The Unist’ot’en Camp Enters its 7th Year
By Sakura & Darius
Sixty five kilometres up a logging road near Houston, BC, just beyond a river from which you can drink directly, lies an unceded territory actively defended by its original people. To enter, you need to go through a Free, Prior, and Informed Consent protocol designed to keep people out who do not benefit the land and its people. Once inside, you find a flourishing off-grid community with gardens and large buildings for housing, food storage, cooking and healing, built by the land defenders and their allies.
Above: At Unist’ot’en taken by Micheal Toledano
The place is known as the Unist’ot’en camp, and since 2010 the camp has been building permanent infrastructure on the routes of several proposed pipelines to protect the land and assert the Unist’ot’en’s traditional Indigenous legal systems.
“Building infrastructure is our way of occupying our unceded territory,” explains Freda Huson, spokesperson for the Unist’ot’en Camp. “Occupation is the tactic the colonizer used on our people since contact. My dad always said our best ammunition against continued theft of our land is to occupy your territory.”
The camp has garnered international support and inspired other nations to use similar tactics to protect their territory against pipelines and a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plant.
In August of 2014, chiefs from the Luutkudziiwus house of the Gitxsan Nation permanently closed Madii Lii territory to pipeline development by erecting a gate and building a cabin to control access to the territory. One year later, members of the Gitwilgyots tribe started occupying Lax U’u’la (Lelu Island) to legally prevent and slow surveying, work, and construction of the Pacific Northwest LNG/liquified fracked methane project proposed near Port Edward, BC.
“We have seen the favorable results of occupation,” says Freda in reference to the tactic spreading across the region and emboldening a resurgence in Indigenous land defence and reclamation. However, the Unist’ot’en camp is about a lot more than simply stopping unwanted pipeline development.
“Our long-term goal for our Territory is to bring holistic healing to our nation,” Huson explains. “The residential schools and the removal of children from our nations and communities has been the government’s tactic for removing the Indian out of the child. Our healing centre will bring spiritual, cultural, and mental healing to our people.”
Below: The Unist’ot’en checkpoint at night. This is the place where the Free Prior and Informed Consent protocol is done before people can enter this protected territory
Though conflict still looms on the horizon with oil and gas corporations who refuse to respect Indigenous law, the work of healing has already begun. Indigenous people and their allies have been coming to the camp for seven years now, to heal the land and each other, and to build the necessary infrastructure for the large-scale plans of healing the nation. Currently, there is an all-season bunk house, a permaculture garden, a large kitchen and dining hall, and construction of a three-story healing lodge is ongoing. An online fundraising site has been launched to help fund this initiative on the fundrazr (www.fundrazr.com) platform entitled “Stop the pipelines! Heal the land! Heal the people!”
Although a combination of popular opposition, Indigenous refusal, and shifting market forces has led to many of the original seven pipeline proposals being defeated and withdrawn, some energy corporations are vowing to push their pipelines through Unist’ot’en Territory without consent in the near future.
Keep up-to-date with the Unist’ot’en Camp by following them on social media (Twitter and Facebook). Supporters are encouraged to raise funds for the camp through fundraising events, and most importantly educate those around them about the truth about fracking and destructive pipeline projects. Now more than ever we must support Indigenous nations reclaiming their territory, asserting their law and jurisdiction, and charting their own path towards healing and development.
Sakura & Darius
Sakura and Darius are environmental and social justice organizers based in Southern Ontario. They have been active in grassroots political movements for over a decade, and are long-time supporters of the Unist’ot’en Camp