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  • Writer's pictureMichael Laxer

Growing coalition supports Wet’suwet’en calls to close BC work camps

`"To put the interests of economy and industry ahead of Indigenous lives is not public health."

LNG Work Camp. Image via Twitter

A growing coalition of groups and health professionals are backing calls for Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer "to listen to Wet’suwet’en women and support the health and safety of their communities by shutting down LNG Canada and Coastal GasLink facilities and work camps amid COVID-19 outbreaks."

On November 30 an open letter, Urgent Concerns from Wet’suwet’en Ts’ako ze’ and Skiy ze’, was sent to Henry. The signatories were driven to action after:

43 confirmed cases of Covid 19 have been tied to an LNG Canada facility in Kitimat, while Wet’suwet’en have been informed of 2 confirmed cases of Covid 19, with six individuals in self isolation, at Coastal Gaslink’s Camp 9A on Unist’ot’en yintah (territory). Man camps do not have capacity to isolate all Covid positive workers and send them home to self isolate, where many must cohabitate with elders and other community members.

The letter reads, in part:

As Ts’ako ze’ (female chiefs) within our five clans (Gidimt’en, Likhsilyu, Likhts’amisyu, Tsayu, and C’ilhts’ëkhyu), we have the responsibility to protect each other, our skiy ze’ (children and upcoming chiefs) and our yintah (territories)...
We understand that the province has declared oil and gas work an essential service, however, we strongly encourage you to reconsider. First, the economy cannot come before Indigenous lives; second, the protocols in place do not protect our most vulnerable communities; and lastly, our Houses and Clans have a right and responsibility to make decisions about what happens on our territories.

It goes on to state:

Making a conscious decision to bring transient workers into our territories and communities is telling us that the economic gain of the province or state is more important than our language and cultures. You are telling us that the economic gain of the province is more important than our lives. Your behaviour and attitude facilitates the states’ genocide of our people and lands.

Since its release other organizations and healthcare workers have spoken out in support and solidarity with this call.

Hundreds have signed A letter of support from front line health workers in B.C. and across Canada addressed to Henry that begins:

As fellow health practitioners, we are writing to you in support of the grave concerns expressed by the Wet’suwet’en Ts’ako ze’ and Skiy ze’ over the continuation of local Coastal GasLink (LNG) work and man camps in Wet’suwet’en territories, in the communities of Burns Lake (C’ilhts’ëkhyu Clan territory), Huckleberry Camp near Houston (on Gidimt’en Clan territory) and camp 9A (on Unist’ot’en territory).
We unequivocally support the recommendations in their letter to you, addressed on November 30, 2020 - the same day that Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond released her report “In Plain Sight” on the widespread and deadly racism and discrimination experienced by Indigenous peoples in the health care system in B.C.
As health professionals working on the frontlines, we see first hand the brunt of the devastation caused to communities by the dual public health emergencies of the climate crisis and COVID-19 pandemic - which both disproportionately impact Indigenous communities.

It goes on to say:

To put the interests of economy and industry ahead of Indigenous lives is not public health.
To put Indigenous elders and youth at further risk in the midst of a pandemic is to say quite clearly that Indigenous lives still do not matter in B.C.

On December 9 a coalition of groups that includes the Sierra Club BC, the Council of Canadians and the Center for Sustainable Economy released a third open letter also calling on Henry to close the camps that notes:

Bringing transient workers to these remote communities during a pandemic only perpetuates the harm of colonization and puts economic gain ahead of their health and cultural wellbeing. To not heed these women’s concerns is to put corporate profit ahead of Indigenous lives, which is not only morally wrong it is also incompatible with the B.C. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.

These calls come as The Narwhal revealed December 4 that:

Employees at the LNG Canada work site in Kitimat, B.C., complained multiple times about unsafe working conditions just months before the facility experienced a COVID-19 outbreak, according to WorkSafe BC inspection reports obtained by The Narwhal.
The outbreak at LNG Canada started on Nov. 19 and there are now 54 cases.



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