Tomorrow (Nov. 27) – one week after hereditary leaders of the Wet’suwet’en nation, in northern B.C., evicted Apache company-hired surveyors from their traditional territories – allies across Canada and the U.S. are holding protests in solidarity with the pipeline blockade.
The contractors were working on the right-of-way for the planned Pacific Trails Pipeline (PTP), a proposed 463 km natural gas pipeline linking Summit Lake in north-east B.C. with Kitimat on the west coast, to export gas to Asian markets. A full list of planned actions can be found here.
The Left Coast Post's David P. Ball talked to Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Toghestiy, in an interview to be broadcast also on the Media Mornings show (Nov. 27) on Vancouver Co-op Radio.
DAVID P. BALL: First, could you tell me a little bit about how the blockade started, and what's happening now?
TOGHESTIY: The blockade started on [November] 20. It was afternoon, about 4:30 or almost 5 o'clock. One of our supporters was down at the river and he saw a vehicle coming up the road and stopped it [...]. When the vehicle showed up, our supporter asked who they were. They said they were surveyors from PTP. He told them to wait there, came over and got us, and we got ourselves ready to go to the road; but just as we got to the road, there was a vehicle coming from the opposite direction out of the territory that had been surveying up there [...]. We intercepted them, and let them know that they were trespassing on Unis'tot'en territory. I'm married into the Unis'tot'en, and I invoked a traditional right that I have. It's the traditional right called Bi Kyi Wa’at’en – the right of the husband to use respectfully and to protect his wife's territory.
DB: This is the eagle feather that you presented? Could you talk about the significance of that, please?
T: When somebody trespasses into Wet'suwet'en territory, without asking permission, without proper protocol or anything, they're handed an eagle feather. It's the only warning that they're going to get. It's a very serious matter. People don't come back after an eagle feather is handed over, unless they ask permission and unless they actually go through protocol. The eagle feather was handed over to them because they were trespassing.
DB: What is your biggest concern with the Pacific Trails Pipeline?
T: Our biggest concern with the Pacific Trails Pipeline is that they'll continue to think that it's going to happen. We know it's not going to happen; we've drawn that conclusion a long time ago. We're just trying to remind them, because they seem to think that their hearing's bad, and they can go on with business as usual – [but] we're stopping them.
DB: So you've got a camp set up on the road?
T: If the Pacific Trails Pipeline decides to push their agenda, along with the federal government and provincial government, to try to force this pipeline through our lands, they're going to continue to meet us and we're going to keep resisting them. If they decide to escalate it, we'll have to do the same. It's something that we don't want to do, but if they're not willing to sit down and have meaningful consultation with our hereditary chiefs, and with the Wet'suwet'en people, then they're going to be meeting a lot of resistance up here. This is one of the reasons why we're here.
The Delgamuukw court case of 1997 specifically states that Aboriginal people have rights and responsibilities that are unceded – specifically to the Gitxsan or Wet'suwet'en people. It was our hereditary people who went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada for this. The company continues to ignore the hereditary people. Instead of dealing with the hereditary people, they decided to deal with the Indian Act governments – the people elected into positions that are dependent on federal dollars – to come into the community. These councils don't have any rights outside of the reservations.
We're here to make sure that the company can't continue to try to pass off this stand-off, to shrug it off and say they've got 15 of 16 First Nations supporting their project; we know that's wrong, because those people they're trying to consult are Indian Act bands, and Indian Act tribal councils. They don't have any jurisdiction off of the reservations, it's the hereditary owners of these lands that do. That's why we're here.
DB: What kind of support are you looking for from outside of your nation?
T: We actually have a lot of support. It's amazing. The support we're getting comes from Trinidad, people from New York that are organizing from the [Occupy Wall Street] group, we have people in Toronto, Ottawa, Regina, Edmonton, Vancouver, Victoria, the town of Smithers, the town of Kamloops, Prince George – people from all over, and all walks of life, are doing something in solidarity with us to make sure the investors and the banks and industry and governments understand that the only people who have rights to make decisions on our lands are us [...].
DB: How deep does this go into the economy of Canada? This is obviously a company that's traded in Canada and owned here. How linked is this to the other struggles against pipelines and resource extraction elsewhere?
T: It's very linked. [With] oil and gas extraction, there's a lot of money being thrown at it by investors from all over, because everyone is really hoping to get rich while the price is right. And they're going at it with such a feverish pace that they're just ignoring Aboriginal people. The Aboriginal people are sitting here. And we're the last defenders of the land. If there's any other line of defence, there's none more strong than the Indigenous people who occupy and continue to occupy our lands. You know, we're out here protecting the lands not just for ourselves, but for all people.
DB: Could you describe the camp that's happening right now? What does it look like? What's the mood there like? What do you spend your time on?
T: Right now, we're doing a lot of media work because of the call to action. There's a lot of work we're doing – a lot of us spend time on the computers, sending emails out to people, getting a social media engine going, and making sure that the momentum keeps up. Because in order for us to win this battle, we're going to need the support of everybody. Just sitting here at the computer and talking to you is a good example of what it is we're doing up here. Also, once in while, we hop on our snowmobiles and do some trips around the territory, to check up on it. There's one way into the territory, and we're spending a lot of time making sure people aren't doing that.
We went out and visited some friends yesterday from the Bear Clan, the Gitdumden, of the Wet'suwet'en nation. It's another clan within the Wet'suwet'en nation of hereditary people, and they have a cabin that they're building. So we went out and did some work, and helped them, yesterday. But on our way out, we encountered more surveyors on their territories. So the Gitdumden people intercepted the workers and gave them the trespass notice telling them that they can't be coming back to the territory, because they didn't get any permission from the territory owners.
We're quite active. The cabin's constructed right on the line of the proposed right-of-way, so there's no way around us. We're sitting here. We do a lot of work around the cabin – there's construction going on on a deck; we're closing it in, so we'll have a larger living space. There's firewood, shovelling, and basically taking care of the place around here, making sure things are taken care of so we can have a good, comfortable stay here.
DB: Are you fairly remote in the woods there? It sounds like there's snow and you're kind of out in the wilderness there?
T: Yeah, we're quite remote. It's 66 km south of Houston on Forest Service roads. The road is blocked from the 44 km mark, on the Maurice Service Road. We also have a vehicle parked in the way. The only way in from there is by snowmobile, and the snow's actually getting quite deep.
DB: It's quite amazing that you have satellite internet out there as well, to do your social media networking as well!
DB: If you could give a message to people across Canada organizing these actions, what would it be?
T: Stand strong. Stay with us. Don't assume that this is going to be the one act that's going to end it all. We're going to be in this for the long run. There's probably going to be a lot more call-outs in the future. And if things escalate, we ask other people to join us in the escalation, because we're not the only ones fighting this. Everybody else should be fighting for it as well, because it's all of our futures.