Protestors halted traffic on a Higgins Avenue crosswalk outside of El Cazador Friday evening, in response to growing unrest about the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline in Canada.
The protestors lined up on the crosswalk during rush hour to protest recent arrests of tribal leaders in British Columbia, Canada.
Claire Charlo, an advocate for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai
Tribes, acted as a spokesperson for the largely anonymous group. Charlo called for an action of solidarity with Wetʼsuwetʼen protestors in British Columbia who are fighting against the building of the Coastal GasLink pipeline on what they consider to be their traditional land.
Three female Wetʼsuwetʼen tribal leaders were arrested Monday during a ceremony following the blocking of commuter trains in Vancouver, Canada. This spurred the Wetʼsuwetʼen to call for an international day of solidarity, which Charlo and her group answered.
“The fact that people are being mildly inconvenienced compared to women being forcibly arrested during a ceremony, there is no comparison,” Charlo said.
The group of nearly 30 people held handmade signs with a variety of slogans like “Don’t be a fossil fool,” and “Our hearts are with Unist’ot’en,” the latter of which was painted on a large, pink heart made of cardboard.
The Missoula police responded to the demonstration after a complaint that the group was making it too difficult to turn at the light. Cpr. Patrick Malone said officers determined that the group was not breaking any laws and were allowed to protest in the crosswalk.
The group continued along Higgins heading toward the Missoula County Courthouse. When they arrived, the group circled around Charlo and other vocal members directly in front of the gray stone steps of the building.
“Thank you, everybody, for putting your lives and bodies on the line,” Charlo said to the crowd.
Brandon Fish, a University of Montana student, was one of the vocal members in the center of the group with Charlo. Fish said that the protest is meant to make people aware of how Indigenous peoples are being forcibly removed from their land for the benefit of oil and gas companies.
“What’s happening in Canada is going to happen here in Montana,” Fish said.
Fish pointed out that the Trump Administration is mirroring the direction of the Canadian government under Justin Trudeau by ignoring and bypassing environmental laws and review processes to push the Keystone XL pipeline forward in Montana.
The Trump administration approved the building of the Keystone XL pipeline through Montana in January. According to the approval signed by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, the pipeline will cut through 46 miles of land that is held by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Land Management.
“It’s a destruction of our rights not only as Indigenous people but as Montanans,” Fish said. “This is going against our own statehood and state constitution.”
The group has plans to stage more protests in the coming weeks.
Corrections have been made to this article to better reflect the reason for the protest, Claire Charlo’s position within the protest group and the involvement of the Missoula police.