[3/09/20] – Wet’suwet’en Nation Protests

The Unist’ot’en camp has long stood in the pathway of fossil fuel pipeline construction through the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s unceded territory in British Columbia. On New Year’s Eve, British Columbia’s Supreme Court granted an injunction, barring members of the Indigenous nation from obstructing work on TC Energy’s Coastal GasLink pipeline. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police were authorized to enforce the order, but no one knew when they would come. On February 6th, the RCMP conducted a raid on the camp arresting several people with the intent of sending a message to the community and hopefully stopping the protests. What happened as a result was a wave of support across the country and the world. Solidarity protests and attempts to divert deliveries of construction supplies proliferated across Canada. This week, a compromise was struck between the hereditary Chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation and the federal government. In this week’s Lecture Spark we explore the issue of TC Energy’s Coastal GasLink pipeline through the lens of a continued legacy of colonialism across North America, indigenous rights in the face of capitalism, and government surveillance of social movements.

Download the PowerPoint Lecture Spark for Wet’suwet’en Nation Protests

Learning Objectives

LO1: Describe the connection between the history of discrimination against indigenous populations across Canada and current government actions against these populations.

LO2: Discuss the connection between capitalism and indigenous people’s rights to land.

LO3: Explain why government entities are investing billions in infrastructure intended to monitor social movements with the intent of stopping those that disagree with the status quo.


Arrests in Wet’suwet’en territory spark nationwide solidarity protests

Nationwide solidarity protests that followed arrests at a pipeline blockade in Wet’suwet’en territory saw rail disruptions, road closures and additional arrests at barricades at Vancouver-area ports.

Unist’ot’en Camp: Holding Their Ground Against Oil & Gas Pipelines

Since 2009, the Unist’ot’en clan and its supporters have occupied a camp that is blocking proposed oil and gas pipelines in northern British Columbia, Canada. In the summer of 2015, oil company workers regularly attempted to enter the indigenous group’s territory, and a growing police presence raised tensions about the possibility of a raid on the camp.

Government, Wet’suwet’en chiefs make progress, but impasse remains over pipeline

A tentative agreement between the government and Wet’suwet’en chiefs over land rights is being seen as progress, but the parties still disagree on how to move forward with the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

Discussion Questions

What is the legacy of colonialism in Canada? How are the protests evidence that colonialism is an ongoing process in Canada? Why might the government be disincentivized to recognize the rights to land and property of indigenous groups?

Why is the allure of financial gain somehow more important to the Canadian government than maintaining the integrity of a tribe that has existed on the land for generations prior to the arrival of TC Energy? What is the role of money in government? Who is most disadvantaged by this reality? Who benefits the most from the existence of this norm?

Who has the authority to determine the rights of any one nation or group to natural resources? How are the metrics of access to natural resources culturally determined? What social factors influence the social construction of indigenous rights in a society?

How useful are protests as a means of generating social change? What are some other forms of resistance that might be more effective? Why might these avenues be less explored? What does the future of social resistance look like, in your opinion, for indigenous groups, and others? Be specific.

From a symbolic-interactionist view, how does the experience of living under government surveillance influence one’s perception of reality? Why might this experience result in a distrust of the government? How does the normalization of government surveillance jeopardize individual liberties and privacy for all people?


From a sociological perspective, _______ refers to the conquest of nations and establishment of colonies through force, coercion, and other dominating tactics with the intent of imposing their way of life on indigenous populations, by any means necessary.
a. colonialism
b. social dominance
c. double-consciousness
d. Marxism

Which of the following areas of this topic would a Social Conflict theorist be interested in investigating?
a. Competition between the indigenous groups and capitalist entities
b. Resistance to powerful groups through solidarity organizing
c. Media control of the narrative in an attempt to maintain hegemonic control of the masses.
d. All of the above

From a functionalist perspective, which of the agents of socialization is most responsible for the establishment and maintenance of the social construction of indigenous populations that facilitates the continued oppression and exploitation of them and their lands?
a. Media
b. Education
c. Family
d. All of the above

Photo credit: iStockphoto.com/NinaHenry

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