Unist'ot'en Camp

Healing the Land, Healing the People

Dave Ages

Photo courtesy of Virginia Monk

It’s July 2016. The Unist’ot’en Camp is buzzing with the energy of about a dozen indigenous young people – there to attend the first Unist’ot’en Youth Camp. Over the period of more than a week, they participate in a dizzying array of activities. They make beautiful bent wood boxes. They study Wet’suwet’en language and participate in a moose hunt. They work on the construction of the Healing Lodge. They pick berries and learn traditional dances. They study modern skills such as cartooning and videography. And, most importantly, with the guidance of Healing Lodge Director Karla Tait, they address issues of indigenous pride, strength, responsibility and respect.

The Unist’ot’en Camp

The Unist’ot’en Camp has stood for over eight years as a bastion of indigenous sovereignty and opposition to unwanted industrial development. The camp is situated at the entrance to the Unist’ot’en Yintah (Territory) on the banks of the Wedzin Kwah (Morris River) about 66 kilometers southwest of Houston, BC. To enter the Territory one must cross the bridge at the camp – and no one crosses that bridge without the consent of the Unist’ot’en Clan.

The camp has become a thriving community with a permaculture garden, several small greenhouses, a secure all season bunkhouse and a traditional pit house – all set squarely on the routes of one or more pipelines. The camp is powered by a solar array and is abundantly supplied with pure water from the Morris River.

The Unist’ot’en Healing Lodge has become the centre of camp life. The lodge is only about two thirds built, but already has a functioning commercial kitchen, dining hall, cob oven, and meeting rooms. When complete, it will include counselling rooms, offices, accommodation for over 20 people and much more.

Camp Life

Any time you are at the camp you see people going about their daily chores. Meals are taken communally and are always preceded by a prayer or appreciation – each one unique to the presenter. Hunters bring in fresh meat. Firewood is chopped and gardens are tended. In winter, the trap lines are maintained and paths are kept clear of snow. But always the camp is on alert for potential incursions by pipeline companies and their governmental collaborators.

Notwithstanding the deadly serious reason for the camp’s existence, it remains a joyous place. In November, Jack Garton and the Demon Squadron, a Vancouver/Galiano Island roots band were able to spend a couple days in camp during a tour of northern BC and Alberta. After helping prepare a feast of freshly butchered moose, the band members broke out their instruments and kept the packed dining hall jumping until well into the night.

The Current Situation

Fracked gas, with a life-cycle carbon footprint almost as large as tar sands bitumen, is bad enough. But, even worse, the contracts being signed by these companies permit conversion to transport of diluted bitumen after only five years.

Recently the federal government ended the Northern Gateway pipedream. As a result, much of the focus of west coast activists has turned to Kinder Morgan. There’s no question that Kinder Morgan is an extremely important issue and must be stopped. But the threat from pipelines in Northern BC is far from over – there remain numerous proposals for fossil fuel pipelines to Douglas Channel corridor. In particular, Pacific Trails (Chevron) and Coastal Gas Link (TransCanada) are pushing ahead with their fracked gas projects, urged on by the election-bound BC government.

Fracked gas, with a life-cycle carbon footprint almost as large as tar sands bitumen, is bad enough. But, even worse, the contracts being signed by these companies permit conversion to transport of diluted bitumen after only five years. As is well known, bitumen, besides being a climate change nightmare, is impossible to clean up in a marine spill context.

The Unist’ot’en Declaration

In the summer of 2015 the Unist’ot’en issued a declaration of their sovereignty. Here’s an excerpt:

“The Unist’ot’en settlement camp is not a protest or a demonstration. Our clan is occupying and using our traditional territory as it has for centuries. Our free, prior, and informed consent protocol is in place at the entrance of our territory as an expression of our jurisdiction and our inherent right to both give and refuse consent and entry into our territory.

“Wet’suwet’en territory, including Unist’ot’en territory, is unceded, unsurrendered and untreatied. Our traditional Indigenous legal systems remain intact and continue to govern our people and our lands. We recognize the authority of these systems. It is with this inherent authority we have issued this declaration …

“The Unist’ot’en settlement is a peaceful expression of our connection to Unist’ot’en territory. It is also an expression of the continuing and unbroken chain of use and occupation of our territory by our clan. Flowing from this continuous use and occupation, our traditional structures of governance retain complete jurisdiction in our territory and further, dictate the proper use and access to our lands and waters. As our ancestors have done, we are prepared to ensure the peace and security of our territory and peoples.”

Unist’ot’en Chiefs on Tour in March

The Unist’ot’en Clan has a continuing commitment to building solidarity with other indigenous peoples and with all those committed to protecting the earth. In March, representatives of the Clan including several Chiefs as well as camp spokesperson Freda Huson will be on the “Stop the Pipelines; Start the Music” tour in the following communities:

March 11 – Vancouver
March 12 – Fraser Valley
March 13 – Bellingham
March 15 – Galiano Island
March 16 – Victoria
March 17 – Nanaimo

More info about the tour see the event page on facebook, or Google search “Stop the Pipelines Start the Music 2017.”

For more information about the Unist’ot’en Camp, see: unistoten.camp

Dave Ages is a retiree on Galiano Island. He has worked with the Unist’ot’en Clan for about four years.

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