It is apparent that the protest that began over a natural gas pipeline has turned into something much bigger.
Ironically, it threatens to harm what this protest was supposed to be about from the beginning - Indigenous rights.
The protest has spread well beyond B.C.’s borders and taken on a national scope. Railways are being blockaded, thus threatening the economy of the entire country.
The protest has become a catch basin for various assorted “causes” and wrongs. At the protest that blockaded the B.C. legislature last week, I heard protesters denounce everything from colonialism to pipelines to fossil fuels to capitalism in general.
Lost in this swelling chorus is the fact that so many of B.C.’s 204 First Nations actually support many of the things now being condemned.
The Coastal Gaslink pipeline that was originally at the heart of this protest has the support of the band councils of 20 First Nations along the pipeline route, including that of the Wet’suwet’en, although the hereditary chiefs oppose it.
The Federal Court of Appeal’s recent decision that gave the green light for the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion to go ahead noted that 120 of 129 First Nations along that pipeline’s route either support the project or at least do not oppose it.
At least two consortiums of First Nations are actually trying to buy the TMX pipeline in order to allow their members to share in potential economic prosperity.
Many First Nations are trying to take advantage of opportunities that may rescue their members from what are, in many instances, situations of grinding poverty. Those efforts could be thwarted by a protest that seems to have been taken over by the well-organized environmental protest movement.
In no way are any of these developments particularly surprising. There has long been schisms among B.C.’s 204 First Nations, and it has been obvious for some time now that the environmental protest community has exploited that reality by hiving off some of those nations into their camp as pivotal for advancing their cause.
Inevitably, unless the hereditary chiefs change their position, this protest will merge – likely this summer – with the simmering protest against the TMX pipeline. Many people will be arrested for civil disobedience in the coming months.
Political protests have a greater chance of eventual success if they can combine several causes under the same umbrella. That is exactly what seems to be happening, which may prove unnerving to both federal and provincial governments across the country.
This tinderbox was created long ago. It has been waiting for something to come along to set it alight.
That “something” turned out to be Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who will likely be sidelined eventually by a potentially massive, broad-based protest against all pipelines. And many First Nations may well be worse off as a result.
Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.