Indigenous people warn of more conflict and confrontation as campaigns opposing proposed projects in their territories heat up.
During a recent conference against the expansion of oil and shale-gas operations in B.C., an elderly Native woman issued a bold call.
“It’s time to warrior up,” declared Ta’ah George of the Tsliel-Waututh Nation, drawing cheers from an overflow crowd at the Aboriginal Friendship Centre gym in East Vancouver on September 21.
One speaker on the indigenous-women panel left no doubt that her people are up to the challenge. Her name is Freda Huson, a spokesperson for the Unis’tot’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in Northern B.C. Huson explained why their struggle against a gas pipeline is connected to the more high-profile battle against the proposed Enbridge tarsands pipeline.
She was referring to the Pacific Trail Pipelines that will transport one billion cubic feet of gas per day from the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, sites at Summit Lake, B.C., to Kitimat. According to her, this pipeline will clear the route for Enbridge and other pipelines headed to the northwestern coast.
“It will make it easier for Enbridge and other companies to come through the route that they decided to go through,” Huson said.
She also related that in 2010, with the guide of a global positioning system, her people built a cabin on the direct path of the gas pipeline. This cabin remains in place. Pipeline construction is expected to begin in 2013, through 2014.
Outsiders, she said, will also need to receive “free, prior, and informed consent” before they can cross a bridge over the Morice River to enter Wet’suwet’en territory.
After the event, the Georgia Straight asked Huson how far she and her people will go. “We built the cabin right smack in the way, so that tells you that there will be no pipeline crossing our territory,” Huson answered firmly. “They did not get our consent.”
Asked if she sees the situation leading to something like the well-known standoffs involving First Nations people in Oka, Quebec, in 1990 and in Gustafsen Lake in the B.C. Interior in 1995, Huson replied: “Well, I’m moving into that cabin to make sure no pipeline will go through.” She added that she will be joined by others.
She said she isn’t fazed by the possibility that a court may issue an injunction order against them. “It’s Wet’suwet’en land, and we said we don’t believe in their law,” she said. “We have our own laws, and if they don’t listen to our laws, why should we listen to theirs?”
When asked how they would deal with the prospect of a violent confrontation, Huson replied: “We’ll do what we need to do.”
Clearing along the Pacific Trail Pipelines route was scheduled to begin this past summer. The 463-kilometre pipeline is expected to be operational by the winter of 2015. As far as the 1,170-kilometre Enbridge oil pipeline is concerned, final arguments for and against the project before a federal review panel will start in April 2013.
The Council of Canadians is organizing a B.C.-wide speaking tour in late October this year in connection with the Pacific Trail Pipelines, the Enbridge project, and the planned expansion by Texas-based Kinder Morgan of its Trans Mountain pipeline from Edmonton to Burnaby.
“The idea is to build solidarity between the different pipeline campaigns,” Council of Canadians organizer Harjap Grewal told the Straight by phone.
Apache Canada Ltd., which holds the biggest share in the consortium building the Pacific Trail Pipelines, would not grant an interview.
On September 24, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, told the Straight by phone that he expects more conflict because of “unresolved aboriginal land interests colliding with the ambitions of business and industry with respect to large-scale resource-development projects”.
Asked if he anticipates another Oka or Gustafsen, Phillip responded: “When you consider that the B.C. treaty process just acknowledged their 20th anniversary last week and sadly acknowledged that the Government of Canada and the Province of British Columbia have not followed through on the commitments they made 20 years ago, and when you consider also the B.C. Court of Appeal brought down a very racist decision with respect to the Tsilhqot’in [Nation] case, whereupon they described the Tsilhqot’in people as seminomadic, my point is when we can no longer rely on the honour of the Crown through political negotiations or rely on the courts to protect and defend our aboriginal title and rights, we’ll be forced to do that directly ourselves.”
“That’s the long answer,” Phillip added. “The short answer is yes.”
Freda Huson of Northern B.C.’s Wet’suwet’en First Nation is moving into a cabin her people built on the direct path of the Pacific Trail Pipelines. Source: Carlito Pablo