Activism Environment

Unist’ot’en Camp Opposes Tar Sands Oil Pipelines Through First Nations Land

Unist'ot'en Camp, flickr
Written by Ethan M. Long

A report released by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in July found that the demand for oil in the global market will begin to fade in 2016, according to CNBC. However, this prediction has done nothing to stop a battle is being fought in proposed encroachments on indigenous territory located within the Canadian province of British Columbia. There the Unist’ot’en people are fighting to protect their traditional lands from proposed pipelines that the Canadian government is backing, according to the Vancouver Observer.

The Unist’ot’en people have lived on their traditional lands in Western Canada for centuries, watching over the pristine region they call home.

“The Unist’ot’en (C’ihlts’ehkhyu / Big Frog Clan) are the original Wet’suwet’enYintah Wewat Zenli distinct to the lands of the Wet’suwet’en,” according to their website. “The Unist’ot’en are known as the toughest of the Wet’suwet’en as their territories were not only abundant, but the terrain was known to be very treacherous.”

The Unist’ot’en have, over time, refused to agree to oil companies such as Chevron, Shell, and TransCanada from building pipelines through the area. They have set up checkpoints in which they only allow passage through a vetting and consent process.

On August 6, they declared that “Exercising our unbroken, unextinguished and unceded right to govern and occupy these lands, the Unist’ot’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en Nation have enacted the Unist’ot’en Declaration as official statement and law governing Unist’ot’en territory.”

“Now enacted as law through the inherent jurisdiction of the Unist’ot’en Clan,” the statement reads, “all activities, development and actions undertaken by government or industry within Unist’ot’en territory must be consistent with the terms of this declaration.” They cite that it is in “response to increasing encroachment onto Unist’ot’en territory by the Crown and associated industry and RCMP.”

On June 18, Bill C-51, known as the Anti-terrorism Act, 2015, became law.

Described as a comprehensive reform act which would update the way the country handles counter-terrorism intelligence, it received much criticism by environmental groups and human rights advocates who worried that it would stifle fracking and pipeline protests, even in cases of indigenous opposition.

In March, Amnesty International said that C-51 would give the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) “powers that are based on a broad definition of ‘threats to the security of Canada’ that exceeds the current definition of terrorism in Canada criminal law.”

“Demonstrating without an official permit or protesting despite a court order, activities that are commonly carried out by Indigenous communities, environmental groups, the labour movement and many others, could be targeted by the new CSIS powers, even though they are fully protected under the Charter of Rights and international law,” the press release said.

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GreenPeace announced that they obtained a strategy report from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police from January 2014 which includes its “key findings” as:

“The Canadian petroleum industry is requesting government approval to construct many large petroleum projects which, if approved, will be situated across the country;
There is a growing, highly organized and well-financed, anti Canadian petroleum movement, that consists of peaceful activists, militants and violent extremists, who are opposed to society’s reliance on fossil fuels;
The anti-petroleum movement is focused on challenging the energy and environmental policies that promote the development of Canada’s vast petroleum resources;
Governments and petroleum companies are being encouraged, and increasingly threatened, by violent extremists to cease all actions which the extremists believe, contributes to greenhouse gas emissions;
…
“Violent anti-petroleum extremists will continue to engage in criminal activity to promote their anti-petroleum ideology;
These extremists pose a realistic criminal threat to Canada’s petroleum industry, its workers and assets, and to first responders.”

While the report mentions that there are peaceful activists who protest against the petroleum industry in Canada, the main focus is on how to deal with “violent extremists,” which C-51 covers.

It becomes very obvious after reading that Canada is banking on the petroleum industry the petroleum industry is something Canada seems to be banking on, and that anything that detracts from them using their natural landscape as a huge gas station is seen as a threat to national security. Even if the detractors’ national security was threatened in the past by those currently in power.

“Natural resource exploration and development projects – most notably on disputed aboriginal land – have historically been a contentious issue within many aboriginal communities,” the report says, before calling out indigenous protestors as perceived threats.

“Due to the environmental and land use implications, some factions of the anti-petroleum movement, most notably in New Brunswick, Ontario, and British Columbia, have aligned themselves with violent aboriginal extremists. In general, members of this aboriginal extremist faction do not have support within their own communities, where traditional protest activity is often restricted to non-violent types of actions such as site blockades.”

The report says that “The development of Canada’s natural resources is amongst the primary concerns within many aboriginal communities,” and that, “Natural resource exploration and development projects — most notably on disputed land – have historically been a contentious issue within aboriginal extremist groups, and are often the catalyst for aboriginal/industry/law enforcement confrontation.”

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The report actually mentions popular environmental activist organizations by name, while calling into question the validity of climate change.

“Non-governmental environmental groups such as; Greenpeace, Tides Canada, and Sierra Club Canada, to name a few, assert climate change is now the most serious global environmental threat, and that climate change is a direct consequence of elevated anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions which, the believe, are directly linked to the continued use of fossil-fuels.”

It was reported by Smithers Interior News on Friday that TransCanada workers were denied entry into the Wet’suwet’en lands to work on the Coastal GasLink Pipeline Project, just one of many projects the area has been threatened by.

The article states that TransCanada is figuring out alternate routes to access the land that they believe they have rights to, and that they let the RCMP know that this was happening.

That same day, the Vancouver Observer reported that RCMP officers have “booked up hotel rooms” near the Unist’ot’en camp, and that Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs thinks that there’s an imminent operation against the protesters.

According to the Observer, the RCMP haven’t confirmed or denied the raid, but a media relations officer did say that “Discussions between [the] industry and Wet’suwet’en are still possible.” But what happens when the talks don’t go the way the industry wants? What happens if they continue to prohibit the pipelines from going through the land that they believe they rightfully maintain?

“Why is the Senior Command of the RCMP so hell bent on deliberately provoking a conflict between themselves and the Indigenous Peoples of British Columbia?” asked Grand Chief Phillip to ThinkPol.

On Tuesday, Wet’suwet’en First Nation issued a press release criticizing the Unist’ot’en activists, saying that they don’t speak for the nation and that their protests fail “to represent the complexity of the issues.”

“We have long believed it is short sighted to turn down projects such as the Coastal GasLink project before understanding the true risks and benefits; that is just an easy way to avoid dealing with complex issues,” said Wet’suwet’en First Nation Chief Karen Ogen, continuing, “Our Nations support responsible resource development as a way to bring First Nations out of poverty and bring opportunities for our young people.”

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The Unist’ot’en people and their supporters on the ground have been harassed and watched closely in the past couple of months while they attempt to create a blockade, keeping the industry out.

A video posted on subMedia.tv’s Vimeo page shows an encounter with an RCMP officer on July 15 attempting to enter through a checkpoint, but were denied repeatedly.

“Do you understand that this is unceded territory?” one activist asks the officer.

“That’s what’s claimed,” the officer responded. “It’s not appropriate for him to stand in front of the police,” he says to the Unist’ot’en Spokeswoman Freda Huson.

According to the video, RCMP officers then went to another checkpoint threatening arrest, but the activists there built a barbed-wire gate.

“The RCMP recently visited the Unist’ot’en camp, and the RCMP and federal government have continuously targeted the Unist’ot’en camp for surveillance,” read a letter of support was posted online last Thursday, signed by over 100 organizations and hundreds of citizens.

“The definition of sustainability for some of the groups who signed the petition and live in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, elsewhere in Canada and outside the country, is very different from what it means for Nations in northern British Columbia that are anxious to climb out of poverty and find meaningful opportunity,”  said Skin Tynee Naion Chief Rene Skin of Wet’suwet’en First Nation. “This issue needs to be resolved by the Wet’suwet’en people, and not by others who hold no interest in our land.”

“We are deeply and gravely concerned to learn from a variety of sources that the RCMP appear to be on the verge of executing a highly provocative and dangerously reckless operational plan to make arrests, the letter of support said. “The Unist’ot’en are a remote community in northwestern B.C that authorities may mistakenly assume has minimal support. We are local, national and international organizations monitoring these developments closely and we affirm that the Unist’ot’en are not alone.”

“We are urging all Wet’suwet’en leaders – First Nation and Hereditary Chiefs – to meet as soon as possible to discuss a path forward. We as leaders are responsible for the collective well being of Wet’suwet’en people. We have an obligation to work together in our collective interest to represent our people,” said Nee Tahi Buhn Chief Ray Morris in the Wet’suwet’en First Nation statement.

Source: Vancouver Observer, Interior News, ABC 13

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Ethan M. Long

Ethan Long is a journalist based out of Boston, MA.

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Unist’ot’en Camp Opposes Tar Sands Oil Pipelines Through First Nations Land

by Ethan M. Long
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