The Unist’ot’en Clan of Wet’suwet’en is standing firm after TransCanada’s Coastal GasLink received the green light to start construction of their pipeline.
Located south of Houston, their territory has become known as the Unitst’ot’en camp, which has received the support of environmentalists who also oppose pipeline development.
“Our position is still the same,” Unist’ot’en camp spokesperson Freda Huson told Houston Today last week. “We’re not going to negotiate anything; that’s never what it was all about.”
“It’s our way of life out here,” she continued. “Their project will impact the water that we drink, our medicine, our berries, and the track that they want to clear-cut will impact the moose.”
“My hereditary chiefs have said no, and our answer is still no.”
The Office of the Wet’suwet’en, which represents the hereditary chiefs, recently sent out a release re-affirming their opposition to the pipeline project.
“The territory – the Yin’tah, the land, the air, the water – that all belongs to the Wet’suwet’en people. We’ve never ceded nor surrendered nor signed a treaty to give away any of that authority to anybody,” stated head chief of the Tsayu Clan Dinï ze’ Na’Moks (John Ridsdale) in the release. “If there are decisions to be made on our land, it is our decision and nobody else’s.”
The 1997 Delgamuukw-Gisday’wa Supreme Court of Canada case recognized the hereditary chiefs system. The Supreme Court also ruled that “free prior and informed consent” must be sought from title holders.
Huson said she counts on the support of environmentalists from all over the world to help protect their land.
“Our support system is still there; we have people from all over the world watching what our government and industry is doing,” she said. “A lot of people said they would come to support us if it came down to it… if they try to bulldoze their way through, even though they don’t have consent.”
According to Coastal GasLink, the company has and will continue to engage and work toward a mutually-agreeable resolution with parties that engage with them.
“We are focused on working collaboratively with the government of British Columbia and the leaders of the Wet’suwet’en people to resolve this issue,” said Terry Cunha, a spokesperson for Coastal GasLink.
Meanwhile the First Nations LNG Alliance of B.C., a collective of First Nations who are supportive of LNG development, says the Coastal GasLink pipeline means “big and long-term benefits” for First Nations.
“It means jobs and training and education and it means opportunities for First Nations businesses,” said the alliance’s CEO, Karen Ogen-Toews, former chief of the Wet’suwet’en Nation. “And in the longer term it means lifetime careers, and steady, reliable, sources of revenue for First Nations and communities.”
With a positive final investment decision for the Kitimat-based liquefied natural gas facility announced earlier this month, Coastal GasLink aims to begin construction of their 670-km pipeline from the Dawson Creek area to the west coast of B.C. in early 2019.