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Environmental and Indigenous groups co-ordinated blockade actions in early 2019
VANCOUVER -- Road and rail blockades springing up across the country in recent weeks may seem like spontaneous reactions to current events – but organizers have been laying the blueprint for this kind of co-ordinated national action for a long time.
CTV News and Bob Mackin of TheBreaker.news have learned some of the people involved in the demonstrations attended PowerShift: Young and Rising, a conference bringing together diverse environmental groups on the campus of Ottawa University in February 2019.
B.C. Indigenous activist Kanahus Manuel from the Secwepemic Nation delivered a power keynote address, telling the crowd that "native people could shut this whole country down, militarily."
"All the transportation corridors go through our reserves and territories," she said to an audience of other Indigenous leaders, climate activists and young people from across the country.
At PowerShift, conference attendees had the opportunity to participate in a variety of workshops on topics like resisting arrest, scouting locations and blockading.
“I found it very useful to go to. It’s really important to connect with all the young people, the ones that are active on the front lines out there in Canada for our environment, for climate change and for Indigenous sovereignty,” said Manuel.
At least seven speakers at the conference have ties to 350 Canada, an offshoot of the American environmental group 350.org.
In its most recent financial statements, released in September of 2018, the U.S. non-profit showed over $19-million in grants and contributions for the year – with $16.7-million of that coming from just three unnamed donors.
As Wet’suwet’en solidarity protests hit their peak in mid-February this year, the 350 Canada twitter account published a video highlighting Manuel’s keynote at Powershift.
“Exactly one year ago today @KanahusFreedom called it #ShutDownCanada,” they tweeted.
At the same time that was happening, people around the country were echoing Manuel’s words at blockades and marches.
“We are shutting Canada down!” Natalie Knight, a Wet’suwet’en solidarity organizer told a crowd of hundreds blocking the intersection of Main and Hastings in Vancouver on Feb. 10, before the group marched to block rail tracks from the Port of Vancouver.
Cam Fenton, who is responsible for strategy and communications at 350 Canada, and was highlighted in the PowerShift program, declined an interview request from CTV News.
“The story sounds interesting, but while 350 Canada supported PowerShift and is supporting and amplifying the Wet'suwet'en solidarity, we're not leading any of those and are not in a position to speak to the story,” Fenton said in an email.
Atiya Jaffar, a speaker at PowerShift whose Twitter account lists her as a digital strategist for 350 Canada, also declined an interview.
She co-ordinated with Knight at the Feb. 10 march and temporary rail blockade in Vancouver, and at the same event approached a CTV News crew and offered to help set up interviews with key players in the day’s activities.
According to Manuel, who spoke to CTV News via Skype from a blockade at the site of a proposed TransMountain pipeline expansion work camp at Blue River, B.C., we can expect to see more co-ordination bringing together environmental activists and Indigenous people opposed to natural resource extraction.
“Indigenous people are at the forefront of combatting climate change,” said Manuel. “We’re the first to be impacted. So, you’ll see us on the front lines. We’ll be the first face you see but it’s impacting all of us.”