Hundreds Protest at U.S.-Canada Border Bridge Over Pipeline Threat to Indigenous Land: 'This Is an International Issue'

The fight of an indigenous community in the western Canadian province of British Columbia sparked demonstrations more than 2,700 miles away on Sunday, as protesters halted traffic on the U.S.-Canada border bridge in Niagara Falls, Ontario, to call for an end to plans to build a pipeline through the territory of the Wet'suwet'en.

Around 200 protesters temporarily halted traffic at Rainbow International Bridge on Sunday to protest what they have warned is an "invasion of the Wet'suwet'en Nation."

For hundreds of years, the Wet'suwet'en have laid claim to the 22,0002km area that constitutes their hereditary land. However, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greenlighting plans for Coastal GasLink, a natural gas construction and extraction firm, to build a pipeline through it, the indigenous community says its land and heritage are being put at risk.

Sean Vanderklis, who helped organize Sunday's protest, said the indigenous community in the Niagara region and supporters wanted to show the Wet'suwet'en they have support from across the country.

"We are all indigenous. We are all First Nations. There's a similarity there and a commonality we share," Vanderklis, a member of the indigenous community, said.

The notion that a company would be allowed to uproot land that has been occupied by an indigenous peoples for hundreds of years, he said, is part of the "fundamental racism that occurs on a daily basis" against their communities.

"The Wet'suwet'en never surrendered their land," he said. "Their land was never surrendered; they never signed any treaty."

Vanderklis said he and fellow protest organizers wanted to stage their demonstration at the U.S.-Canada border to show that "this is an international issue."

Sean Vanderklis
As many as 200 protesters rallied at the Rainbow International Bridge in Canada's Niagara region in a show of support for the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs in their fight against a pipeline development. Amber Lyn Farrington

"That's what the Canadian government fails to see," he said. "This is an international issue and it should be dealt with as an international issue," starting with, he said, greater communication with the indigenous communities that stand to be affected by construction.

Instead, he said, there has been a complete "lack of response" from the Trudeau government, despite repeated promises to prioritize building the Canadian government's relationship with indigenous communities.

In 2017, Trudeau issued a tearful apology to residential school survivors, taking a symbolic, but important, step towards reconciliation with Canada's indigenous communities. However, doubt has increasingly been cast on whether Trudeau is willing to follow up on symbolic shows of support with action.

"When Justin Trudeau came into power, he said there's no relationship that he wants to develop and foster more than with his indigenous brothers and sisters. His actions are speaking to the contrary," said Vanderklis.

"He's still insistent to build this. He likes to use the phrase, 'rule of law,' but the residential schools were also the 'rule of law'," he said.

Vanderklis said he was proud to see that there was support for the Wet'suwet'en on both sides of the border, with protest organizers receiving messages of support from the U.S.

"Indigenous people, we don't see borders. We don't acknowledge the borders. But we are realizing and observing that there is support," he said.