Over the past month, the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation have opposed the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline on their unceded lands. Protectors have organized mass demonstrations and have blockaded ports and railways in an effort to ensure that government officials respect their right to dictate whether or not the pipeline can be built on their lands. They have faced severe pushback from the government, which in one case sent armed police to halt a peaceable assembly of Wet’suwet’en women who were holding a ceremony in honor of missing and murdered indigenous women; the police interrupted their ceremony, arrested, and forcibly removed several Unist’ot’en matriarchs—Freda Huson (Chief Howihkat), Brenda Michell (Chief Geltiy), and Dr. Karla Tait—from their ancestral lands. While possible agreements are in the works, the outcome is still very much uncertain, and the threats to Wet’suwet’en sovereignty over their lands remain very real.
In support of the Wet’suwet’en protectors, and inspired by our colleagues in Classics, a group of medievalist scholars have collaboratively crafted the following open letter, which we encourage our colleagues in medieval studies to sign. As we state in the letter:
"We express our support as scholars and students of the medieval world, which has too often been defined in purely Eurocentric, Christian terms, and presented as a stepping stone on the teleological course of Western civilization. As our discipline confronts its colonial origins and continued involvement in nationalist projects that have sought to essentialize race and justify settler colonial violence, including the recent mobilization of medieval tropes in the service of white supremacy, we seek to re-ground our field in a respectful awareness of the layered histories of the land we inhabit, wherever we are situated on Turtle Island. We understand our roles as educators, researchers, and organizers to have specific responsibilities to Indigenous peoples’ efforts to protect their lands, waters, cultures, and peoples."
Profound thanks goes both to Wallace Cleaves and to Adam Miyashiro for their invaluable guidance and labor during the drafting process. We would also like to extend our thanks to our colleagues in Classics, whose open letter inspired us to craft one for our field, and whose wording we were invited to draw from as needed. Our gratitude extends as well to the University of Toronto geographers whose letter also proved helpful in the crafting of our own.
You can read and sign the medievalist letter by clicking here.
N.B.: We encourage you to identify and acknowledge the tribal lands on which you live and work when signing the letter. Many universities now provide this information by way of land acknowledgments, but if you have a hard time locating the information on your own university or college website, the following digital project is a good place to start: https://native-land.ca/. As the pop-up will tell you, however, the map is a work in progress and does not at this time represent official legal boundaries—that information, as the developers state, is best acquired by contacting the tribes in question directly.