Keeping Carbon in the Ground: Indigenous Sovereigntist camp blocks proposed pipeline corridor slated to move tar sands and shale gas to Asia

As the winter snow descends on the North creating a pristine canopy of green and white, resistance remains strong and active at the Unist’ot’en Camp. Here, 66kms south of the colonial town of Houston, British Columbia, a solid core of indigenous community members and allies are forming a resistance community to protect unceded Wet’suwet’en territory. These ancestral lands are being threatened by several multi-billion dollar pipeline projects. These proposed pipelines represent the efforts of government and industry to construct a giant ‘energy corridor’ to connect Tar Sands and shale gas extraction projects with ports in Kitimat and Prince Rupert on BC’s west coast. The aptly renamed Carbon Corridor intends to blaze a right-of-way as much as three kilometres wide through hundreds of kilometres of wilderness, farmland, and traditional indigenous territory. The Unist’ot’en and their allies have determined to never allow this to happen.

In 2010 the Unist’ot’en clan decided to clear a site and begin building a cabin on their traditional territory of Talbits Kwa. The cabin is located on the west bank of Wedzin Kwa (colonially known as the Morice River), directly on the path of the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway and Pacific Trails Pipelines (PTP). In the summer of 2012, construction on the cabin was completed just in time for the Grassroots Wet’suwet’en to host their third annual environmental action camp. The camp convergence was attended by over 200 supporters from across Turtle Island, and a crystallization of long-term solidarity took place as the grassroots Wet’suwet’en called for a shift from passive support to the forming of a concrete, committed network of allies.

During camp and the following months, many new structures were created including additional outhouses, a smokehouse, a sauna, a root-cellar, and a major expansion of the main cabin itself. Then, to defend against the probability of industry attempting to re-enter the territory, members of the Unist’ot’en and Likhts’amisyu clans made the important decision to permanently occupy the camp following the August convergence. The family did this to make a permanent home, and to allow for 100% monitoring of territory.

Crow, a permanent supporter at camp, reflects on the late summer and fall berry-picking season, and on the ecological stewardship of the territory practiced by the Wet’suwet’en. “When I arrived at camp in early September, I was amazed by the vastness of the berry patches. I had never seen such a wealth of berries in one place. Later I learned of practices that the Wet’suwet’en had to ensure the abundance of the land, practices that today are known as permaculture. More and more I am becoming aware of the wisdom that allowed the Unist’ot’en to live in harmony with the land, in a way that did not degrade the land base and did not rely on exploitation. That way of life, as well as the land itself, is what the Unist’ot’en Camp is here to defend,” states Crow.

The Grassroots Wet’suwet’en

The Wet’suwet’en are composed of five clans: Unist’ot’en, Likhts’amisyu, Gitimit’en, Lakh’silyu, and Tsayu. The Unist’ot’en (or C’ihlts’ehkhyu, Big Frog Clan) are the original Wet’suwet’en distinct to the lands of the Wet’suwet’en. Over time in Wet’suwet’en History, the other clans developed and were included throughout Wet’suwet’en territories. The Unis’tot’en were the strongest and most resilient clan as they dominated vast regions of Wet’suwet’en territory, and were know to adapt and thrive in very treacherous terrain. To this day, Wet’suwet’en territory remains unceded. They are not and never have been under treaty with the colonial government, and they maintain complete sovereignty over their lands which are not under the dominion of the Canadian state.

In order to assert their traditional sovereignty over the territory, the Grassroots Wet’suwet’en have broken away from the Office of the Wet’suwet’en (OW), an institution that was created as part of the treaty process with the Canadian government. Despite the presumptuous title, however, the Office of the Wet’suwet’en is not the representative of the Wet’suwet’en people, it is an illegitimate colonial proxy-institution that remained after all five clans of the Wet’suwet’en opted out of the treaty process in 2008. Today the Office of the Wet’suwet’en remains as a hub for corrupt community members to sign up-front deals with industry, which normally come with cash incentives. Most recently, OW has signed confidentiality and communications agreements with PTP and are trying to reignite the defeated treaty process with the government.

In the present day, the more traditionalist and grassroots elements of the Wet’suwet’en have designated themselves the Grassroots Wet’suwet’en to identify as separate from certain corrupted and co-opted segments of their nation. Asserting themselves as Grassroots Wet’suwet’en they do not operate from a boardroom, they walk and breathe their laws with a powerful and unbreakable marriage to the land.

The Pipelines

Several companies have proposed projects intending to cross Wet’suwet’en territory as part of industry and government’s conceptual “Energy Corridor.” Several shale gas pipelines are also proposed to run from Summit Lake and the Horn River and Liard Basins, fracking fields in northeastern BC’s Montney Shale Formation. The intended destinations of these pipelines are LNG processing terminals in Kitimat and Prince Rupert.

The first and most immediate threat to Wet’suwet’en territory is the Pacific Trails Pipeline (PTP), which intends to transport shale gas through a 42 inch diameter bidirectional pipeline. The project including the pipeline and processing terminal on the coast called Kitimat LNG (KLNG) was shared by EOG Resources, Encana Corp., and majority owner Apache corp. of Houston, Texas. PTP is the intended trailblazer of the prospective ‘energy corridor,’ and plans to stretch 463km from BCs fracking fields, all the way to the Douglas Channel on the west coast.

Then, on Christmas eve, the KLNG/PTP project sent the Unist’ot’en resistance an interesting present. In a surpise move EOG and Encana sold their shares in the project to Chevron Canada, a subsidiary of Chevron Corporation, which will now move into a 50% ownership position along with Apache for the continuation of the project. This consisted of a big shift in the complexion of the project considering the small-player-status of EOG and Encana, vs. Chevron as the second biggest oil company in the U.S.

Coastal GasLink is another prospective shale gas pipeline and LNG terminal project proposal. The pipeline would initially carry 1.7 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day from the Montney formation over 700 kilometres from Groundbirch, near Dawson Creek, also to Kitimat, on the west coast. The project is owned by a consortium of Companies called LNG Canada led by Shell Canada Limited, including Mitsubishi Corporation, KoreaGas (KOGAS), and Petrochina. TransCanada corporation is contracted by LNG Canada to build Coastal GasLink, the same company trying to force through the notorious Keystone XL Pipeline.

The LNG Canada project has been estimated to be in the $ 12 billion range, while the Coastal GasLink Pipeline is estimated at $ 4 billion, and according to BC Energy Minister Rich Coleman is slated as “one of the largest, if not the largest, investments ever in B.C.” The pipeline dimensions are projected at 48″ (1.2 meters), six inches larger in diameter than PTP. In short, everything about this pipeline is big.

But the Grassroots Wet’suwet’en have no intention of allowing any of the pipelines to happen. “The Unist’ot’en with Grassroots Wet’suwet’en will stop all pipelines by any means necessary. In solidarity with nations also opposing pipelines in their territories, we do not take any “Not In My Back Yard” approaches in our strong stance against poisoning waters for money and greed,” declares Freda Huson, spokesperson for the Unist’ot’en. “We stand beside communities in all directions taking action to stop the pipelines that exist,…. or proposed pipeline projects awaiting approvals.”

Resisting the Carbon Corridor

The Grassroots Wet’suwet’en have already twice acted to protect their territory from contractors working for the Pacific Trails Pipeline (PTP) project. In November of 2011, they confronted, and escorted out, PTP field workers attempting to carry out directional drilling.

Just over a year later, On November 20th, a crew of surveyors was intercepted at the cabin site entering Unis’tot’en territory. In the absence of Freda Huson, Toghestiy, hereditary chief of the Likhts’ amisyu clan invoked biKyi’ waat’en, the right of the husband, in telling the industry surveyors to immediately leave the territory, and issued an eagle feather to the crew. In Wet’suwet’en law, an eagle feather indicates a first and only warning of trespass.

After they were turned back, a crew from Unis’tot’en camp snowmobiled some 20 kms to retrieve materials left behind by the work crew. The materials were confiscated and brought back to camp where they are being held until Apache and PTP agree to open up appropriate lines of communication with the Unis’tot’en. An active blockade of the territory started and a letter was delivered asserting the sovereignty of Wet’suwet’en territory and denying of consent to the pipeline project, stating that “any further unauthorized incursion into traditional Wet’suwet’en territory will be considered an act of colonialism, and an act of aggression towards our sovereignty.”

On December 6th, PTP under the cover of FNLP (First Nations Limited Partnership) held a town-hall meeting informational session at the Moricetown Band Office in an attempt to entice the community with the promise of economic benefits. The grassroots Wet’suwet’en quickly mobilized and stormed the meeting with banners, drums, and a traditional war dance. Towards the end of the meeting, Lhtat’en, an Unist’ot’en elder, speaking decisive words declared, “the Unist’ot’en have never lost any wars, and we won’t lose this one either!!” Facing overwhelming opposition and pressure from hereditary chiefs and clan members, the meeting was cut short and the FNLP reps fled without addressing the media.

Developing a Grassroots Network

The support from allies across the country during the November 27th day of action, Raising Resistance, proved that grassroots networks working together can equal or surpass the efforts of large NGO coalitions. Having money but often lacking base support, the NGO model has shown itself capable of mobilizing, and often wasting, large amounts of resources towards sensationalist one-off actions, and incapable, or uninterested, of developing meaningful relationships with communities. That is why the Unist’ot’en and Grassroots Wet’suwet’en in 2011 made the decision to turn from unhealthy, non-reciprocal NGO partnerships, and to go the grassroots direction instead looking to long-term sustained relationships for the future. In this context of looking to genuine, long-term community building, collectivist and mutual aid principles brought forward by Anarchist allies at camp have meshed well with communal indigenous practices.

Now is a crucial time to develop that spontaneous outpouring of grassroots support into a sustained solidarity network. Straight up, community awareness creates increased security for the camp. The more people that know about us and actively show support, the harder it is for government and industry to move against us.

The past and the future connect on the territory in a very important way. Hereditary chief Toghestiy explains how “the Grassroots peoples have a great potential to reverse impacts of colonization and eradicate the resultant social and spiritual poverty by continuing to show the next generations to walk with their laws. The Grassroots peoples of the Wet’suwet’en are healers, warriors, elders, hunters, fisherpeople, knowledge keepers, and are culturally driven.”

The camp and growing community at Talbits Kwa is an effort to get back to the land, and to reassert traditional practices. One of those practices is the Free Prior and Informed Consent Protocol where all visitors upon arrival wishing to enter the territory, must introduce themselves and answer questions before being granted permission to enter. This is a living assertion of traditional Wet’suwet’en law asserted via protocols such as this one for thousands of years. The Wet’suwet’en also had to present themselves as such when travelling to neighbouring peoples’ lands to conduct trade, build and maintain relationships, assist allies in battle, and attend feasts and ceremonies.

In the contemporary context, the Free Prior and Informed Consent protocol is part of an ongoing process of decolonization and harmonization. It serves as a re-actualization of natural law and a manifestation of mutual freedom and respect in moving across land and territories without state borders. It also presents an opportunity to implement a new standard of autonomy within indigenous territories, re-establishing spaces free of the existence of the state. One of the greatest necessities in addressing the global ecological crisis is the imperative to localize our economies, and this also requires us to localize our communities. As such, this new emancipatory process that the grassroots Wet’suwet’en have adopted offers an opportunity not only for political and cultural decolonization, but for the creation of healthy, local, and sustainable communities. The collective aspect of their strategy is that they are not claiming ownership over the grassroots FPIC protocol, but actively encouraging other clans, nations, and territories to do so as well.

Likhts’amisyu Chief Toghestiy speaks of harmonization as moving beyond decolonization. Having shed the social and cultural damage of the past, harmonization points toward creating a natural balance between human and the wild, and to understanding and coming into harmony with the interconnectivity of everything in the ecosystem. In other words, harmonization is the pursuit of an eco-spiritual balance. Toghestiy speaks of liberating our thoughts in order to cast aside the idea that there are superior and opposing forces. Fighting against something feeds energy to it, and so harmonization seeks to move beyond the idea and the omnipresence of capitalism and colonialism, and to live spiritually, socially, and culturally in a world that is ours, on our own terms.

Starhawk speaks of “embodying the alternative,” and Eduardo Galeano writes about finding answers to the future in the traditions of the past. That is what we are doing here. We are not just fighting to overcome the affliction of industrial consumerism, but for a way of life that is ancient and perfect. What is now unfolding on the west bank of Wedzin Kwa is not simply resistance to a pipeline and the defense of a territory, but the building and rebuilding of a radical alternative and traditional living. That is why such a strong emphasis at camp has been placed on community building and empowerment, so that organizing and resistance can be integrated into the spaces of everyday life. This is pre-figurative organizing that confronts an injustice by counteracting it with an alternative. The resistance community, therefore, is the illustration that building and creating is the most comprehensive form of resistance, that there is no separation between life, and the defense of life.

It is time to start creating communities that are both able to sustain themselves on their own terms, and able to maintain their autonomy from the ever-present threats of industry and state. Clearly it is a tall order to start a community from the ground up, and for that reason we encourage the forging of strong alliances with communities already on the ground, and new ones to come. The Unist’ot’en Camp anticipates total victory in its fight against the carbon corridor and the hope is that the success of this community can serve as an inspiration and as a demonstration of the possibilities born of strategic occupation. We expect victory to come with sacrifice and this success to come with our ability to mobilize and build relationships with the people, groups, and communities around us.

Let us unite and harmonize by always putting the earth first!

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