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Yintah wins Best Canadian Documentary at the Rogers Hot Docs Festival

Documentary on Wet’suwet’en struggle to protect the land was ten years in the making

Indigenous
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Yintah wins Best Canadian Documentary at the Rogers Hot Docs Festival

Documentary on Wet’suwet’en struggle to protect the land was ten years in the making

Photo: Yintah Film / Twitter
Photo: Yintah Film / Twitter
Indigenous
News
Based on facts either observed and verified firsthand by the reporter, or reported and verified from knowledgeable sources.

Yintah wins Best Canadian Documentary at the Rogers Hot Docs Festival

Documentary on Wet’suwet’en struggle to protect the land was ten years in the making

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Yintah wins Best Canadian Documentary at the Rogers Hot Docs Festival
Photo: Yintah Film / Twitter

On Tuesday, the Ted Rogers Hot Docs film festival declared Yintah (the land) winner of its Best Canadian Documentary film award for 2024. The film, co-directed by Michael Toledano, Brenda Michell and Jennifer Wickham chronicles over a decade of Wet’suwet’en resistance to the construction of the CGL pipeline on their unceded territory.

The film premiered on April 27th in Toronto at the TIFF Lightbox before screening at Hot Docs where it received a five-minute standing ovation.

The film is reminiscent of Alanis Obomsiwin’s film Kanehsatake: 270 years of Resistance (1993), a documentary detailing the 1990 armed stand-off known as the Oka Crisis in Quebec where Kanien’kehà:ka were protesting the expansion of an existing golf course on their sacred burial grounds.  

Sonia Furstenau, BC Green Party leader and MLA for Cowichan Valley, who spent time in Wet’suwet’en territory, said of the Hot Docs win,“this is fantastic news! I trust this will draw much-needed attention to the lands, waters, and communities of the Yintah. I look forward to watching the film, my time there was transformative. Looking ahead, we must protect what matters most. Air, water, and land.”

Yintah is another stark condemnation of the failure of reconciliation, this time, around the advancement of the oil and gas industry’s interests in Canada. It is a tribute to Indigenous leaders who have been surveilled, brutalized and arrested by the RCMP and its more militarized arm, the Community-Industry Response Group (CIRG) on their lands for years. CIRG was recently renamed Critical Response Unit CRU-BC which, according to its website, provides “strategic oversight in addressing energy industry (gas and oil pipeline) incidents and related public order, national security and crime issues.”

The film depicts numerous confrontations between the RCMP and Wet’suwet’en land defenders such as Freda Huson, Sleydo’ Molly Wickham, Hereditary Chief Deni’ze Dsta’hyl and their Gitxsan, Mohawk and Haudenosaunee supporters. It also shows the vast destruction of forests directly resulting from the pipeline’s construction.

The most violent of these confrontations occurred in 2021, when the RCMP, armed with automatic weapons and using trained dogs, broke through a cabin at "Coyote Camp" with a chainsaw and arrested Molly Wickham, Shaylynn Sampson, director Toledano and fellow journalist, Amber Bracken, among others.

“It feels like we are at war,” says Wickham in the film. Against a militarized RCMP force in tactical gear bearing automatic weapons, it’s no wonder it felt, to Wickham, like a war zone. That “war” has been entirely asymmetrical and there is a reason for that.  

In 2019, the $500B global investment firm Kholberg, Kravis, Roberts & Co (KKR) purchased a 65% equity interest in the Coastal Gaslinks pipeline from TC Energy Corp. David Petraeus is partner and Chairman at KKR. He served from 2007 to 2012 as commander of Central U.S. Command in the Iraq war surge. In a more recent interview Petraeus says, “We had a superb Canadian delegation contingent in Afghanistan when I was privileged to command that effort.”

Petraeus is also the author of the U.S. Army’s publication Insurgencies and Countering Insurgencies, a four-step playbook on how to quash insurgents. KKR hired Petraeus in 2013. Asked, in a podcast interview to explain KKR’s Global Institute and his role there, Petraeus says it “exists to identify potential geopolitical risks and to integrate potential risks that could affect whether an investment should be done or, more importantly, could affect its potential success. Then I identify ways to reduce these risks.”

“Once we’ve made investments,” says Petraeus, “we help companies that we own as they run into problems.” 

Those “problems” include protestors and land defenders. At the time of the 2021 raid depicted in the documentary, RCMP Superintendent John Brewer, who served under Petreaus in Afghanistan as NATO Senior Police Advisor, was C-IRG’s gold commander. It was he who helped plan and execute the raid. It is important to note that Brewer is a member of the Similkameen Indian Band. 

The ongoing Indigenous-led fight to protect the Yintah also has local bearing in the CRD. It includes the 2020 arrest of 13 people in Victoria  following their occupation of the entrance to the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources. Among those arrested were Gitxsan Chief Kolin-Sutherland Wilson and Shaylynn Sampson. Sampson was in the cabin with Sleydo during the 2021 Coyote Camp raid.

Defending the actions of CIRG both in Fairy Creek and Wet’suwet’en territory in a 2023  interview with the CBC, Brewer said, “We have to make arrests in very difficult situations. Whether it’s -30 degrees 60km up a logging road up north, at every time the emphasis is on safety for my police officers, for sure, but safety for the protestors and safety for the workers.” 

In January of this year, the BC Supreme Court charged Sampson and Wickham with contempt of court for knowingly committing “prohibited acts by impeding Coastal GasLink and its contractors from conducting their work."

In 2022, BC Green Party leadership experienced, first-hand, the surveillance and RCMP threats experienced everyday by the people living on the Yintah. 

Adam Olsen, MLA for Saanich North and the Islands and a member of Tsartlip First Nation, traveled to Wet’suwet’en territory with Furstenau to attend the Peace and Unity Summit in 2022. The pair were part of a rafting excursion on the Wedzin’Kwa (Morice River) during their time there. Reflecting on his experience to Summit attendees Olsen said, “I witnessed our complete surveillance while we were out on those public roads. Every bridge we crossed there was RCMP and there was industry side by side.”

“If you have any understanding of the Crown-Indigenous relations that have been evolving in the province of British Columbia for the last 170 years, then you know it’s not ok.”

The Wet’suwet’en have been raising concerns about the ecological disaster that would ensue should the pipeline ever leak. CGL will deliver 2.1 billion feet of natural gas to Kitimat each day. A rupture caused by external corrosion in TC Energy’s pipeline in Alberta caused wildfires to break out around the town of Edson last month.

Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Na’Moks said of the award, “The hard work and dedication, for over a decade, to bring this film to the world was clearly appreciated by all who attended.” 

“The standing ovations, the crowd’s participation and appreciation had clearly shown they had wanted to see this long awaited truth to be told. By winning their award they have proven the truth will win.”

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