UBC faculty, scholars and students sign statements of solidarity with Wet’suwet’en

Over two dozen UBC faculty members and scholars have signed a statement of solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.

Their signatures join over 5,500 from professors and scholars across Canada and around the world.

The statement was created in February 2019, but began re-circulating this month after an outpouring of rallies across Canada against the RCMP’s arrests of Wet’suwet’en people for refusing access to their land for construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline. It comes as UBC students take part in the demonstrations on campus, at BC Attorney General and MLA David Eby’s office and in downtown Vancouver.

In Vancouver and across BC and Canada, demonstrations have taken the form of blockades of railroads and government buildings, preventing certain industries from normal operation. In a joint statement on Monday, Federal Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations Carolyn Bennet and her BC counterpart Scott Fraser said they requested a meeting with the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs.

“[We] are hopeful we can all work together to establish a process for ongoing and constructive dialogue and action to address the issues at hand,” they wrote. “… Our primary focus is everyone’s safety and ultimately, a peaceful resolution to the situation.”

Bennet and Fraser hope that a successful meeting could bring a halt to the blockades, but Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Woos said that they will not meet with Bennet and Fraser until RCMP are removed from their land.

Issuing support

Among those who signed the faculty and scholars statement of solidarity is Peggy Janicki, an Indigenous mentor teacher at the Mission School District and graduate from the UBC Faculty of Education. She is also a member of the Dakelh First Nation.

Janicki signed this petition with the backing of her union, the BC Federation of Teachers (BCTF), who also recently released a statement of solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en.

“It was really important to me as I am an Indigenous teacher,” she said. “The Wet’suwet’en movement, what the Wet’suwet’en traditional chiefs are doing I feel is really important regarding our sovereign rights to our land.”

The statement has three points of action.

First, it expresses gratitude to the Wet’suwet’en people on the action and defense against the pipeline. Second, it denounces the actions of the federal government, the BC government and the RCMP, with a subsection on their opposition to the Trans-Canada pipeline. Finally, the statement encourages Canadians to actively support the Wet’suwet’en people.

Althea Thauberger, an assistant professor in the department of art history, visual art & theory, also signed the petition as a form of active support.

“I think it’s very important for those of us who have any kind of platform to provide support and different forms of lines of solidarity towards what’s happening in Wet’suwet’en territory right now,” she said.

Thauberger emphasized her role as a “white settler” and the process of “learning and unlearning” as a non-Indigenous person.

“It’s important for us to educate ourselves in these fundamental realities and to do what we can in our positions to support these rights,” she said.

William Winder, an assistant professor of French at UBC who also signed the statement, called this a reconciliation issue, a climate justice issue and an ethical issue.

“This is clearly Canada and the RCMP and BC on the wrong side of the law, so that’s why I signed the petition,” Winder said. “[And] the human side of it, which is there’s no reason there should be militarized police in Wet'suwet'en territory.”

Winder emphasized that he feels Canada and BC have gone in the “wrong direction.”

“I think my platform [in signing this petition] is ultimately very small, but I think this is an issue that affects everyone.”

Departmental solidarity

At UBC, representatives from several departments have issued statements in solidarity with Wet'suwet'en land defenders. Students, staff and faculty from the departments of geography and art history, visual art & theory, as well as the Institute for Critical Indigenous Studies have signed on to three different open letters of solidarity.

In its statement, the department of geography representatives explained the decision to write the letter came after “considerable reflection and discussion on the situation.”

“We feel compelled to make this statement given the University of British Columbia’s stated commitment to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action. We respectfully call on other members of the UBC community to issue public statements on this matter.”

Dr. Glen Coulthard, an associate professor in the First Nations and Indigenous studies program and the department of political science, said he signed the open letter from the geography department because he is “committed to justice.”

“This requires ending colonial violence in all its forms, including the destruction of the lands and waters that sustain Indigenous communities, indeed all communities,” said Coulthard in a written statement.

Mollie Holmberg, a graduate student at UBC wrote in a statement to The Ubyssey that she signed the geography department's letter because she agreed with what it said.

“It would be deeply hypocritical to research, write, and teach about environmental violence here at UBC and not do what I can to support the Wet’uwet’en land defenders.”

— with files from Jingyu Hu