A rally Saturday in downtown Orillia drew a crowd of supporters from as close as a block away and as far as Alberta, all to show solidarity with the hereditary chiefs of Wet’suwet’en First Nation in British Columbia.
Almost 100 people gathered around a sacred fire that was lit in the middle of the intersection of Mississaga and West streets. Attendees sang, danced, beat drums and shared their thoughts on the situation in Wet’suwet’en, where opposition to a pipeline proposed to run through the land has led to rallies and rail blockades in many parts of the country.
The Wet'suwet'en are demanding the RCMP, as well as all Coastal GasLink workers, leave their land.
Jeff Monague, an elder from Beausoleil First Nation, reminded those in attendance of a 1997 Supreme Court of Canada ruling, upholding the Wet’suwet’en right to their land and self-government.
“If the rule of law is the rule of law, they should be respecting the Supreme Court ruling,” he said of the government.
The rule of law, he added, “looks like the rule of money, and it’s wrong.”
Kim Newby, who is from Eskasoni First Nation in Nova Scotia and lives in Barrie, echoed Monague’s statement.
“When you no longer listen to your own highest level of law … there is definitely something wrong,” she said.
Saturday’s gathering was a way to “stand in solidarity and to say it’s not right,” Newby said.
“It’s not just about the pipeline; it’s about land sovereignty.”
As she later added, it’s also about protecting Indigenous women and girls.
“Every day, our women go missing,” Newby said, placing some of the blame on “man camps” that are set up to house people working on pipeline projects. “On dark, desolate nights when our women or men or two-spirit or LGBTQ are walking home … they are violent towards our people.”
“They try to put it on our men,” she continued. “What comes from outside our nation, we didn’t ask for it and we don’t want it.”
Brandon Rhéal Amyot, one of the rally organizers, urged people to educate themselves about the Wet’suwet’en situation. Many people, including politicians, have said demonstrators must follow the law, but it’s not that simple, Amyot said.
“You’ve heard people say that there’s only one law in Canada, and this is wrong,” they said.
Amyot said it's also important to realize that when the federal government meets with Indigenous leaders, it isn’t a meeting of two levels of Canadian government.
“Wet’suwet’en is a sovereign nation. When we talk about nation-to-nation relationships … we have to think of these conversations as if we're talking to Sweden” or other countries, they said.
After the songs and speeches, the rally made its way to Andrew Street, Colborne Street and then back down West Street to where it began.
Attendees included kids and seniors, Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
Monague motioned to a young boy playing a drum and said he was grateful for his presence, but sorry he had to be there.
“One day, they may have to do this, too, but we hope that they won’t,” he said.