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WET'SUWET'EN YINTAH—Despite losing most of their homelands and resources primarily to the effects of colonial dispossession, agriculturalism, deforestation and mining activities, the Wet'suwet'en continue to resist the illegitimate imposition of federal and provincial government jurisdiction. The Wet'suwet'en view the federal and provincial governments as illegitimate regulatory systems. By imposing very small Indian Act reservations at the turn of the 20th century, the federal government has deliberately sought to disempower the once impenetrable territories of these fiercely independent peoples.
This situation is changing.
Frustrated by the sedated response of the Office of the Wet'suwet'en to a recent Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline proposal, a grassroots Wet'suwet'en group has moved to resurrect and implement their ancient laws and the necessary vehicles for enforcing their laws. In 2008, the newly resurrected Wet'suwet'en Warrior Society, known as the Lhe Lin Liyin, began to hold meetings and camps with members of their Wet'suwet'en communities. The proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway project involves construction of a 1,170 kilometre-long dual oil and condensate pipelines through Wet'suwet'en territories from the Alberta tar sands to Kitimat, BC. Other companies such as Kinder Morgan, the Pembina Pipeline Group, and Pacific Northern Gas are also interested in using this same corridor.
For many Wet'suwet'en people, nothing seemed to be happening to protect their lands from these threats to their livelihoods. In late 2009, the Unist'ot'en Clan of the Wet'suwet'en took a brave step and made a bold statement to the outside world, separating from the central tribal organization because they felt their interests were not being protected; rathe, they felt they were being undermined by their own elitist leadership and tribal office staff. The Unist'ot'en territories make up approximately two thirds of the 22,000 square kilometres of the entire Wet'suwet'en land base.
A statement made by Enbridge CEO Pat Daniels on January 22, 2011, characterized the First Nations resistance to the proposed pipeline as “hurdles” for the project. Lhe Lin Liyin co-founder Mel Bazil bravely stepped forward to say that “We are not merely a hurdle for the Enbridge Northern Gateway project, we are an impenetrable wall which is fortified by the same fighting spirits of our warrior ancestors who also refused to allow trespassers onto our sacred lands.”
Unist'ot'en spokesperson Freda Huson addressed all industrial impacts on their once pristine territories in a sobering statement. “Our territories have been decimated from industry. We will tolerate it no longer. We will do what it takes to protect it."
This fight for jurisdiction and Indigenous rights is far from its end. The Lhe Lin Liyin and Unist'ot'en are gearing up for a new season of resistance—resistance which will make their ancestors and unborn generations proud.
Toghestiy Wet’suwet’en is hereditary chief of the Fireweed Clan of the Wet’suwet’en Nation.
This article was published in A People's Forecast: The Climate Justice Issue, our 2011 special issue. To read more articles as they are published, click here.
The Dominion is a monthly paper published by an incipient network of independent journalists in Canada. It aims to provide accurate, critical coverage that is accountable to its readers and the subjects it tackles. Taking its name from Canada's official status as both a colony and a colonial force, the Dominion examines politics, culture and daily life with a view to understanding the exercise of power.