To stop the spread in Indigenous communities, Canada needs to respect Indigenous sovereignty over the land

News Unsettled Opinions
News Unsettled Native Students Union column
Graphic provided by the Native Students Union.

While businesses across Canada have been reopening, COVID-19 cases have continued to be confirmed all over the country. Since March, the Canadian government has kept pledging funding to Indigenous communities in order to deal with COVID-19. While funding is useful, it means almost nothing when the Canadian government has sat by and allowed for industry, the police, tourists and white supremacist protestors to run rampant on Indigenous territories.

Construction on the Coastal Gas Link (CGL) pipeline has never really ceased during the pandemic. There continues to be workers in dangerous proximity to at-risk Indigenous communities.According to CGL, if a worker becomes sick they have to self-isolate there — they will not even be sent home.They will remain in the camps and be treated there instead. The RCMP continues to harass Wet’suwet’en land defenders on a daily basis. According to the Gidimt’en Facebook page, most officers are not even showing basic respect for COVID-19 regulations. Recently, there was a case of arson, in which unknown persons burned down the cabin of a Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief. The RCMP allows unbridled access to Wet’suwet’en territory to everyone except the Wet’suwet’en, putting them in danger of COVID-19.

The Tiny House Warriors of Secwepemc territory also face constant harassment from RCMP officers. Not only that, but in mid-April there was an assault on the camp, in which a truck was rammed into the side of one of the tiny houses. According to an article by the Tyee in July, the RCMP has still not taken any decisive action against the perpetrators despite video evidence of at least two of the men involved in the attack.

After repeated calls for outsiders to stay away from Haida Gwaii, the Queen Charlotte fishing lodge still opened, and welcomed guests from Canadian hotspots, and even some from the United States. The B.C. government did not answer any demands from the Haida nation, until there were verbal threats from a representative of the fishing lodge. It remained open for three weeks, and shortly after the provincial governments ban on non-essential travel there was an outbreak on Haida Gwaii.

In Six Nations there is a land-occupation that has been dubbed ‘1492 Landback Lane’, which is fighting against a housing development. In early August, despite being in the middle of a global pandemic, the Ontario Provincial Police were sent in to arrest land-defenders to push construction along. The response from the community was extremely intense, yet the OPP continue to attempt to end the blockades and push along the housing project.

Indigenous nations are being put in danger every day throughout this pandemic, and some of the reasons are far from essential. Why are Indigenous communities being forced to combat fishing tourism and luxury townhouses during this pandemic?

The government of Canada’s money will mean nothing if Indigenous people have no control on who can enter their communities. In some places, like Haida Gwaii, there has been a ban on non-essential visits and industries, but only after outbreaks in Indigenous communities. Our elders are the knowledge holders of our communities, and with COVID-19 they are the most at-risk. There continues to be cases in Indigenous communities across the lands known as Canada, and across Turtle Island itself. If the government does not start respecting Indigenous sovereignty, especially in the case of pandemic decisions, our nations will be subject to the ever-growing danger of losing our knowledge, our languages, and our ways of life.