happen to anyone.”
Katherine Itkin, a volunteer who came to assist the artists, was happy to take part in the event in solidarity with Indigenous Peoples of Western Canada, “people who are protecting their lands and the resources, and who are being colonized by white people,” she said.
“It’s been years that they are fighting. We can demonstrate our learning towards this cause, which is super important. We must not let go of the fight, because if we stop, they risk losing their territory,” said Itkin.
Kate Johansson, one of those in attendance, came to support Indigenous people.
“But I have the imposter syndrome, just being that white person that comes to support,” she said. “It was said at the beginning that ‘you are the ones that the government will listen to, because obviously after 500 years, we lost our children, our women.’ The white settlers will be listened to.”
“I have to be here, but at the same time I’m hurt to be who I am, and listening to their battle. I’m kind of overwhelmed with that all the information I had tonight,” she said.
“But I think by being here is already a big step.”