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The Unist'otʼen camp is a resistance camp built on unceded territory of the Unist'otʼen clan of the Wetʼsuwetʼen First Nation peoples in northern British Columbia, (BC) Canada. It is located at the point where several planned energy pipelines will pass, as a means to block the crossing of Wetʼsuwetʼen territory by pipeline-related industries.
Located 1,200 kilometres (750 mi) by road from Vancouver, BC and about 130 km from the town of Smithers, it is on the shores of the Wedzin Kwah (or Morice River) and the mouth of Gosnell Creek. These are both tributaries of the Skeena, Bulkley, and Babine rivers. Members of the Unisʼtotʼen clan, First Nations peoples, and other supporters staff the camp.
Some 20 kilometres (12 mi) east of the Camp, the Wetʼsuwetʼen have built the Wetʼsuwetʼen Checkpoint on the Morice West Forest Service Road. At this point, visitors must have prior consent to enter the territory and the Wetʼsuwetʼen have barred construction workers and equipment. In 2019, the Coastal GasLink Pipeline went to court to enforce the permission granted by the Wetʼsuwetʼen and other First Nations band councils to build in the area. A court decision in 2020 granted an injunction against the Unisʼtotʼen clan and its supporters. In February 2020, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) entered the area to enforce the injunction. The intrusion of the RCMP and arrests of protestors has led to protests across Canada supporting the Wetʼsuwetʼen.
The camp was set up in 2010 by hereditary chiefs of the Wetʼsuwetʼen First Nation, who opposed several elected Wet'suwet'en band councils which signed agreements to build the pipeline. At the exact points where pipelines were intended to cross the Unistʼotʼen Territory of Talbits Kwah, a traditional pithouse and permaculture garden were built. The camp also includes several small greenhouses and a secure all-season bunkhouse.
The Camp was constructed as a means to block the development of numerous pipelines and other projects deemed harmful to the land. These include pipelines from Enbridge, the Pacific Trails Pipeline (Chevron), as well as seven proposed pipelines from the Alberta Oil Sands and LNG from the Horn River Basin Projects in the Peace River Region.
"The Unistʼotʼen settlement camp is not a protest or a demonstration. Our clan is occupying and using our traditional territory as it has for centuries. Our free, prior, and informed consent protocol is in place at the entrance of our territory as an expression of our jurisdiction and our inherent right to both give and refuse consent and entry into our territory."
The camp is the site of activities related to healing and learning. Construction of a healing centre began in 2015. The healing centre welcomes people to reconnect with the land, learn cultural practices, and recover from health issues such as substance abuse, using traditional Indigenous methods. According to the traditional beliefs of the Wetʼsuwetʼen people, healing can come from being connected to the land and that the impacts of colonialism, including living away from traditional territories, are harmful. A youth camp provides opportunities for young people to learn and practice their culture.
Indigenous sovereignty and title
Underlying issues of the protest include indigenous sovereignty and aboriginal title. The Wetʼsuwetʼen system of governance pre-dates the formation of the country of Canada, and members of the Wetʼsuwetʼen people have never signed a treaty with the Canadian government. For many Indigenous peoples in Canada, the recognition of traditional title to land is of vital importance. The Canadian government's continued support for extraction industries over the recognition of Indigenous sovereignty and adhesion to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), of which Canada is a signatory, is a major friction point in some segments of contemporary Canadian society with an interest in the topic.
Unist'otʼen checkpoint conflict
Several kilometres east of the camp, the Wetʼsuwetʼen set up a checkpoint on the Morice River Forest Services Road, controlling access to the area. The area was blocked to the pipeline project.
In 2018, TC Energy was granted an injunction to remove the checkpoint and grant access to the pipeline project construction. In 2019, the RCMP attempted to enforce the court injunction and allow workers from the Coastal GasLink pipeline project temporary access to the area. 14 people were arrested on 8 January 2019 by the RCMP at the checkpoint. Later in 2019, the RCMP withdrew when discussion and negotiations began again.
Supporters of the blockade consider the action taken at the Unisʼtotʼen checkpoint and the lack of consultation with hereditary chiefs to be violations of the United Nations' Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). Many Indigenous peoples have written and discussed the ways this action will impact the Canadian government's efforts to implement the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, with many notable Indigenous peoples such as broadcaster Jesse Wente, speaking at rallies and protests.
In December 2019, the injunction was re-instated. Another round of discussions ended without the pipeline proponents convincing the hereditary chiefs and their supporters to withdraw. The RCMP returned to the area in 2020 and arrests began again as the RCMP cleared the Morice Forest Service Road. Supporters of the blockade remained in residences along the road, including the camp. The arrests sparked widespread protests in BC and across Canada in support of the Wet'suwet'en.
Solidarity statements supporting the preservation of the Unist'otʼen camp have been issued by organizations and institutions such as: OCAD University, the British Columbia Teachers' Federation, Ryerson University School of Social Work.
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- "Statement of Solidarity Unist'ot'en Camp and the Wet'suwet'en Nation | OCADFA". Retrieved 2020-02-15.
- "BCTF > Solidarity Statement in support of Unist'ot'en Camp and the Wet'suwet'en Nation". www.bctf.ca. Retrieved 2020-02-15.
- Members of Ryerson University School of Social Work. "Solidarity Statement in Support of Wet'suwet'en Jurisdiction and Governance" (PDF).
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