There are several important things to consider when you are thinking about being in solidarity with people who are being impacted by something that doesn’t directly affect you. (Of course anything that affects Mother Earth, such as the Coastal GasLink pipeline, affects us all).
The first is to make sure your help is wanted. The history of solidarity efforts is littered with the skeletons of actions that were not asked for. Efforts that end up causing more harm, sometimes much more harm, than good. In this case we are being asked to be in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en peoples.
How do you find out if your help is wanted? The best way is to talk with someone who is involved in the problem in some way. Actually listen very deeply to what this person is saying to you. I think too often we try to translate what is being said to us into our existing frame of reference, which is a mistake. You might not have such a connection (which might be an indication that you should work on expanding your circle of friends and activists).
I am extremely blessed to have been making friends with a number of Indigenous people. They have helped me learn about the Wet’suwet’en struggles. Several have close friends in the Wet’suwet’en territory.
But it is often the case we don’t know someone directly involved. I’ll share some of what I’ve been learning recently related to the Wet’suwet’en peoples’ struggles to prevent a pipeline from being built through their lands.
The first thing is how I even became aware of this conflict. An important point about justice situations and actions is the mainstream media almost never covers stories about these things. Have you seen a story about the Wet’suwet’en on mainstream media?
As I was doing my usual Internet searches for stories related to fossil fuels and environmental devastation several weeks ago, I saw a story about First Nation peoples’ eviction of a company trying to build a pipeline through their land. I thought, are you kidding me? I’ve been battered and bruised from years of trying to bring attention to the dangers of greenhouse gases. Years of various attempts to try to stop the Keystone XL, and later the Dakota Access pipelines.
There are two important things I’d like to share at this point. While this might seem to be something you think would be a good idea to get involved with, I’d urge you to stop before going forward. We are all constantly bombarded with situations we would like to help with. A great danger is spreading ourselves too thin. If there is one thing I hope you might take from my usual torrent of words, it is to take some time to see the one thing that is most important to you. And pull away from the rest.
A different way to express this same idea is to work on seeking what the Spirit is asking of you. As a Quaker that is the context I use for guidance for my justice work. This doesn’t have to be expressed in religious terms. However you express it, you really need to know what work you are being led to do.
The second point is similar, or sometimes the same the point I was just trying to make. Which is you should feel a visceral connection to the justice issue you are thinking of getting involved in. You should feel it in your heart.
Returning to how I came to work on the Wet’suwet’en issues, the first point above, Spiritual guidance, I strongly felt. This is yet another manifestation of defending Mother Earth against corporate greed, which has been a focus my entire life.
Regarding the second point, I really felt it in my heart when I saw how beautiful the Wet’suwet’en territory is, the mountains, forests and streams. I can barely allow myself to think of the damage that would be done by the construction of pipelines through that land. (multiple pipelines are planned). And although facts and logic don’t impress capitalists, those who are reading this know it is essential to stop building fossil fuel infrastructure now. To leave it in the ground.
Here is another case when there was nothing in the mainstream media (there has been some coverage in Canada). So I began to use social media and Internet searches to learn more. This is another crucial point. You have to find as much information as you can. Especially from a distance, it can be difficult to sort out what is true and what is not. Finding multiple sources saying the same things gives you a way to begin to know which sources of information are authentic and true.
The Wet’suwet’en people and the Unist’ot’en camp have very good websites and Facebook pages that are kept up to date (up to the minute in many cases). There is also an excellent Wet’suwet’en Supporters Toolkit. http://unistoten.camp/supportertoolkit2020/
What has really resonated with me are the multiple videos that are used to share what is going on. Following is a link to many of those videos. I mentioned how my heart was affected by photos of the beautiful Wet’suwet’en territories. These videos also make a heart connection. Hearing the voices, seeing the faces and witnessing the actions is powerful. And one way you can share what’s going on with your friends. (I always wondered if a picture is worth a thousand words, how many thousands of words is a video worth?) 🙂
The final point I’d like to make regards leadership. The most important thing I’ve learned from my justice activities is how important it is to just listen deeply. It is so important to extinguish our tendencies to want to help lead something. The people impacted must be the people who lead. And that usually involves leadership by young people. Think of the Vietnam War protests and the 1960’s Civil Rights struggles. I think it is a very hopeful sign that Indigenous youth are most definitely the leaders of what is happening in Canada.
So, regarding solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en peoples, they have issued multiple calls for Solidarity actions. And those actions are occurring all over Canada and beginning to happen in the US, and around the world. Previous blog posts I’ve written are about many of those solidarity efforts.
Here in Iowa, a small group of us recently gathered for a vigil in Des Moines. The size of your group isn’t important. What is important is that you show up.
I haven’t yet mentioned there is a Facebook group We Support the Unist’ot’en and the Wet’suwet’en Grassroots Movement. I’ve shared some photos (take photos of your actions) and stories of what we’re doing in Iowa with that Facebook group. One way to be in solidarity is to share your solidarity activities. Our vigil is included in the interactive map below showing where solidarity actions are occurring. Sharing your actions is also a way to get connected to the network of others who are working on the same thing. I was contacted by someone in British Columbia who is making connections with those working in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en. Maybe you’ll have a solidarity action to add soon?
A couple of the photos below show how you can contact local justice organizations to share your solidarity events with their, members. Bold Iowa and Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement helped us out.
Finally there are excerpts below from an excellent article about settlers and solidarity.
“Being a white settler on stolen unceded territory myself, I have found myself in this situation too- stuck in the throes of my own white settler guilt, essentially immobilizing myself. I let my fear of messing up and my guilt overshadow what needed to be focused on, solidarity.
Although this transition did not happen overnight, it was still possible. Indeed, settlers are needed in the fight for change and are required to uplift and support the voices of Indigenous peoples. To not involve oneself out of fear of making a mistake is far more harmful than making the mistake itself. Solidarity is needed, especially given the current political and social climate.
This is why I urge all settlers, especially those who may be frozen in their own fear and guilt right now, to shake themselves of such feelings.
So what can I do?
Donate, get involved, educate yourself, show up to solidarity actions. Bring some warm coffee, help make signs, offer drives to folks who need them. Share social media posts, have conversations with others- yes, even if it’s hard and uncomfortable. These little actions can add up to big changes.
Check out the Unist’ot’en website for more information on how you can be a helpful ally. If you are like me and live in Nova Scotia you can volunteer your time, voice, or money if possible, to the Stop Alton Gas Resistance. There are countless steps that can be made to help out.
The working class cannot afford to stand back and let the colonial system continue to oppress Indigenous peoples and destroy the planet. “
Op-ed From settler guilt to settler solidarity, by Hailie Tattrie, spring, February 16, 2020