Ground zero in the global battle against climate chaos this week is in Wet’suwet’en territory, northern British Columbia. As pipeline companies try to push their way onto unceded Indigenous territories, the conflict could become the next Standing Rock-style showdown over Indigenous rights and fossil fuel infrastructure.
Since 2010, the Unist’ot’en clan, members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, have been reoccupying and re-establishing themselves on their ancestral lands in opposition to as many as six proposed pipeline projects.
The Unist’ot’en camp now houses a pit-house (a traditional dug-out dwelling), a permaculture garden, a solar-powered mini-grid and a healing lodge, where community members receive holistic and land-based treatment for substance abuse. The camp also defends the sacred headwaters of the Talbits Kwah (Gosnell Creek) and Wedzin Kwah (Morice River), spawning grounds for salmon.
If built, the Coastal GasLink pipeline project, first proposed in 2012 and approved in October 2018, would run approximately 670 kilometres across northern B.C., bringing fracked gas from Dawson Creek to the Port of Kitimat. It is part of a recently approved $40 billion fracked-gas project, called LNG Canada, the single-largest private-sector investment in Canadian history.
The proposed route for the Coastal GasLink pipeline project runs across British Columbia, from just outside Dawson Creek to the LNG Canada terminal in Kitimat. B.C. Oil and Gas Commission
But the Unist’ot’en territory is in the pipeline’s path. Community members are committed to resisting pipelines through their unceded lands.
They have turned back TransCanada’s contractors by reviving their own traditions of “free, prior and informed consent,” where the community has established a protocol controlling who accesses their territory. As a result, no pipeline work has yet been done on their lands.
TransCanada, the company behind the Coastal GasLink pipeline project, recently served an injunction and civil lawsuit to the members of the Unist’ot’en camp. The injunction is being heard in Prince Rupert, B.C. If granted, it will allow the the RCMP to arrest and remove everyone from the camp. A decision is expected on Friday.
The community says the Unist’ot’en camp is not a blockade, protest or demonstration. It protects against encroaching industrial developments and creates a space for the community to “heal from the violence of colonization.” TransCanada’s attempt to enter their territory by force is an extension of this colonial violence, the community says.
The Wet’sewet’en and the adjacent Gitxsan First Nations were plaintiffs in the ground-breaking Delgamuukw court case, heard by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1997. The ruling recognized that the Wet’suwet’en rights and title to 22,000 square kilometres of northern B.C. had never been extinguished.
In the lead-up to the 2015 federal election, Justin Trudeau promised a new nation-to-nation relationship and said his government would “fully adopt and work to implement” the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
“The rapid expansion of development projects on Indigenous lands without their consent is driving a global crisis. These attacks — whether physical or legal — are an attempt to silence Indigenous Peoples voicing their opposition to projects that threaten their livelihoods and cultures.”
Many say they will travel to the camp to defend the Unist’ot’en if need be. What’s clear from these pipeline politics is that First Nations are not backing down and have pledged to continue to resist extractive projects and colonial incursions into their territories. The Wedzin Kwah may be the next battleground for the global movement for climate and environmental justice.
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