Daryn Forsyth spent a third of his life working in the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) as a marine engineer but when he saw the RCMP enforcement of a temporary injunction on Wet’suwet’en territory on Jan. 7, 2019 — he knew he could no longer continue.
On Jan. 19, 2019 Forsyth, who is himself part-Gitxsan and lives in Hazelton, handed in his resignation letter.
“I wasn’t going to, on Canada’s behalf, commit violence onto anybody,” he says, adding that while he was just a smaller part of a larger system he couldn’t in any good conscience continue working for the CAF.
Forsyth first got involved with the army after taking an Indigenous recruitment program in 2005. In 2009 when he completed his studies, he signed on full-time.
He says the decision to leave a job that has been such a major part of his life was not one he made lightly, but that he couldn’t stand by while the Wet’suwet’en continued to have their territorial rights and title denied to them.
“It’s heartbreaking,” he says. “Seeing the violence that was brought on them [and how] the same Crown I was serving, you know, the same country that I had pledged allegiance to can’t properly take care of their own aboriginal people or even support them.”
Forsyth says his first request for discharge, initially handed in the morning of Jan. 7, 2019, was denied.
“It was initially rejected on the grounds of conscientious objection until I clarified … that, no, I’m unwilling to use a weapon and commit violent acts for Canada.”
After making the decision to leave Forsyth says he subsequently decided to make his letter of resignation public on social media after RCMP action on Feb. 6, 2020 and the days following when they enforced the interlocutory injunction relating to the matter.
He says he felt it was ridiculous to see armed RCMP officers heading into unceded Wet’suwet’en territory once again and that seeing the events of Jan. 7, 2019 essentially repeat themselves a year later was tough to bare.
“It was just a stream of emotions,” he says. “A lot of shame, but that was luckily offset by the pride that I felt seeing these proud warriors standing up and defending their actual land and their way of life.”
Forsyth says the decision to leave the CAF was important to him not just to respect his own Indigenous heritage, but also because members of his extended family are Wet’suwet’en and he stands with the nation as a whole.
He adds he wants them to grow up in a world where the Crown respects their right to defend their unceded homelands.
“Their future really is at risk,” he says of a number of his nieces and nephews who are Wet’suwet’en. “It’s not just this passive risk, it’s actively being destroyed.”
Forsyth says it’s important for him that his son and younger members of his extended family are able to look at him in the future and know that he followed his conscience.
“He needs to know that … choices can be made and even if they’re scary, they do need to be made.”
He says his message to members of the armed forces or RCMP who might have their own internal conflicts about how the situation has played out is simple: talk to your superiors.
“Speak to your chain of command,” he says. “Tell them that this is a major concern for you that Aboriginal people are being forcibly removed from their lands and that essentially this is the start of another Oka.”
Oka refers to the Oka Crisis of 1990 when a police officer was killed in a standoff between police and the Mohawk people, the latter were involved in a land dispute with the town of Oka, Quebec.
While CAF are currently not involved in the dispute between hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en and Coastal GasLink, Forsyth says when he asked about whether that was a possibility in the future he didn’t get a direct response.
“That was one thing I asked my chain of command when I was leaving, was is there going to be any sort of directive put out saying the military won’t take an active role?” he says.
“I was flat out told no.”
He says his message to RCMP officers is simple: you’re in the wrong.
“It’s the fact that they were created to stop [Indigenous] rebellions and then here we are in 2020 and they’re essentially doing the same thing,” he says.
“They haven’t changed, in fact, I hold each and every RCMP member accountable for their own actions and that also includes being on Gitxsan territory, being on Wet’suwet’en territory, and furthering this colonization and this violence.”