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OPINION: Musings on the moving parts of the Wet’suwet’en story

There are so many moving parts to the ongoing Wet’suwet’en issue that it’s hard to get a handle on it all. So here are a few observances and utterances:

THE CORE ISSUE: Thirteen months ago (no, the core issue goes further back than that, but bear with me), 13 months ago when the RCMP first enforced a court injunction against blockaders (not land defenders … more on that later), it was evident the Wet’suwet’en community itself was divided on the issue of whether to allow a pipeline to be built.

The core issue was then, and still is now: Who speaks for the Wet’suwet’en?

We can march on the legislature, block railways and city intersections, wave feathers in politicians’ faces, pledge solidarity to people we know nothing about all we want, but none of this gets resolved until the Wet’suwet’en resolve the schism in their own community.

Only the Wet’suwet’en people can truly decide who their leaders are and who speaks for them … hereditary chiefs or elected chiefs.

It’s like a family that breaks up: Eventually someone has to decide who gets custody of the kids.

TALKING TO AMERICANS: Protests are all about disrupting the status quo and bringing attention to an issue. So, I have no problem with people protesting and/or supporting the Wet’suwet’en. There are those who are critical of the fact that many of the people behind the blockades aren’t Wet’suwet’en. So what? It’s a free country. There’s also chatter that American money is funding the Wet’suwet’en. Once again, so what? If you have no problem with foreign investors funding the construction of the pipeline, you should also understand, and accept, that other foreign investors might be funding opposition to it.

The numbers of protestors in Victoria and around the country has been impressive. I just wonder how many of them actually know what the issues really are. We need Rick Mercer to resurrect his Talking to Americans segment. It would  be fun to ask random protestors questions like: “Are you worried about a bitumen spill from the Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline?” or “Do you think Chief Dan George should be allowed back into the Wet’suwet’en Fellowship of the Ring?”

I suspect some of the responses would rival ‘Prime Minister Poutine.’

Protest for a cause you know, not just because …

MEDIA COVERAGE: The media coverage I’ve seen has, generally, been decent, but there are, as always, some obvious mistakes. There are media outlets who have obviously taken sides (The Narwhal, National Observer, The Tyee, The Orca to name a few). They still do some decent reporting, but it helps if you know which side they’re on going in.

But what irks me is media outlets falling victim to the obvious public relations massaging of words. I’ve spent a lifetime taking such words out of government news releases so to see it show up in mainstream media outlets … they should just know better. For example: The Wet’suwet’en supporters like to call themselves ‘land defenders.’ It’s fine for people to call themselves that and for media to quote them doing so, but the term should never be used as a journalistic description of people who are, essentially, protestors or, perhaps, demonstrators. Yet, there it is … in headlines in mainstream media outlets.

Another term the Wet’suwet’en have used to great advantage is “militarized police action.” Once again, I see it show up stories in media outlets that should know better. The term is cleverly designed to create an image in the public’s mind of stormtroopers trooping over hapless “pregnant women” (another term the Wet’suwet’en have actually used to evoke sympathy … misogynistic, yup).

Are the police militarized? Absolutely. They do carry guns, after all. However, it’s true they are becoming more militaristic. We’ve seen it here in Prince George when the RCMP feel the need to use officers in combat gear, complete with assault rifles strapped to their chests, for crowd control at Canada Day. Or, my favourite, using officers with the aforementioned gear to protect 50 Mounties and a Rocky Mountain Rangers regiment during Remembrance Day ceremonies.

Are they militarized? Yes. Is it specific to Wet’suwet’en blockades? No. And, once again, the term shouldn’t show up in reportage.

ANCIENT HERITAGE INCLUDES WIFI ACCESS: The Wet’suwet’en leadership talk a lot about ancient, traditional ways but they do it with a social media savvy that puts Russian bot farms to shame. The social media machine behind the Wet’suwet’en is very modern, very savvy, and very effective. Without social media, the Wet’suwet’en blockade would likely be yet another drama unfolding in the sticks of northern B.C. somewhere that very few people knew about, much less pay attention to.

Does anyone think the protests at the Legislature and in downtown Vancouver yesterday would happen without social media? Does anyone think the Wet’suwet’en would have such support across the country without a consistent, clever, and effective social media message that has been garnering sympathy to their cause for more than year now? They know how to use social media and have masterfully used it to their advantage.

I’ll save more moving parts for another day.

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