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Activist Communique: Unist’ot’en action against oil pipelines receives North American support

On November 27, 2012, Rising Tide – Toronto in their home city joined in with twelve other cities across Canada and the U.S. for a national day of emergency actions in support of the Unist'ot'en of Northern B.C.  

The Toronto group of 20 individuals visited the Toronto headquarters of the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) and Jarislowsky Fraser Limited (JFL) today to present the companies with letters of warning written by the Wet’suwet’en Nation of British Columbia.

This letter was a warning of trespass to those corporations associated with the Pacific Trails Pipeline (PTP) industrial extraction project and against any affiliates and contractors infringing upon traditional Wet'suwet'en territory. The letter is signed by Freda Huson, a spokesperson for the Unist'ot'en, a clan of the Wet'suwet'en nation.

In this case, the Pacific Trails Pipeline (PTP) is a pipeline proposal for a 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. This would travel through First Nation traditional, and unceeded land.

The cease and dissist letter in question reads, "Under Wet'suwet'en law, the people of these lands have an inalienable right to their traditional territories, and the right to defend it… "Even by Canadian law, the Supreme Court Dalgamuukw case decision explicitly recognizes the authority of hereditary chiefs, not elected Indian Act bands or councils. As such, any further unauthorized incursion into traditional Wet'suwet'en territory will be considered an act of colonialism, and an act of aggression towards our sovereignty."

At the Toronto demo, Sakura Saunders from Rising Tide Toronto was quick to note to business men and women who passed by the rally deep in the financial heart of Canada that, "[RBC and JFL] need to note that by investing in these pipelines they are violating the self-determination of Indigenous nations. "It is an act of colonization and they have no right to do so.”

“It's a bad investment," she added, “because [the pipeline] is not going to happen. There are very determined people that are going to ensure that it's not going to happen."

According to a Rising Tide Toronto press release, and the reason the rally began at the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) in downtown Toronto, was that “RBC finances the companies responsible for these projects, despite adopting principles in 2010 stating they would not fund projects that did not have Free, Prior and Informed Consent of the impacted communities. Clearly the Unist’ot’en have said no to all pipelines, so we are demanding a cease and desist of funding to Enbridge, EnCana and all companies supporting these projects.”

According to an interview done in B.C. by the Left Coast Post's by host David P. Ball and Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chief Toghestiy, the common refrain is, “We're stopping them ... There's no way around us” 

Firmly, this First Nation will stand in the way of any pipeline construction across their territory, bolstered by support from allies across Canada.

When asked what kind of support was needed during the interview by Ball, Hereditary Chief Toghestiy stated, “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 [...].”

This new trouble started for the extraction corporations on Wet’suwet’en territory a week ago when Apache surveyors were discovered working on traditional land for the Pacific Trails Pipeline (PTP). These PTP workers were evicted from Wet'suwet'en territory by Hereditary Chief Toghestiy.

The surveyors were issued an eagle feather, which in Wet'suwet'en law is used as a first and only notice of trespass.

Hereditary Chief Toghestiy said in a press release, “"Unist'ot'en and grassroots Wet'suwet'en have consistently stated that they will not allow such a pipeline to pass through their territory. The federal and provincial governments, as well as Indian Act tribal councils and bands, have no right or jurisdiction to approve development on Unist'ot'en lands."

A blockade of protection has since been enforced since November 20, 2012.

As Chief Chief Toghestiy described the situation, “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.”

The blockade has become part of the larger support camp established called the Unist'ot'en Camp.

According to the internal description, “The Unist'ot'en Camp is a resistance community whose purpose is to protect sovereign Wet'suwet'en territory from several proposed pipelines from the Tar Sands Gigaproject and shale gas from Hydraulic Fracturing Projects in the Peace River Region.

The camp is located at the shore of the Wedzin Kwah and mouth of the Gosnell Creek. These are all tributary to the Skeena, Bulkley, and Babine Rivers. The proposed pipelines from Enbridge Northern Gateway and Pacific Trails both seek to cross the rivers at the exact point where the resistance camp is built on the Unis’tot’en Territory of Talbits Kwah.”

Citing the Delgamuukw court case of 1997, Hereditary Chief Toghestiy stated it, “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.”

When the Apache surveyors were confronted on November 21, 2012, and presented an Eagle Feather as a traditional trespass notice to leave their territory, this brought to a halt work on the territory as the surveyors were turned back.

According to a statement from the Unis'tot'en Camp that day, “The Unis’tot’en (aka C’ilhts’ekhyu) and Grassroots Wet’suwet’en reject Apache’s claim to have support from a majority of indigenous groups along the pipeline route. Freda Huson states, “Apache’s claim that they have support from fifteen out of sixteen First Nation groups is extremely misleading. They are following the government’s direction to not deal with Hereditary Chiefs who are the legitimate title holders of these lands. Instead they are attempting to deal with Indian Act governments who have no jurisdiction off of their Indian Reservations. The Supreme Court of Canada’s Delgamuukw decision explicitly shows that they are breaking their own laws.”

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