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Rochester activists show support for Wet'suwet'en people as pipeline battle continues

Protesters gathered in downtown Rochester on Feb. 15 in support of Wet'suwet'en land sovereignty.
Ronald Garrow
Protesters gathered in downtown Rochester on Feb. 15 in support of Wet'suwet'en land sovereignty.

Protesters in Rochester gathered earlier this month in solidarity with a First Nation's people who been in a battle with Canadian authorities over the construction of a natural gas pipeline.

It was part of a wider call to action from Wet'suwet'en indigenous activists and supporters.

Part of the Coastal GasLink pipeline would cut through traditional Wet’suwet’en territory in Western Canada. While 20 elected First Nations councils, including some Wet’suwet’en Councils, have agreed to the project, Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, who look after the nation's land,have not.

In January, Canadian mounted police conducted raids in encampments that were blocking access to a pipeline construction site. In mid-February, 28 people were arrested.

It has become a symbolic fight for indigenous rights at large, and for environmental protections against climate change.

Responding to a call from Wet’suwet’an activists for a show of international solidarity, members of various Rochester-based advocacy groups held a demonstration in support.

Andie Burkey with Rochester Rapid Response Network said it’s reminiscent of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests.

“This feels similar to Standing Rock to me," she said. "The Wet’suwet’en people, this is their sovereign territory. It’s the equivalent of a foreign nation invading a country.”

After months of protests, that pipeline was eventually built and later leaked.

Ronald Garrow is Akwesasne Mohawk. He said that for 500 years, indigenous people have had to fight to remain on their ancestral land, and this is yet one more battle.

“Tribal homelands consist of less than 2 percent of North America, but somehow these pipelines continue to find their way through indigenous lands,” he said.

Dwain Wilder with Extinction Rebellion Rochester said further solidarity actions are in the works.

Noelle E. C. Evans is WXXI's Murrow Award-winning Education reporter/producer.