How COVID-19 has emboldened colonial governments

News Unsettled Opinions
Members of the Native Students Union. Photo by Belle White, Contributing Photographer.

COVID-19 has greatly impacted the entire world in almost every aspect of society. If one is not deemed an essential worker, risking their life every day in the face of this pandemic, home is the place to be and stay right now. Almost everything has been put in a state of pause, including physical Indigenous resistance and solidarity movements. Indigenous people are staying home all over Turtle Island in order to protect the Elders and immunocompromised in our communities, as the virus has already reached many. 

In response to the pandemic, every province has declared a state of emergency, and given powers to the premiers to make quick decisions. Though they were given these powers to combat the virus spreading throughout the globe, they have begun to abuse these powers in order to ramp up industries whose focus is extraction from Indigenous lands. 

On March 18, the B.C. government declared a state of emergency in response to COVID-19 and banned large gatherings of people. Not even two weeks later, with everyone staying at home and avoiding others in order to protect friends and loved ones, there began mass shipments of pipe up into Wet’suwet’en territory. While telling the public the state of emergency is for the good of the province, the B.C. government has wielded it against Indigenous land and water defenders in order to push the CGL project ahead; all the while, workers at these camps continue to get sick and spread the virus among themselves, and into at-risk Indigenous communities, due to their close proximity. 

On March 17, the Alberta government declared a state of emergency in response to the virus. By April 2, Jason Kenney had announced that, for the time being, environmental reporting is not required for the industry. This is the only way that the province of Alberta determines if the industry is abiding by environmental regulations. This means that while the pandemic goes on, companies will have complete freedom to violate as many rules as they possibly can or want.

Indigenous people and allies have continued to mobilize through the internet and have continued to fill the phone lines of these companies and their local MPs; although, the extent to which Indigenous people can stand up for our territories is extremely limited. 

This virus and the emergency powers that have come with it have completely exposed the treachery of ongoing colonialism. Provincial governments are not hiding behind systems like the police and foster care in order to take land and people away. With their newly provided powers, they are openly violating UNDRIP — in the case of B.C., UNDRIPA, and other laws and promises that have been made. No matter the province, no matter the party, Canada is built on colonialism. The only goal the government has ever had has been to strip Indigenous territories of as many resources as it can get.