Students set up art installation in front of Reconciliation Pole in support of Wet’suwet’en land defenders

With protests in support of Wet’suwet’en land defenders happening in Vancouver and across Canada this week, UBC students have brought the topic onto campus by setting up an art installation in front of the Reconciliation Pole on Main Mall.

Arial Eatherton, a fifth-year student in the Faculty of Forestry, explained that the students set up the art installation at 7 a.m. on February 12 to show solidarity with Wet’suwet’en land defenders who were arrested while participating in a ceremony for missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, as well as Indigenous youth who protested outside of the BC legislature yesterday ahead of the speech from the throne.

“... The Indigenous youth that were occupying the BC legislature installed a sign in the fountain at the legislature, saying reconciliation is dead. So that is the message that we’re echoing here at the Reconciliation Pole,” said Eatherton.

Over the last week, protestors have been taking to the streets in Vancouver and Victoria in support of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and land defenders who have been reoccupying their unceded territory in Northern BC aiming to block construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline. While Coastal GasLink received support from five elected band councils, the hereditary chiefs of have consistently opposed the pipeline’s construction.

In Vancouver, protestors shut down the Granville Street bridge, blocked the Port of Vancouver and closed down the oft-busy intersection of Broadway and Cambie. Youth activists from UBCC350, Our Time Vancouver and the UBC Social Justice Centre also occupied the office of BC Attorney General and Point Grey MLA David Eby on January 28.

Eatherton said that the group will be leaving the the art installation up through the week and hoped it would help “bring a dialogue” to UBC about what is happening on Wet’suwet’en territory.

“As an institution that prides itself on being one of reconciliation ... UBC — as an institution and as individuals who are part of the institution — have been very silent as a whole about all of the atrocities, the legal occupations that are occurring on Wet’suwet’en territory,” said Eatherton.

“I think the visibility of this art installation should bring a dialogue among UBC faculty, students and community members about what their place in the Canadian system is, how they are contributing to ... colonization, how they're contributing to the oppression of Indigenous peoples and how they can turn reconciliation — which is a Canadian facade that has allowed more occupation and oppression of Indigenous peoples — into concrete action that they can take on a personal and organizational level.”

“I think the visibility of this art installation should bring a dialogue among UBC faculty, students and community members..."
“I think the visibility of this art installation should bring a dialogue among UBC faculty, students and community members..." Salomon Micko Benrimoh

While UBC was not able to provide a statement by press time, Senior Director of UBC Media Relations Kurt Heinrich previously stated that the university did not have strong viewpoints about the topic.

“UBC does not condone violence of any kind and we urge people to strive for a calm and orderly resolution to the conflict – one that aligns with the peaceful and mutually respectful guidelines of behaviour articulated in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” reads the statement.

Chris Colton, a first-year master’s student in the Faculty of Forestry, said he was there to show support for land defenders as a settler ally.

“I’m here, not to protest, just to show my support and ... to create awareness and just point out that UBC seems to not be acknowledging or talking much about the ongoing genocide that Canada and the RCMP is putting forth to Indigenous communities across Canada,” said Colton.

”And it’s been shown that despite their promises of reconciliation, clearly reconciliation is dead.”

Eatherton further stressed that the installation was not a form of protest or direct action, but an art installation.

“This is an art installation to bring awareness. So we’re not protesters, we aren’t risking arrest here we don’t want anything to do with the RCMP or UBC security. This is purely for awareness,” they said.