Two Manitoba bishops are among 71 Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran and United Church of Canada leaders and others from across Canada showing support for the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs protesting the $6-billion, 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink pipeline that will go through their traditional territory.
Both The Right Reverend Geoffrey Woodcroft, Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Rupertsland, and Bishop Susan Johnson, National Bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, signed the solidarity statement that calls on the Canadian government and the RCMP "to immediately cease their occupation, arrests, and trespassing on Wet’suwet’en sovereign territory."
The statement, goes on to note "these unlawful occupations and tactics violate the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples" and violate the wishes of the Wet’suwet’en Clan Chiefs who "hold sole title to their unceded territory and unanimously do not support the construction of the pipeline."
It goes on to say the pipeline project would mar the landscape, cut down trees, harm migration patterns of animals, and put the entire watershed at risk of a leak and contamination.
"We are deeply concerned about the militarized arrests, pressure and trespassing presence of the RCMP on Wet’suwet’en sovereign territory," it states, adding this treats "Indigenous peoples like prisoners on their own territory."
The statement concludes by noting the pipeline not only tramples on the rights of Indigenous Nations, but endangers "our collective wellbeing and future."
For Johnson, signing the statement was a way to remind Canadians "we are not living in to the calls to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, including the commitment to free, prior and informed consent."
She’s also "deeply concerned about climate justice and about responsible resource extraction. The concerns of the Wet’suwet’en overlap all of these concerns."
For her, using the RCMP is the wrong way to deal with the issue.
"If we are serious about addressing these concerns, then we need to take time to have a real consultation," she said.
By signing the statement, she wants members of her denomination, and other Canadians, to know "we stand with the Wet’suwet’en people and hold our government accountable for its actions."
As for Woodcroft, one reason he signed it because the Anglican community in Manitoba and northwest Ontario is "well connected" with Indigenous people.
He also sees signing it as a way to promote the Anglican Church’s goal of promoting reconciliation with Indigenous people, and of ensuring treaties are fulfilled.
Concern about climate change, and the future of the planet, is also on his mind.
"I am convinced that Creator, God is calling not only me, but all of goodwill, to get on with providing a better tomorrow for all people," he said.
The church has "always had a voice and a strength to care deeply for God’s creation," he added, concluding that is something "we somehow forget" until situations like this arise. Then "we are called back to exercise love, justice and humbleness."
Other signers of the statement include The Most Reverend Mark MacDonald, National Anglican Indigenous Archbishop; The Right Reverend Ron Culter, Archbishop of the Anglican Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island; The Right Reverend Andrew Asbil, The Bishop of Toronto; Jennifer Henry, Executive Director, KAIROS; Carragh Erhardt, Justice Ministries, The Presbyterian Church in Canada; Peter Haresnape, General Secretary, Student Christian Movement of Canada; The Reverend Dr. Joanne Mercer, Anglican Parish of Twillingate, Anglican Diocese of Central Newfoundland.
Find the full statement here: https://bit.ly/2uy25MQ.
In addition to the solidarity statement, members of Hope Mennonite Church in Winnipeg signed a petition sent to the Prime Minister to honour the jurisdiction of the Wet’suwet’en traditional governance and publicly affirm the demands of all five Wet’suwet’en Clan Chiefs.
In the petition, they also call on Coastal GasLink to vacate the territory of the Wet’suwet’en; that the Canadian and British Columbia governments uphold their commitments to implement the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples; and that the RCMP respect the rights of the hereditary chiefs and refrain from interfering with Wet’suwet’en law.
John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.
The Free Press acknowledges the financial support it receives from members of the city’s faith community, which makes our coverage of religion possible.
Updated on Monday, February 10, 2020 at 4:46 PM CST: Comments turned off.