Since time immemorial, the Unist’ot’en house of the Wet’suwet’en have lived by Wedzin Kwah (Morice River), fishing, hunting, trapping, and practicing ceremony. The Wet’suwet’en people have also governed themselves by their own system of governance for centuries, and under their governance, each house is responsible for its own lands. The Wet’suwet’en governance system and Indigenous economy survive today, despite continued efforts of the Canadian state to destroy it.
In order to protect their ability to continue living on the land and from the land, for the last five years, the Unist’ot’en have maintained a camp by Wedzin Kwah that is blocking 7 oil pipelines that do not have Unist’ot’en consent to use their land. In this effort the Unist’ot’en are joined by many supporters and allies whom they have invited to their land.
On July 17, the situation on Unist’ot’en land escalated.
Out of the blue, RCMP officers visited and provoked a confrontation with the Unist’ot’en and their supporters, bringing an implicit threat of violence to come. Chevron, which has recently set up a base camp in nearby Houston, BC, began helicopter flyovers over the territory along their desired pipeline route. On July 23, representatives of Chevron, bearing offerings of Nestle bottled water, arrived requesting permission to work on the territory and were refused.
In response to these developments, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs expressed the fears of many: “We’re in the middle of an election and we’re dealing with a very dangerous government…I’m really concerned that the Harper government is desperate enough to deliberately provoke a conflict, a fight, with us over these issues…I know that the RCMP have been asking a lot of questions about Unist’ot’en.”
Today the Unist’ot’en face the possibility that the full violence of the Canadian state may be brought to bear against them, for the sake of a US oil company’s pipeline that most BC residents don’t even support. We have seen too many times before how companies use injunctions to recruit police violence to their side, while the constitutionally guaranteed rights of Indigenous Peoples are trampled under foot, adding to the centuries of injustice they have already endured in Canada.
The Unist’ot’en have called for the support of other Indigenous Peoples and non-Native peoples alike. We answer that call and demand that Canada and Chevron respect the constitutionally guaranteed Indigenous rights of the Unist’ot’en and abjure the use of police violence to force through an unpopular pipeline that does not have the consent of the Indigenous title holders. We call on all Indigenous Peoples and Canadians of conscience to provide political, financial and material support to the Unist’ot’en, and to spread the word about their situation. Further, we commit to an organized response in the event of police violence against the Unist’ot’en.
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