Canada’s Indigenous peoples in times of protest

The Canadian government and Canadian Indigenous peoples have had a long and tumultuous relationship. There have been countless protests from the indigenous peoples.

Ranging from legal rights to environmental concerns, Indigenous people have never been shy about sharing their opinions and the government has never been afraid of trying their best at reconciling this relationship.

Some examples of protests of indigenous people include: 

  • The Oka Crisis in 1990
  • Numerous protests on parliament hill from 1990 – 2018
  • The national Idle No More movement
  • Vigils for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Men and Women, a less confrontational demonstration

The most recent protests to paint the Canadian media landscape involves the Gidimt’en camp just north of Smithers B.C.  This protest is taking place between the Wet’suwet’en people of northwestern BC and a proposed TransCanada pipeline porject.

However, VICE Canada has explained that the camp and what the indigenous people are doing is not a protest. The website article titled, The Real War Facing the Wet’suwet’en Nation, wrote:

What many fail to understand about the Unist’ot’en Camp is that it is not a protest camp. Nor is it a blockade. It is an occupation of traditional territory and an assertion of Aboriginal title and rights to land… (Para.3)

The Wet’suwet’en people began their blockade on a backroad used for forestry operations. This began and remained as a peaceful protest against access to their unceded territory. However, on January 7th the RCMP moved in to break up the blockade. Fourteen people were arrested. Many news outlets across Canada covered the story as the events unfolded. 

This blockade is opposing the pipelines that are proposed to run from Dawson Creek to Kitimat, BC. These pipelines would run right through the traditional lands and would pose a threat to the watershed and untouched wilderness. Historically, indigenous people have seen themselves as stewards or protectors of the waters and untouched land across Canada.

Unist’ot’en Camp Video

More protests against these arrests broke out across Canada ranging from the Yukon to Ontario. Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people alike have announced their solidarity with the Unist’ot’en camp and their mission. More details can be found on the Unist’ot’en Camp website including informatoin about the camp and Wet’suwet’en people, how to support the camp and how people can suppport their call for action.

Along with the print coverage, both from newspapers and online sources, there were dozens of photographs taken from both sides of this movement. Like any indigenous protest in Canada’s history, there has been extensive coverage from both the media and those involved directly. 

Some other, more in-depth slideshows of previous protests can be found here: Iconic First Nations protests from CBC and Gallery: A history of First Nations’ protests in Canada from Global News.

What follows is a brief comparative analysis of photographs from mainstream and alternative media sources. The focus is on indigenous representation during times of protest, specifically the pipeline protests.

This first set of pictures is from CBC photographers. These are photographs from the article titled, Protesters across Canada support Wet’suwet’en anti-pipeline camps.

The above pictures focus on the signs the indigenous people hold. They focus on large groups. These pictures come from Ottawa, Vancouver, and Toronto. They are all focused on the Indigenous people protesting. But it is noticeable how the images seem distant, almost as though they are not getting too personal or intimate with the crowds. 

Which of course is the goal of photojournalists or those selecting photographs for news stories. 

However, these pictures are framing the protests in a certain way. Especially when they are examined next to photographs from the side of the indigenous protestors in the camp. For example, these following pictures are from an article titled When Indigenous Assert Rights, Canada sends militarized Police off The Tyee’s website and the Wet’suwet’en Access Point on Gidimt’en Territory facebook page.

Four mothers, with their children, holding support sign. No author.

The second set of pictures are taken from another standpoint. They come from the camp’s Facebook page and seem to focus more on the Indigenous people as a community. The one picture taken by photographer Michael Toledano shows a different view in regards to when the police moved in and broke up the Unist’ot’en camp. 

These images focus more on the camp’s nationwide supporters and the people involved directly at the camp. They also show what the protestors experienced when the RCMP came to break things up. 

This media representation of the Indigenous protestors is quite different and varies based on the party that is reporting the story or capturing the photographs. The more mainstream images follow strict journalistic guidelines and work hard to remain objective. 

The photographs from the facebook page and VICE Canada article The Real War Facing the Wet’suwet’en Nation, go on to show a different, more motivated side of the protest story. They are working to show images of the indigenous side of the national argument.  They do so in a more personal way and focus on the community foundation that is building the Unist’ot’en camp. 

Ultimately, they represent a more grass-roots, traditional representation of the Indigenous people. They also have a point of view that brings a sense of insider, or belonging. The mainstream media photographs are focusing on the signs written across the flags, posters and look in on the protest groups from an outsider point of view.

By Cheyanna Dyck

My name is Cheyanna Lorraine and I am an Indigenous journalism student.

I love to write, cook, paint and everything thing about summer! Join me on my chaotic and beautiful adventure of navigating through life.

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