The Unist’ot’en clan stands in the way of three oil and gas pipelines. What makes this blockade unique is the land: a territory never given up by treaty.
Down a logging road in northern British Columbia, signs of modern life slowly disappear. Blue, snow-capped mountains fill the landscape, their yellowed forests bearing the scars of clear-cutting and the ravenous pine beetle, while the road begins to mimic the path of a river.
Forty miles into the wilderness, visitors reach a bridge checkpoint: an entrance into Unist’ot’en territory. A young man in thick winter gear walks across a bridge to meet them. He asks for names. The volunteer communicates by radio to the clan’s spokesperson, who arrives shortly and takes visitors through a protocol used by generations of indigenous peoples to determine entry onto their lands.
There is a series of questions:
“What’s your name?”
“Do you work for industry or government that’s destroying our land?”
“What skills do you bring here?”
“How long do you plan to stay?”
“How will your visit benefit the Unist’ot’en?”
Freda Huson then steps away and softly radios across the camp. Volunteers emerge to remove the heavy wooden barricades at both ends of the bridge and allow passage onto the Unist’ot’en land.
This clan of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation has occupied its traditional territory here for more than five years, a response to a proposed network of pipelines full of crude oil and fracked natural gas that will cross this landscape from the energy nexus in Alberta to the West Coast. Plans for Chevron’s nearly 300-mile Pacific Trail natural gas pipeline, the double-barreled, about 725-mile Northern Gateway crude oil pipeline, and TransCanada’s more than 400-mile Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline, extending across western Canada and destined for Asian markets, have created deep tension between industry and resistant First Nations clans like the Unist’ot’en.
Despite a series of cases in the Canadian courts upholding the sovereignty of unceded indigenous lands, the Unist’ot’en have turned away a steady flow of police and industry officials at the clan’s bridge checkpoint and confronted others entering remote areas of the territory by helicopter.
Threats from the energy industry and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police rest on an ambiguous interpretation of Aboriginal law. But defenders at the Unist’ot’en Camp see no such ambiguity. Within the traditional laws passed down through their elders, defense of the land is an imperative.
Huson, chosen as spokesperson by the chiefs of her clan, leads the struggle at the frontlines. She makes no decisions without the consent of her chiefs, driven by an ultimate truth: Her ancestors are still present on that land, still guiding her and her people and allowing her to reconnect with the land and reinforce a relationship that sustained indigenous populations for thousands of years.
We highly encourage you to continue reading this important report by Tony Manno at YES! Magazine’s website.
Source URL — https://roarmag.org/2015/12/19/unistoten-unsurrendered/