A small group of people supporting the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs push to stop a natural gas pipeline from crossing their territory in northern BC continued to occupy the Bank of Montreal branch in Nelson for the second consecutive night Thursday.
The occupation came after a rally march through downtown Nelson Wednesday morning, which ended outside the bank at 298 Baker Street and closed down the intersection at Baker and Kootenay Streets to traffic through the noon-hour.
The people involved in the sit-in, who say they are “land and indigenous rights defenders”, are demanding that BMO divest from the Coastal GasLink pipeline project that is currently invading Wet'suwet'en territory.
“Investors and corporations need to hear the message that colonial business-as-usual cannot continue,” said Ali Christie, who is supporting the lock-down, said in an emailed statement. “We will stay and put pressure on BMO for as long as we can.”
Christie said the occupation is a response to a call for action by Indigenous youth in solidarity with Wet'suwet'en land defenders.
“We're very grateful for all of the support from the community for this action, and we would like to encourage people to come out and show up in whatever capacity, to divest and close their accounts with BMO, and to show solidarity with the Wet'suwet'en however you're able,” Christie said.
Kian Cham, who was at the sit-in Thursday, told The Nelson Daily he is following the protocol of the Sinixt Nation under their guide.
He said he came Wednesday to call out the bank for investing customers deposits in Coastal Gasline Pipeling to the tune of $4.5 Billion.
“We came here in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en nation whose hereditary chiefs have all said no to this pipeline,” Cham explained, adding there are approximately 10 people occupying the bank office after three people chained themselves to pole inside the branch Wednesday.
“They’ve said no an under their law they’ve asked the RCMP to leave their territory to which the RCMP are not complying and are forcibly removing people from their own territories which goes against UNDRIP (United Nation Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) which (Premier) John Horgan said was going to incorporate into our BC laws.”
Cham said during Wednesday’s occupation, the group made contact with the BMO branch manager, who contacted the BC CEO of BMO to explain the situation.
Instead of removing Cham and others, the bank closed the branch before hiring security guards to monitor the situation.
The Nelson Daily reached out to BMO media department for comment. A company spokesperson said the bank respects the rights of all to a peaceful protest.
"We are working with customers on an individual basis," the BMO spokesperson said via email. "For every day transactions, we would encourage our customers to look to BMO’s online or mobile banking options."
Thursday, the branch was closed to regular business. The nearest branch of the Bank of Montreal is in Castlegar. Although, there is an ATM machine for cash customers at the Safeway supermarket on Anderson Street, next to 7-11.
The BMO occupation in Nelson is just one or many acts to defiance across Canada supporting the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs.
People supporting the Wet’suwet’en blocked passenger train and freight traffic in Ontario and B.C, leading to concerns that, if prolonged, the backlog will affect imports and exports at Canada’s seaports. Via Rail announced all trains on the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal corridor would be cancelled until at least Thursday.
Three supporters of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs chained themselves to a structure inside the Bank of Montreal branch Wednesday, beginning an occupation that continued through Thursday and into Friday. — Submitted photo