If you have been near a TV or the internet during the past few weeks, you will know about the rising tensions between heavily armed militarized police and unarmed Indigenous water protectors at Wet’suwet’en. The issue is one of clean water verses oil, as the government of Canada wants to push a natural gas pipeline through the traditional territories of Indigenous people who say the land was never ceded to the government. The issue is far from new, but now billions of dollars in oil money is at stake, so the government is once again ready to ignore the rights of First Nations families for profit. Where have we seen this before?
This situation is very comparable to the killing of Dudley George by an OPP True Team sniper back in 1995. I (John Ironside) had spent much of the year before on the reservation that had been turned into a militia and cadet training camp. We were working on a documentary about the decision by members of the Stony Point band to reclaim the land that had been seized from them by the government to use as a training facility for troops during World War 2 and never returned. We had completed our project several months earlier, but we had come to know a few of the members of the band very well, so we kept visiting. As it happens, we were on the ground only two or three days before the government sanctioned action that ended the life of a peaceful man. Police claimed that Dudley was armed, but during the entire time we had been on that reservation, including dropping in for surprise visits during the day and night, we never saw a single firearm. I am a former serviceman who had previously trained on at ‘Camp Ipperwash’, so I would have known. Also, a firearm was never found. The people of that land were determined to stay peaceful and did not seek conflict. I had interviewed Dudley, but I do not claim to have known him well. Regardless, other members of our crew joined me in showing our respects as the only non-Indigenous or non-band affiliated people welcomed to attend at his funeral. I was honoured.
On February 8, 2020, about ninety people from Barrie and area attended at Barrie City Hall to raise awareness of the plight of the people of Wet’suwet’en. Their protest was dignified, peaceful, and informative. Similar protests are now taking place across our country, fueled by reports from journalists who had been illegally blocked from access by heavily armed RCMP officers. Those reporters are now getting through the police lines and reporting on what is really happening. Also, the water protectors are using social media to tell the truth through video and pictures taken on the land that they are uploading from behind the lines. As a result, the federal government is suddenly changing its tone and its tune, rewriting and editing as much as they can to seem reasonable and caring when in truth their actions have been borderline if not outright abusive.
Is it a political statement to say “We stand with Indigenous water protectors at Wet’suwet’en”? Was it political to say "Free Nelson Mandela" because we all knew Apartheid in South Africa was wrong? Those who remember must also ask if we were political when standing together as a country and a people against events at Tiananmen Square that we all knew were unjustified and unnecessarily brutal. You have to decide for yourself if this is a political issue or one of human rights and respect for all.
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Videography and Post-Production by John Ironside and Tiffany Scott