After Northern Gateway Recommendation, Unist’ot’en Camp Ups the Ante

Construction of pit house at Unist’tot’en camp, Oct 2013. Photo:WarriorPublications

Construction of pit house at Unist’tot’en camp, Oct 2013. Photo:WarriorPublications

First Nations blockade camp standing in the path of Northern Gateway Pipeline gets an influx of volunteer applications in preparation for the fight against oil and gas companies

by Erin Flegg / Vancouver Observer

With the announcement of the National Energy Board’s ruling in favour of Enbridge’s Northern pipeline, and the fall of yet another government environmental safeguard, the organizers of the anti-pipeline blockade camp in Northern BC are more committed than ever to holding their ground. Along with partner Forest Action Network (FAN), they’ve put out a call for more volunteers, and FAN director Zoe Blunt says they’ve received a flood of applications in the past week from people eager to travel to the camp and help out.

Blunt, who has been to the camp several times, said she had been involved in fighting tankers on the coast when she realized she needed to start higher up the chain. If there are no pipelines, she said, there can be no tankers.

“We’ve found kind of a choke point here in the Morice River Valley, and if we can slow it down, close it off, stall it, it’s buying time for another kind of outcome.” That could mean decisions made by the courts or by the commodities markets. “If the economy contracts again, these pipelines are a lot less likely to go through.”

The Unist’ot’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en people have put themselves in the path of multiple pipelines, including the already-approved Pacific Trails liquefied natural gas (LNG) pipeline and the Enbridge Northern Gateway bitumen pipeline. Surveyors and oil and gas company employees who have been found in the territory have been escorted out of Unist’ot’en lands.

The camp has existed for the past four years, first as a “soft blockade,” keeping people out of the territory, and has steadily grown to include permanent buildings and permaculture gardens. Volunteers are currently working to build pit houses on site and collect supplies for the rest of the winter. The camp garnered some media attention in October when an unidentified intruder set off a homemade bomb at the entrance to the territory. No one was injured and damage was minimal.

Camp organizer and member of the Unist’ot’en Freda Huson has just returned to her village after a year of living at the camp with her husband, Unist’ot’en hereditary chief Dini Ze Toghetiy, their children and dogs.

Apart from the incident with the explosive, Huson says the camp has received minimal attention outside independent and social media, and even making use of some of those outlets have proved challenging. She said her posts on Facebook concerning pipelines and the camp’s oppositions to them are often removed, or she finds herself kicked off the platform before items can be posted at all.

“We pretty much know that media is owned by government and industry. It’s not really free,” she said. “The only time we get a lot of media attention is if it’s going to be negative against indigenous people.” But regardless of the response, she said the Unist’ot’en have no intention of leaving, even if the oil industry trucks start rolling in.

“For myself, I believe it’s the only way you can get anybody to see your viewpoint. You have to blockade and you have to make your views known through the methods we’re using.” The Unist’ot’en say they have never been consulted about the projects expected to run through their territory, and Husan said they’ve tried talking to those in power, but have been let down.

Enbridge spokesperson Ivan Giesbrecht said via email that the company has actively engaged with First Nations and Metis groups to incorporate feedback into the project design, and Enbridge is still hopeful that it can address First Nations’ concerns “in a mutual spirit of cooperation and collaboration.” He said the company is aware of the blockade, but refused to comment further.

Banner at solidarity rally with Unis’tot’en camp, Vancouver 2012. Photo: Warrior Publications

Banner at solidarity rally with Unis’tot’en camp, Vancouver 2012. Photo: Warrior Publications

Huson is currently working Moricetown, a Wet’suwet’en village near Smithers, promoting economic development that focuses on tourism. She said there’s a distinct difference between what she calls economic development and what companies like Enbridge do.

“It should be sustainable and should also protect our environment. It’s not economic development if you’re developing projects that are destroying water and land.”

Many of the volunteers who have travelled to the camp are recent university grads who became disillusioned with their jobs and wanted to find better ways to protect the environment. They’re also hoping to boost local support.

“Most of our support is on the Lower Mainland,” she said. “Locally, people are all opposing the pipelines but nobody is stepping up to help. Even financially, most of our support is from the cities.”

The camp needs people who can help with construction, hauling firewood and keeping a lookout for intruders on the territory. Husan said they’ll need more resources and more support on the land if they’re going to succeed to keeping the oil and gas companies out.

Husan said the outcome of the Joint Review Panel hearings has caused some worry.

“It’s getting prepared and having enough resources available because we know we’re going to be up against industry trying to push their way through. We need more people up there.”

The Minster of Forests, Lands and Natural Resources, and the Minister for the Environment did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

The sign at the entrance to the camp after a makeshift explosive was set off in October. Photo courtesy of the Unist'ot'en Facebook page

The sign at the entrance to the camp after a makeshift explosive was set off in October. Photo courtesy of the Unist’ot’en Facebook page

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