“We’re not willing to sit down at any table with them because our firm answer is no,” said Freda Huson, Unist’ot’en camp leader. “An official letter with the clan’s letter heading and the chief’s signature will go to the company and mention that they were evicted off our territory and that they’re not permitted back, and that if they come back it’s trespass.”
The crew was found in a section of Unist’ot’en land where several fracked gas and tar sands pipelines had been planned without tribal consent, and were evicted peacefully. The TransCanada Coastal GasLink pipeline crew were conducting preliminary work for a project to carry gas from Northeastern British Columbia to the West Coast.
The Unist’ot’en community is functioning as a watchdog for the land, ensuring that Unist’ot’en law is enforced. Unist’ot’en land has only one entry point, which includes a bridge that displays the words “NO PIPELINES.”
Anyone entering Unist’ot’en land is expected to answer questions about their stay and how it will benefit the Unist’ot’en.
The TransCanada crew flew in by helicopter over the bridge and landed without permission in a low mountain valley. According to Unist’ot’en representatives, the helicopter flew over the bridge several times and should have been able to read the sign.
Huson spoke of the action and the Unist’ot’en camp in an interview recently with Vice News’ Michael Toledano, saying that she encouraged people to come and see the land they were protecting for themselves.
“The number one thing when people take away from here is they drink water, fresh from the river, still got the minerals intact, and it’s still pure compared to what they get out of the tap back home,” Huson said, speaking of the Widzin Kwah river, the last river within Unist’ot’ten land from which it is safe to drink. “And they see everything around—the animals, the beauty, the mountains, and all the plants.
“They see all that and see what it is that we’re protecting here and see that we’re human, we’re not militant as the media would try to portray us, but we’re actually human like everybody else. We got educated, we got jobs, walked away from jobs because we felt it was important to try and protect the remaining lands that we still have left, which is a very small amount.”
There’s probably ten percent that’s pristine like this area here, and we’re trying to hang onto that ten percent for our future generations,” said Huson, referring to the extensive British Columbia mining and logging industry.
“This place has been in the hands of the Unist’ot’en people for thousands of years. They’ve managed it,” said Freda’s husband, hereditary chief of a neighboring clan, Toghestiy. “Governments and corporations moved in, forced us onto reservations, and came out and mismanaged it. Now the Unist’ot’en are back out here and they’re going to manage it again. They’re going to manage it properly.”
A TransCanada representative said of the eviction, “While we believed we had permission to do this work, our crew decided to safely leave the area after being confronted by people wearing masks.”
Huson was firm on the Unist’ot’en stance.
“No means no, and we have the final jurisdiction on our own territory,” said Huson. “This is not Crown land, this does not belong to Indian bands… this is my peoples’ territory and we never gave up our decision making power to anybody. Tell them to produce their papers, or anything, that say we gave them the power to decide for us. Our governing system is our hereditary chiefs system and its members.”
By Day Blakely Donaldson