Northern B.C.'s First Nations people to stand firm against pipelines

Indigenous people warn of more conflict and confrontation as campaigns opposing proposed projects in their territories heat up.

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      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.”



      bored in Ontario

      Sep 27, 2012 at 10:41am

      I'm not surprised this issue keeps popping up. Until recently I didn't know the Natives there in BC signed no treaties or "ceded" nothing.

      They're "controlled" only through the Indian Act which when you look at it is sort of like the original apartheid, anything can be made to look right of "just" through it. Now I'm starting to think BC stands more for "British Colonialism" instead of "British Columbia."

      Instead of signing their title to the land away they should try to break away and make their own country like Quebec wants to.

      Joseph Jones

      Sep 27, 2012 at 8:44pm

      In so few words Carlito Pablo captures the energy and mood of what may in retrospect come to be seen as an historic moment of gathering. The diversity across that very large crowded room was overwhelming. With increased understanding, the base of support for Indigenous peoples, who have been historically – and continuously into the present – abused and disrespected by colonialist power structures, can only continue to broaden. The 1% who seek nothing beyond packing even more into their already bulging pockets as fast as possible are up against an Indigenous culture that looks backward and forward for generations, a culture that cares about all children who will have to live their way into a future that can suffer no more short-term compromises with unsustainable voracity.


      Sep 28, 2012 at 4:54am

      It is scary to be fighting the large corporations, foreign interests and Harpers government. You are not alone in the fight.

      Peter L

      Sep 28, 2012 at 11:35am

      For the first time in my life, I am thinking of being really active in the fight against the pipelines. Yes, I am late to the party but "big oil" needs to be phased out of our lives...greed and destruction of our planet seems to be their only goal.

      Loba moon

      Sep 28, 2012 at 10:11pm

      Hang in their, we all know how brave you are!

      brian .

      Sep 30, 2012 at 9:10am

      you aren't late to the party, you are right on time! let's stop the enbridge and Pacific Trails pipelines.


      Oct 16, 2012 at 2:11pm


      What: Unis’tot’en Solidarity Bloc

      Where: Defend our Coast rally, BC Legislative Buildings, Victoria, BC

      When: Saturday October 22nd, 2012 11am

      Dear Friends and Allies,

      While we gather in Victoria to engage in a symbolic act of civil
      disobedience, the Unis’tot’en will continue their direct resistance as they stand in the way of the proposed pipeline corridor. The most immediate threat to their safety is the proposed Pacific Trails pipeline, which intends to carry shale gas from the fracking fields in Northeastern BC to Kitimat for overseas export via LNG tankers. If successful, Pacific
      Trails would clear a right-of-way path for Enbridge Northern Gateway which wants to follow the same route.

      On the day of the Oct 22nd Defend Our Coast and civil disobedience action in Victoria, CASGW is calling for an Unis’tot’en Solidarity Bloc to be present as support and also to invite participants to make stopping Pacific Trails a priority as well as the more
      publicized Enbridge and Kinder Morgan pipeline projects.

      For the past three years, the Unis’tot’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en people have maintained a cabin on their
      traditional territory directly in the path of the proposed pipeline corridor through Northern, BC. Asserting their right to Free Prior and Informed Consent as indigenous people, the Unis’ tot’en have made the decision to not allow any fossil fuel pipelines through their territory in order to protect the waters and the land for future generations.

      As community allies, we feel we are strongest when we stand together. That means recognizing the links between individual struggles. As we stand to Defend the Coast, we also stand in solidarity with impacted communities all the way along the proposed pipeline route. No community should be left
      behind simply because their cause cannot be fitted into a convenient NGO framework.

      As we work to stop the expansion of Tar Sands infrastructure into BC, the ultimate goal must always remain shutting down the Tar Sands themselves. To that end we must recognize and support the work of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and their historic constitutional challenge against Shell

      No to Tankers! No To All Pipelines Threatening Indigenous Lands! No Fracking! No Tar Sands!

      For more information:

      About CASGW:

      At the third annual Unis’tot’en Action Camp this summer, community allies from all over BC and beyond converged for a week of training, workshops, and discussions. From discussions between the Unis’tot’en and allies who wanted to make a long-term commitment to solidarity work with the community, Community Allies Supporting Grassroots Wet’suwet’en was formed.