Unist’ot’en Clan holds the line

Damien Gillis, Common Sense Canadian, April 2014

At the end of a series of forest service roads west of the sawmill town of Houston, BC, lies a solar-powered cabin on the banks of the Morice River. It may soon become ground zero in the battle over BC’s proposed pipelines.

There, members of one of the five Wet’suwet’en clans, the Unist’ot’en, have been strategically occupying their land – directly in the path of two gas pipelines and the Enbridge pipeline – for several years now. Their position is simple: No pipelines will cross their territory, period. They’ve already evicted contractors doing survey work for one of the proposed pipelines, Chevron and Apache’s Pacific Trails project.

I’ve visited the camp on two occasions – this past winter and in its early days in the summer of 2012 – for my forthcoming film Fractured Land. It’s a beehive of activity, with supporters regularly joining the camp for weeks to assist with various chores, the construction of new facilities, and gathering and preparing food.

The Unist'ot'en camp has raised close to $20,000 to renovate its bunk house

The Unist’ot’en camp has raised over $20,000 for bunk house renos. See who's supporting the campaign here.

They work to feed themselves in a traditional manner from hunting, trapping and fishing, though one of the camp’s leaders, who goes by the traditional name of Toghestiy, acknowledged to me on a tour of their trapline this winter that with diminished wildlife following years of logging in the region, they are forced to supplement their traditional diet with other food sources.

Though the group runs the risk of being characterized as militant radicals, that would appear, on closer inspection, to be a gross misunderstanding of their motives and philosophy. “We’re not about a fight,” camp regular Mel Bazil explained on our last trip. ”I don’t wake up thinking, ‘Is the fight coming on today?’…We’re prepared to protect ourselves, but we’re more prepared to build with people a shared responsibility that we can really believe in – that will not occur from a board room or a government level.”

Many of the camp’s members are are schooled in both western universities and the traditional ways of their people, having left high-ranking jobs in aboriginal governance, social work and other fields to embrace a different way of life, in reaction to serious challenges facing their land and people.

This planet is in trouble. If we can all agree upon that and not worry about how media and governments are spinning it, we really must all, as a people, take control of ourselves.

Injunction being sought?

Born into another Wet’suwet’en clan, Toghestiy is married to Freda Huson of the Unist’ot’en, the camp’s frequent spokesperson. The pair were in Vancouver last week for an emergency press conference, after they caught wind of an alleged plan by government and industry officials to obtain an injunction against their camp.

When pressed by the Globe and Mail’s Mark Hume, Chevron representative Gillian Robinson-Riddell denied seeking an injunction. She did, however, seem to acknowledge that the company has yet to secure the social licence it requires from First Nations to commit fully to the project financially:

"We’re working toward a final investment decision but there are a few factors [that have to be confirmed] yet…We are looking for further First Nation support."

Video by Eric Doherty

Camp building broad support

The Unist’ot’en are currently running a crowd funding campaign to further build up their camp. With several weeks to go, they’ve nearly met their goal of $20,000 – evidence of the broad support their cause is attracting. From the looks of it, the group isn’t going anywhere – certainly not without a Herculean effort on behalf of government, industry and law enforcement that could well backfire under public scrutiny.

Canada: The world is watching you

When I asked Ms. Huson what would happen if authorities tried to serve an injunction, she replied:

“Supporters would walk off their jobs and come join us. People from all over have said busloads would come to our camp.” Others as far away as Ontario “would close highways” in sympathy.

My message is: “Canada, the world is watching you.”

I asked Ms. Huson what she would say to the elected chiefs who have signed LNG deals. “I would ask them, ‘Have you done your homework?’” she replied. “Have you investigated how LNG plants affect the air and water; how you will affect not just your communities, but people upstream and downstream?…And what would your ancestors do?