Authorities’ disregard for indigenous sovereignty in Canada shows how law is often arbitrarily applied. People can create their own.
Editor’s Note: At a time when many of us are “social distancing” for the public good, there are still many ways for us to connect. We can use this time to write and share stories, and lessons learned. In this blog, Lake Erie Bill of Rights organizer, petitioner and ongoing campaigner Bryan Twitchell shares a guest blog about the Wet’suwet’en First Nation’s ongoing resistance to the Coastal GasLink pipeline in British Columbia, Canada. If you have an idea or story that you would be interested in sharing, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
If there’s any consolation to be had by the 1 percent’s refusal to protect us and the natural world, it’s that more people are starting to see through the fictions we are told about our society. The rule of law is being revealed every day for what it truly is: words on paper. Special interests are able to get these words changed or enforced, in their favor. But when social movements question the law, they’re told to obey.
The Lake Erie Bill of Rights challenges the law as we know it. In response, the corporate state tries to tell us that such challenges are beyond our authority. Meanwhile, the First Amendment is undermined by anti-protest legislation that is being advanced across the nation, at times with bipartisan support. In February, one of these bills was introduced in Alberta, Canada. Where is the reverence for the rule of law, when corporate interests want to undermine it?
Beyond this contradiction, we see that even when the law is technically on the side of social movements, special interests may just decide to ignore it. In Canada—our tolerant neighbor to the north—the Wet’suwet’en people are in the midst of a bitter defense against Coastal GasLink (CGL), as it tries to build a pipeline through their sovereign territory. This pipeline ignores Canadian law’s respect for First Nations’ sovereign and yet is unlawfully advancing with support from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
The Wet’suwet’en people never ceded their land to Canada; therefore, under Canadian law, they are perfectly within their rights to erect whatever barriers they see fit to resist the pipeline. Yet, it is the tribes that are decried as rabble-rousers, as ‘dangerous’ and ‘unlawful’ — even as the RCMP illegally enters their territory, brandishing firearms to take them from the homes they have erected in the pipeline’s path. Police took women from drum circles and arrested elders simply for being in the way.
In Toledo, where we passed the Lake Erie Bill of Rights, we were told it was not our place to advance changes in the law. We see how arbitrary the “rule of law” can be. The powerful find it easy to subvert. But we are told to obey.
We are told the law is something sacrosanct, the mutually agreed upon bedrock of society. But it’s fairly transparent that people who are powerful, or wealthy, or influential, tend to view it differently. Tribal treaties can exist when they can be used to illustrate the inclusivity and forward-thinking nature of a government. But when there’s money to be made, these same treaties aren’t worth the ink used to pen them. We’re told the U.S. Constitution protects our rights. But if people’s right to assemble is inconvenient for corporations controlling our “democracy,” it seems not worth the paper it’s written on.
The rule of law is being revealed every day for what it truly is: words on paper
We need to change the priorities of the law, in favor of people and the planet. That means not being afraid to challenge the current “rule of law.”
What the Canadian government is doing, what our own governments are doing, is trying to label people who stand up for their lives and livelihoods as an other. Don’t march for your rights, don’t try to change the law, those people are criminals. Don’t go on a rent strike with your neighbors to try and get your heater fixed, only radicals try to improve their living situation by doing something other than asking nicely. Don’t blockade a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center, only terrorists do that. And so it goes.
The corporate state lackeys change the law and hope we obey. They know, and we know, that when we come together we are strong — stronger than any law or militarized police force — regardless of perceived interpretations of the law. We see this in Canada, which is embroiled in protests across its land. The Candian rail system, its highways, and ports were shut down in support of the Wet’suwet’en people.
It’s time to be inconvenient. To write your own laws. To begin to govern. To take the ink of the law and rearrange it. Let us start creating something new.