SMITHERS – Tensions are high in northern British Columbia this summer after Stephen Harper’s government approved the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline project in June.
This pipeline would carry diluted bitumen from Alberta to the BC coast, greatly increasing the production capacity of the Athabasca Tar Sands. A wide range of indigenous and non-indigenous groups have called for the pipeline project to be scrapped entirely, despite the conditions placed on Enbridge following the federal approval of the pipeline. This pipeline (and others such as the proposed Keystone XL pipeline), many indigenous and environmental groups argue, would be “game over” for any chance at limiting the worst effects of human-induced global warming.
The proposed Northern Gateway pipeline route crosses the traditional unceded territories of several indigenous nations, whose traditional governments have all rejected the pipeline proposal. A clan of the Wet’suwet’en nation – the Unist’ot’en clan – has set up a resistance camp on their territory to keep any unwanted development off their lands. This resistance is occurring primarily through the decision-making channels of the traditional Wet’suwet’en legal system. As Freda Huson of the Unist’ot’en states: “The Provincial and Federal governments are illegal because they don’t have jurisdiction in our peoples territory. We have never signed any treaties, this land is unceded,”
Northern Gateway is not the only pipeline proposed for these lands – the Unist’ot’en Camp stands in the way of seven major proposed pipeline projects, the first of which (Chevron’s Pacific Trails Pipeline, which would carry fracked liquid natural gas to Kitimat, BC) is set to begin construction this summer. The Unist’ot’en are anticipating industrial preparations to begin at any time, which would require them to evict trespassers from their territory. Helicopters have already begun landing near the proposed pipeline route, which has put Unist’ot’en land defenders on high alert.
The recent Tshilqot’in Supreme Court decision – which recognized indigenous title and the need for free prior and informed consent more clearly than any past rulings – could be a major barrier to any construction attempts in Unist’ot’en territory. While the implications of that ruling are still being determined, the Unist’ot’en Camp is calling on supporters in other territories to take action against Chevron, Enbridge, and the federal government.
Solidarity groups have formed in several cities in anticipation of an illegal attack on Unist’ot’en territory. In Ontario, many supporters of the Unist’ot’en are also involved with local anti-pipeline organizing, particularly against Enbridge’s proposed Line 9 reversal which would carry diluted tar sands bitumen through many unceded territories.
Chevron’s plans to begin construction at any time after June 15 have many worried that the military tactics used by the RCMP at Elsipogtog, New Brunswick against indigenous anti-fracking land defenders in October could soon reappear in Unist’ot’en territory.
Shortly after the decision to approve Northern Gateway, two Mi’kmaq warriors were criminally convicted by a New Brunswick court for their involvement in the Elsipogtog defense.