CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A large group of pipeline protesters inside and outside of the TC Energy/old Columbia Gas building in Charleston drew a heavy police presence on Monday morning.
The group, Appalachians Against Pipelines (AAP), stood in solidarity with the Indigenous Wet’suwet’en people for more than three hours at the facility starting before 7 a.m. Dozens blocked elevators, stood outside of the main entrance and stopped work from happening inside. More than 100 people participated in the protest.
According to a AAP release, the Indigenous Wet’suwet’en people are defending their un-ceded land in Canada, from the Coastal GasLink Pipeline and other unwanted, dangerous pipeline projects including the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The Coastal GasLink Pipeline is a project of TC Energy, formerly known as TransCanada.
“I’m here in solidarity with the Indigenous Wet’suwet’en people and all occupied Indigenous lands, in solidarity with missing and murdered Indigenous women and against extractive oil and petrochemical industries,” Sasha Irby, a protester from the New Orleans area told MetroNews.
Irby, one of the vocal leaders, said the end goal is the end of extraction industries on Indigenous lands and to get their land back, as well as protection for their women.
She held a sign in the shape of a red dress that symbolized the missing and murdered Indigenous women in both Canada and the United States. Other signs at the protest stood in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en, some saying “You Are On Stolen Land,” and others “Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.”
Four people locked their bodies together, by interlinking arms and locking their necks together, inside the lobby as part of the blockade. Outside of the building, the group raised a warrior flag symbolizing Indigenous power after taking down the American flag from the pole.
Crystal Mello from Charlottesville, Virginia went inside and outside for the protest but told MetroNews, the entire group started inside before police arrived. Mello said that protesters were taken out of the building violently by officers with shoving and dragging.
Charleston Police Department released a statement on the incident Monday that said, “Officer’s started communicating with the group and expressed our interest in a peaceful resolution. The group, Appalachians Against Pipelines, was told they could exercise their right to protest if they did so in a lawful manner, but to do so they needed to leave immediately, or they could be arrested. The group did not comply, so officers had to take steps to move the crowd outside.”
Mello said she just wants all pipeline construction to stop.
“We have the Mountain Valley Pipeline going through where we are at,” she told MetroNews. “The State of Virginia had a lawsuit against them and they pay a $2 million and suddenly everything is good, let’s go back to destroying the water, the mountains and the endangered species.”
The Mountain Valley Pipeline has experienced on-again, off-again construction, which is meant to extend 42-inch diameter natural gas pipeline over 303 miles to transport West Virginia natural gas into southern Virginia.
The pipeline would go through Wetzel, Harrison, Doddridge, Lewis, Braxton, Webster, Nicholas, Greenbrier, Fayette, Summers, and Monroe counties in West Virginia.
The AAP said TC Energy, that operates the Columbia Gas pipeline and storage facility in Appalachia, continues the pattern of the legacy of colonization that has brought genocide and forced relocation to Indigenous people, including Monocan, Moneton, and Cherokee.
Mama Julz, Oglala Lakota and founder of the Mothers Against Meth Alliance, explained her decision to take action, saying in a press release, “My territory is experiencing a meth epidemic, and many missing and murdered relatives. All the drugs and sex trafficking come from man camps that TransCanada has brought to my territory. Wet’suwet’en has been experiencing that same violence for years.
“They have the Highway of Tears, where their missing and murdered relatives are stolen from. It all comes from the pipelines. It’s important to be in solidarity because we face violence from the same industry. Our ancestors traveled and always kept us connected with our indigenous relatives to the North. The waters connect us.”
TC Energy did not comment on the scene.
Dozens of law enforcement from the Charleston, St. Albans, Nitro, West Virginia State Police, and the Kanawha County Sheriff’s were on hand. No arrests were made.