Web Exclusive: On-The-Ground Report from Unis'to'ten

Susan Holvenstot

WS Web Exclusive Mar. 22, 2016

Mar 5 – Shannon and I took the noon bus to Port Hardy, then spent 22 hours on the ferry to Prince Rupert, stopping at Bella Bella, and Klemtu/Kitasoo Xai Xais (Haw Haws) at 1 am and 5 am. Many people spread sleeping bags on the thickly carpeted floor. We arrived at 4 pm, and stayed at the Pioneer Hostel in Prince Rupert. The next morning we had a short taxi ride with our two heavy totes of food contributions to the bus depot in a heavy downpour. Six hours later we arrived in Houston after three days of travel.

Ever since Campbell River, there were more First Nations people than settlers (the politically correct term for non-indigenous people) on the public transportation, ferry workers, and everyone was way more casual and friendly. The ferry, Northern Adventure, was smudged and blessed in 2007 by the Bella Bella people on its launch. It was very clear how much these mid-coast nations rely on the ferries. One Kitasoo Xai Xais man, a worker at a Marine Harvest fish farm, said he goes south to Port Hardy every second weekend – a 8 hour trip each way – to “grocery up.”

The taxi driver in Prince Rupert says most people don’t want the LNG plant proposed for Lelu Island nearby. When the plant was first mentioned 6 months ago, people started fixing up their houses and businesses (good for construction workers) and raised their rents (bad for everyone else).

Mar 11 –  Shannon and I have been here at the Unis’to’ten Camp for 5 days. Someone from the camp met us at the Houston bus depot in the camp pick-up truck ‘Grandpa.’ They delivered two young supporters who were leaving and picked us up, for the hour and half drive on gravel roads. While it was warm, wet, and mostly snow free in Houston, as we climbed it got snowier, and the roads were icy, until at camp there was about two feet of snow.

We crossed the Wedzin Kwah (Morice River), and were formally asked the access protocol questions – who we are, where we are from, our relationship to indigenous solidarity struggles, if we have ever worked for companies extracting resources from this land, and what we had to offer.

The wood-heated bunkhouse where we stay can sleep up to 24. The main kitchen and gathering place is the Healing Centre, again with sleeping space upstairs for many more as needed. It is protocol not to discuss how many people are at camp, and to use only code names on the phone or public communications. For instance, one is a 58 year old woman from Ontario doing a regular weekly radio show and Earthworm is a young man who has been here for 6 months. My other name is Cayenne.

There is solar power and a diesel generator for backup, such that we can pretty much freely use electricity for lights, music systems, freezers, and yes, coffee grinders and blenders. The camp is very well organized; lots of extra gear, clothes, tools, kitchen stuff, and food – all well labelled and dated – and little signs everywhere reminding people of the whats and wheres. One sign says “If you want to stop pipelines, you must put the lids on.”

There are several large whiteboards with daily schedules, meal and dish volunteer rosters, a place for special dietary requirements, shopping lists, and tasks to be done. One of the usual tasks NOT being done right now is 24 hour bridge duty. That’s when someone (or two at night) monitors the locked gate, and screens every vehicle wanting to enter. Because some Unis’to’ten clan members are part of a short term logging operation, the gate is unlocked, and the loggers have free access.

We have not yet met Freda, the Unis’to’ten spokesperson, so eloquent on the YouTube videos I’ve seen, or her partner Toghestiy, a hereditary chief, who are out on other business. But we have quickly found a place for ourselves chopping wood, hauling water from the river, cooking, and in Shan’s and my case, doing a “deep cleaning” of the large storeroom, where mice had left their little calling cards. There is an abundance of canned local berries, jams, fruit, salmon, bear, and moose.

Mar 14 – After almost a week, Freda and Toghestiy, our hosts, came back late one evening. We didn’t see much of them the next day, but at dinner we had a lively discussion about Unis’to’ten politics, and the various pipeline proposals. The guidelines offered to camp supporters emphasizes that this land is unceded, and that we, as non-Indigenous persons, should think of it as a separate country, with somewhat different rules/laws and culture.

As I understand, the Wit’suwit’en Nation is comprised of several clans, the Unis’to’ten being one, each with their own territory. Freda Huson, 51, is the spokesperson for this camp and action. She consults with her Unis’to’ten elders and chief, who sometimes hold a range of opinions of different issues. She is calm, clear, and passionate. Please watch the several YouTube pieces of her telling the pipeline workers that they do not have consent to enter the territory. She is also a lot of fun, and we talked about her children, and some funny camp happenings. She is off again in a few days for a speaking engagement in Winnipeg.

I’ll tell you about walking a trapline on snowshoes, the wild game we are eating, and the permaculture garden next time. Check out the website wildcoast.ca/camp. To listen to the radio podcasts, go to cfrc.ca, check archives, and pick any 2016 Monday, 6 pm broadcast.

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Susan ~ From the Spirit, the Heart, and the Forest

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