Wet’suwet’en First Nation group warns Enbridge: "You're going to be walking out"
A chain has gone up across a bridge over the Morice River near Smithers, B.C.
In a telephone interview, Freda Huson told the Straight that the barrier was erected in response to the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s June 17 conditional approval of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline.
In a video posted on YouTube shortly after that decision was announced, Huson, a spokesperson for the Unist'ot’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, describes how her group plans to respond if Enbridge attempts to begin pipeline construction through the area.
“They can go ahead and try and put their project through here,” Husan states in the video. “They will be considered trespassers. And we'll enforce Wet'suet'en law against any trespassers. You bring any equipment on here, it's going to belong to us. You're going to be walking out.”
Speaking to the Straight, Huson explained that the route proposed for Northern Gateway traverses territory that belongs to the Wet’suwet’en. She described that land as never sold, ceded, surrendered, signed away in a treaty, or lost in war.
“They don’t have any jurisdiction over our territory,” Huson repeated. “So they have a duty to consult, they did consult, and our people said ‘No’.”
The bridge Huson mentioned serves as the lone road into a small settlement called the Unist'ot’en camp that her people began constructing in 2010. Its location was strategically selected using a global positioning system to obstruct the path planned for the Pacific Trail natural gas pipeline. The settlement has since been expanded in opposition to the Northern Gateway pipeline, which would follow a similar route across the province.
Originally a lone cabin, there’s now a pit house, permaculture garden, and a bunk house with beds for 20 people. “We’re planning on developing a community there and living there permanently,” Huson said.
She noted that traffic over the bridge has been controlled for some time with a vehicle blocking the passage of people deemed unwelcome in the territory.
“Most people, they have to go through a series of protocol questions,” Huson said. “Who are you? Where are you from? How long do you plan to stay? Do you work for an industry or government that is destroying our lands? And how will your visit benefit my people?”
Northern Gateway is planned to carry 525,000 barrels of diluted bitumen and 193,000 barrels of condensate per day between the Alberta tar sands (also known as oil sands) and Kitimat, British Columbia.
The Wet'suwet'en is one of nearly 30 B.C. First Nations and tribal councils that signed their names to a June 17 announcement declaring they would mount a court challenge against the Northern Gateway project.
“We unequivocally reject the Harper Government’s decision to approve the Enbridge Northern Gateway tanker and pipelines project and First Nations will immediately go to court to vigorously pursue all lawful means to stop the Enbridge project,” that statement reads. “This project, and the federal process to approve it, violated our rights and our laws. We are uniting to defend our lands and waters of our respective territories. Our rights and laws compel us to act.”
According to an Enbridge website discussing Northern Gateway's “benefits” for First Nations, the company has so-far held more than 2,000 meetings and 43 open houses with First Nations groups. It’s also stated there that aboriginal communities located along the pipeline’s proposed route “will have access to existing stewardship and habitat protection initiatives”.
Husan is scheduled to speak in Vancouver in support of the Unist'ot'en camp on June 27 at the Astorino's Ballroom. “We’ll be talking about our camp, what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” Husan said. “A lot of people have been providing support and this is our way of giving them a report on what their funds are covering.”