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U of T students learn about the Wet’suwet’en protests from those on the front lines

“I have to let the people know”: Eve Saint speaks at New College event
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Eve Saint, students, and attendants demonstrating solidarity with Wet’suwet’en protestors. VICTORIA LEE/THE VARSITY
Eve Saint, students, and attendants demonstrating solidarity with Wet’suwet’en protestors. VICTORIA LEE/THE VARSITY

Eve Saint, land defender and daughter of Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Woos, spoke at a U of T event on February 25 about her arrest after protesting the Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline set to be built through unceded Wet’suwet’en territory.

Protests took place around the GTA that same night, including a blockade organized by Rising Tide Toronto, an environmental justice group, between Bloor and Kipling GO stations. Protestors were demonstrating in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en action, including demands to stop the construction of the CGL pipeline. The Wet’suwet’en Nation announced on March 1 that they had reached a proposed deal with the British Columbia and federal governments, the details of which are yet to be released as they are awaiting approval from the hereditary chiefs.

Saint was arrested after leaving school and her life in Toronto to help her father, Hereditary Chief Woos, and others in their efforts to halt the construction of the pipeline in Wet’suwet’en territory. Hereditary chiefs’ titles are passed down through generations — Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have authority over the unceded territory, according to pre-colonial Wet’suwet’en law. This is territory which the Supreme Court of Canada recognized as unceded in 1997, meaning that they never gave up control of the land.

While the Elected Band Councils, created under the colonial Indian Act, are in favour of the pipeline, these groups only have jurisdiction over reserves and not the unceded territory that the pipeline would pass through.

In conversation with Eve Saint

Saint said she feared for her life when she was being removed from Wet’suwet’en territory and recalled police pointing sniper rifles at her and her fellow land defenders. “My main goal was to let [the police] know that we are unarmed,” said Saint during her talk.

The Varsity caught up with Saint afterward to hear her thoughts on how people can show their support for Wet’suwet’en land defenders like herself. Saint emphasized the importance of educating oneself on Indigenous history, donating to Indigenous-led movements, and participating in blockade efforts.

According to Saint, going back to Wet’suwet’en territory is difficult due to her earlier detention at Gidimt’en, one of two checkpoints set up by the Wet’suwet’en people to stop the CGL pipeline from being built on their unceded lands.

“So because of… the injustice of the RCMP and the Canadian government, I have to tell that story. I have to let the people know,” said Saint. “And also, because of the uprising, I have to show my love to people who are there taking action. It’s just really leading from my heart.”

Saint hopes to continue her efforts in protesting for her people: “We do need an Indigenous lens and Indigenous voice to tell those stories and not the mainstream media, because the mainstream media obviously misconstrues and bends the story in favour of the industry and the government, and pits mainstream Canadians against us.”

“Everyone here benefits off Indigenous people,” Saint said, arguing that Canadians, in solidarity with protestors, should educate themselves on Indigenous tradition and history. “Everybody who has come and lived here is benefitting, because [the land and resources are] all stolen.”

U of T students, faculty join the cause

Michael*, a fourth-year U of T student, attended the Rising Tide Toronto rail blockade the night of Saint’s talk.

“I attended because I feel that it is a responsibility for white settlers like myself to stand in solidarity with Indigenous peoples, especially when they are at risk of police violence,” Michael explained.

What struck Michael at the blockade was the over 100-officer police presence. At one point he describes an Indigenous woman asking the crowd of police “where these resources were when Indigenous women went and go missing.”

Michael also noticed that the majority of protestors were marginalized people, and he was disappointed, but not surprised, that individuals with the most privilege declined to attend.

The event where Eve Saint spoke also featured spoken word artists, musicians, and jingle dancers, and was organized by Professor Chandni Desai from the Equity Studies program.

Desai believes that it’s important for students to see how concepts such as militarism, imperialism, and surveillance play out in the real world, including in the Wet’suwet’en protests.

In addition to having Saint tell her story, Desai hoped that students would take away a “lesson of how to act” from the speaker. Desai also noted that she learned specific details surrounding the events in the Wet’suwet’en territory that she said the media has not adequately addressed.

Abigail Hill is a student in the Political Science program who attended Saint’s talk. As an Indigenous person from Ontario, Hill was interested in hearing an Indigenous point of view on the Wet’suwet’en protests from the other side of the country. “It’s nice to see… a different perspective from across Canada,” said Hill.

*Name has been changed due to fear of retribution.