Freda Huson of the Unist’ot’en Clan and Toghestiy of Likhts’amisyu Clan of the Wet’suwet’en and their children arrived in Bella Coola this Tuesday from their home on the Morice River, tributary of the mighty Skeena River. They feel there are dangerous activities stirring in the North, and they invoked a plea for support.
The Unist’ot’en took great risks in travelling so far from their home, but they feel that to stand alone to face what is coming would be to make martyrs of themselves. Two meetings were held at the House of Smayusta this past week, and the Unist’ot’en were able to share their story.
Seven natural gas (removed by the dangerous process of fracking) and bitumen pipelines are slated to cross the lands of the Unist’ot’en clan of the Wetsuweten. They face also the spectre of new copper and gold mines in the headwaters of the Morice River.
Four years ago the elders of the Unist’tot’en met and agreed that their lands would be forever preserved to feed their grandchildren and the generations to follow, and that they would be protected not by the cynical strokes of lawyers pens, but by the reoccupation of the land.
The first cabin built on the traditional territory was burned to the ground under suspicious circumstances. The Unist’ot’en regrouped and established a blockade against industrial activity. They built and moved into a second cabin and have since kept close watch on the one bridge leading onto Unist’ot’en lands.
Traplines have been re-established, trails reopened, berrying grounds rediscovered. Moose, deer, and salmon are once again being harvested regularly. A traditional pit house is under construction, dead in the middle of the surveyed route of Apache, PTP, and Enbridge pipelines, and a vegetable garden holds its ground. Trusted allies now watch over the territory while the family brings word to neighboring communities.
Two years ago in the dead of winter, Freda and Toghestiy and their family moved the truck that sits blocking the bridge into Unist’ot’en territory and travelled by snowmobile to Moricetown to attend a funeral and mourn the loss of a family member.
While they were gone, drilling rigs and crews from Pacific Trails Pipelines flew in by helicopter and began their work. A sympathetic driller contacted Freda to warn her of the trespass, and the family raced back out to the territory to evict them. Members of the camp have reported that twice since then crews from the pipeline companies have slunk past the barricades without consent, only to be evicted before completing their work.
Roads have been built and a site has already been cleared for an LNG export facility in Kitimat. The pipeline project has environmental approval from the provincial and federal governments, and Toghestiy says that the families at the blockade have received word that industry and government will act soon to crush the resistance to these projects.
“We travelled here to the coast to build alliances with others who will be affected by these industrial megaprojects. If frack-gas pipelines are allowed to pass, the infrastructure will be in place to lay pipe for Enbridge,” said Toghestiy. “By defending our lands against bitumen and frack-gas pipelines, we are also defending the lands of communities upstream in the fracking fields of the Peace region and in the tar-sands of Alberta. Downstream of these projects are all the people who depend on healthy waters and healthy salmon runs. The stand we are taking is protecting your community as well as ours, so let us stand together.”
The Unistoten asked people in this community to stand up in solidarity with those resisting industrial expansion in a planned day of action on August 14. “This doesn’t necessarily mean holding signs and picketing government offices. It might mean taking meaningful direct action against the corporations threatening your land, your food and water supplies, and the health of your loved ones,” said Toghestiy. “It might mean re-occupying lands. Government is serving corporations at the expense of the people, and its time we recognized that industrial expansion and the theft of local resources for sale on the world market won’t stop unless we stop it ourselves.”
The response from the hereditary chiefs and members of the Nuxalk nation was strong. “Once they said the earth was flat,” said Harry Schooner. “They’re cutting all the trees down and pulling down the mountains. They are flattening it. Maybe they want to push us right off the edge!” Rhonda Schooner expressed concern for the salmon runs in the Bella Coola if tankers were to begin plying local waters, and Nuxalk chief Noel Pootlass added that he’d heard that it is difficult to make sluq’ out of hot dogs.
Wally Webber, elected Nuxalk chief counsel, expressed his frustration with the ability of the band council system to protect lands and community given its dependence on government, but was glad to be able to contribute to the Unist’ot’en cause.
Hereditary chiefs discussed sending a local delegation to the site of the blockade in the coming year and possibly next year for the annual Unist’ot’en Action Camp in early July, which brings together grassroots activists from all over North America for workshops and discussions on strategy and tactics.
Freda Huson, spokesperson for the Unist’ot’en, had parting words for the people of Bella Coola. “These corporations feast and feast on resources that don’t belong to them, destroy our land and our communities and then they’re gone and we fight over the table crumbs that they leave us. Its important to remember that they are always hungry and if we don’t stop them now they will come here to your valley when they’re done with ours,” she said. “We have to build alliances now so we can call upon each other for support when the time comes.”