“My name is Eric Nordal. I’m from Victoria, B.C. on unceded Coast Salish Territories. I am here to support the Wet’suwet’en in their struggle to protect these lands from the development of both the Enbridge and Pacific Trails Pipeline.” With that introduction, a smile from Toghestiy and an invitation to cross the bridge into Unis’tot’en territory. It was 4 a.m. and the backdrop to this camp was an epic showing of northern lights.
The Unis’tot’en (the Big Frog Clan) and Lhe Lin Liyin (the Guardians) were host to this 3rd annual event. This year, a lot of attention has been brought to their struggle due to the media frenzy about the Enbridge Pipeline. Through the pratice of free, prior, and informed consent we turned away logging trucks that were clearing the path for the construction of the Pacific Trails Pipeline.
On the Action Camp website it states, “The Unis’tot’en and Lhe Lin Liyin, along with other strong uncompromising allies will stop this destructive path, for the future generations, for the biodiversity, and for solidarity with our neighbours living amidst the heavy impacts in the Tar Sands affected areas in northern Alberta, and regions heavily affected by fracking natural gas and shale oil, as well as communities impacted by refineries, pipelines, and fuel terminals and port expansions.”
I heard the call out for activists to join this camp only a month prior. There was little time to prepare the transportation, the food, and the fundraising for the caravan that came up from Victoria. Forest Action Network played a lead role in this event, and SocialCoast was keen to work with them and take on the transportation planning. Luckily, we managed to find an old school bus, get the proper licensing and insurance, fix the brakes, and were able to trail blaze the way. The bus trip took longer than expected, and perhaps the best description of the ride that I heard from the driver’s seat was “… somehow worse than the Greyhound.”
Despite the long days on the bus, driving through a record breaking 38 degrees Celsius one day, and getting lost on a logging road for 4 hours, spirits remained high. We were mostly strangers to one another on the trip up, but had time to connect during those long and stuffy days on the bus. With that said, we were all very happy to arrive at the camp.
Our first morning on Unis’tot’en territory we received a very warm welcoming that can barely be given justice through words. Toghestiy, Freida, Mel Bazil, and the elders led wonderful songs to the beat of traditional drums. Their culture and history, which has grown for thousands of years on the land where we were standing, was being taught to us through their performance. Facing the recent and ongoing occupation of their land, and the purposeful destruction of their people, it was an incredible honour to witness a culture that is being kept alive by a passionate and purposeful group.
We talked about what was to be expected for the rest of the week. There were a number of workshops planned, meals to be cooked, and construction of the camp to be finished. I wasn’t sure at this point if we would be operating a full on blockade or not, but was certainly ready to participate in any actions that were asked of us.
We also talked about the signal for an emergency on the bridge; that is, if someone was trying to get through. If we heard five honks from a car horn, that meant ‘drop what you’re doing, and meet at the bridge.”
The next morning I woke at sunrise to the sound of five honks from a car horn. I quickly put on my toughest looking plaid shirt and joined the rest of what had become a small army to the bridge crossing the Morice River into Unis’tot’en territory.
When I arrived, members of the Unis’tot’en clan were on their way across the bridge to meet the new visitor. As was the plan, those 160 or so of us visiting the camp were to be the backdrop at the other end of the bridge; to show a physical presence if needed.
The Wet’suwet’en stuck with their model of free, prior, and informed consent when they approached the visiting truck. They asked the usual questions: Who are you? What are you doing here? How will you be benefiting these people and this land? The driver of the truck did not answer correctly. With that, the truck backed up and turned around. As it turned out, the logging company was not only logging, but also clearing the path for the Pacific Trails Pipeline. They were allowed to return a day or two later; once they agreed they would log in different areas.
The week continued in anticipation of some unbelievable workshops. Led by some of the most engaged organizers I have ever come across (current and past members of organizations like the Ruckus Society, the Black Panthers, Deep Green Resistance, Vancouver Media Co-op, and the West Coast Warriors). These workshops and discussions played on throughout the week, and the diversity of backgrounds and teachings of the participants was unreal.
There were workshops on a variety of topics. Topics such as decolonization, race relations in Canada, independent media production, security culture, civil disobedience, strategies for community organizing, and tree climbing were all on the agenda. A performance by Testament in collaboration with the Wet’suwet’en drumming and singing group was epic.
The week was paired with generousity and hospitality that is evidently much more scarce within an environment based on consumerism and individuality.
On the third day, Toghestiy returned from a hunting trip with a moose, which we ate in almost every meal until the day we left. The land we were on, as it has done for thousands of years, also provided us with soapberry for dessert, smoked salmon, medicines, and clean water to drink straight out of the river.
The really amazing part of this trip was the perspective from the indigenous activists that is not ever heard within mainstream media or mainstream discussion. Their connection to the land and creation is something western culture is far from practicing. Their commitment to protecting the land is something that I feel the responsibility to support.
I was able to get a glimpse of beautiful and ancient traditions that have been a part of the Wet’suwet’en culture forever:
A culture whose understanding of God is much different than Abrahamic faiths; while Judaism, Christianity, and Islam worship a noun, which is God, in the Wet’suwet’en culture there is a great respect for Creation, as a verb. This changes the relationship between the physical and the spiritual world. Instead of seeking understanding of a God that is ‘eternalized’ in a biblical text, the Wet’suwet’en pay respect to the present, always changing, and always-alive Creation. Also understood as Great Mystery.
A culture that chose to live in a matriarchal society thousands of years before women got to vote in Canada. There were a number of clans within the Wet’suwet’en nation, and children were always born into their mother’s clan. In western culture, the family name of the man is traditionally kept after the marriage ceremony.
A culture that understands colonialism isn’t of the past, it is happening today. The Pacific Trails Pipeline is being pushed through and supported by many levels of government, capitalists, and corporations alike. It will cross miles of traditional territories, and directly where we drank from the river.
A culture whose Warriors use violence as a last resort. They admire strength not as a physical attribute but is instead measured by what you can offer to your community. They are fierce, disciplined, and compassionate in their fight to protect the land. It is led by a strong sense of place, rooted deep through history, a strong spiritual connection to the land, and adherence to a universal Natural Law.
The Wet’suwet’en have a song about war that is passed on as a lesson in history, the lyrics include the repeating phrase “Why did it have to come to this?”
As the song was being performed, I had the chance to look at the forest around me: it had been devastated by pine beetle, the result of shoddy forestry practices, climate change, and other anthropogenic forces. I looked at the ground beneath my feet and imagined the time when woodland caribou trampled through in the thousands. A hydro dam flooded their migratory route, they are now virtually extinct in this area.
I looked down to the river and imagined how it would look if all seven of the pipelines are built and what it would mean for the people who drink from the river, eat the salmon, and are spiritually and historically connected to the land. What it would mean for everyone. “Why did it have to come to this?” The words in that song began to have a deeper meaning for me. I wondered how this battle with the pipeline companies would turn out.
We pulled away from the camp in our old school bus, the camp dismantled, and we all headed home. There was a feeling of community, and a strong sense of solidarity that wasn’t there at the beginning of the trip. As we drove home, I was savouring the last bit of fresh river water that I filled up in my water bottle before we left. As we drove further south, and closer to urban areas, I realized I was less and less likely to find a source of water that wasn’t from a tap. It reaffirmed how precious our natural world is, the respect that it deserves to be given, and our collective responsibility to protect it.
The Wet’suwet’en Peoples lands are unceded, but occupied by the governments of BC and Canada.