Over the last several months, the Unist’ot’en Camp in Northern British Columbia has been very much at the center of the news here in Canada. As Alleen Brown and Amber Bracken describe it in a recent (and excellent) piece for The Intercept, the camp “for a decade has stood in the way of fossil fuel pipeline construction through the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s unceded territory in British Columbia.”
Their article continues:
Unist’ot’en, which has grown [from a single cabin built by Freda Huson in 2010] to include a bunkhouse, a traditional pit house, traplines, and a three-story healing center, is associated with one of 13 houses that make up the Wet’suwet’en Nation. The camp is the oldest and most remote of a series of Wet’suwet’en camps established along an old logging road as an assertion of the nation’s right to decide what happens on their territory. Until this month, members controlled access to the area with gates constructed in the middle of the road.
Brown and Bracken go on to explain that, in spite of the camp’s presence, “TC Energy, formerly known as TransCanada, has forged ahead with the Coastal GasLink project…[and] obtained an initial injunction to force Unist’ot’en members to get out of the way of construction in December 2018.” They pithily break down what has happened since then:
Royal Canadian Mounted Police commanders claimed “lethal overwatch” was required, according to documents revealed by The Guardian, and instructed officers to “use as much violence toward the gate as you want.” After the RCMP arrested more than a dozen pipeline opponents that January, a strained peace was established. Police maintained a presence in the area, spending more than $3 million to establish a station halfway up the logging road to the camps. Unist’ot’en members negotiated access for pipeline workers as long as they followed an agreed-upon protocol, but TC Energy claimed the checkpoints continued to slow their work.
In the latest court order, the judge argued that the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s title claims and jurisdiction remained unresolved. In response, pipeline opponents abandoned the access agreement, and the hereditary chiefs demanded that Coastal GasLink vacate the territory immediately.
On February 6, Unist’ot’en members watched on social media as the RCMP mounted a dramatic raid before dawn on a smaller support camp down the road, arresting six people. But rather than serving to quell the resistance, the arrests inspired a wave of solidarity protests and transportation blockades across Canada. Protesters shut down ports, roads, and railways from Vancouver to Saskatchewan, and a blockade set up by Indigenous-led protesters from the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory in Ontario halted commuter rail traffic between Montreal and Toronto.
As Brown and Bracken detail in their article — and you’ve probably heard — there have been further police actions at the Unist’ot’en Camp since early February, as well as further protest response across Canada and beyond.
One such response comes from the amazing first-year students in the MFA Documentary Media program at Ryerson University, whom I have the privilege of teaching this semester. They have composed a powerful statement expressing “solidarity with the Hereditary Chiefs representing the clans of the Wet’suwet’en Nation,” and “[condemning] any action interfering with their right to defend their unceded lands.” I am proud to join several faculty members in signing on to it with them.