In the past three months, a series of encounters with pipeline companies and law enforcement officials have occurred at checkpoints on logging roads that lead to the clan’s traditional territories. To access these roads, visitors are required to answer five questions posed by a clan representative: “Who are you?” “Where are you from?” “Do you work for industry or government that’s destroying our land?” “What skills do you bring?” and “How will your visit benefit the Unist’ot’en?” The protocol is inspired by the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and by the clan’s history of monitoring its territorial boundaries and enforcing trespass laws.
Though loggers, tree planters and a guide outfitter have been granted access to the territory since the clan instituted this protocol, pipeline contractors have been turned away. Throughout June, safety officers and TransCanada crew members, some wearing body cameras, repeatedly approached the boundary and asked camp supporters their names and if crews would be in danger if they entered the territory. Clan members believe that energy companies are gathering information to obtain a court injunction, which would oblige police to force the roads open in order to ensure that pipeline crews can work unimpeded.
On two occasions, helicopters carrying TransCanada crews were found entering the traditional territory without permission. The first crew was confronted by Unist’ot’en supporters and immediately complied when asked to leave. The second crew, escorted by an ex-military pilot and security staff, completed a day of work before volunteers grounded their helicopter by staging a sit-in beneath its rotor blades.
At the end of July, representatives of the Chevron-backed Pacific Trail Pipeline arrived at the Unist’ot’en boundary. “We’re here to talk to you about doing work on your land and are requesting access onto your territory,” said pipeline vice president Rod Maier.
“We’ve already written you letters saying that you guys don’t have our consent,” Freda Huson, a spokeswoman for the clan, replied. “We’re not letting the last stitch of our land be taken over so we can’t hunt, fish and trap or teach our young ones who they are and where they belong.”
Huson’s home, a cabin built five years ago in the path of Enbridge and Chevron’s projects, has transformed into a base of operations for the northwestern anti-pipeline movement. Pipeline maps sprawl across her living room table, two-way radios and scanners bleat updates from remote outposts throughout the territory, and quarters of bear meat are canned in her kitchen. Her front door swings open and shut as a steady stream of activists from across North America and beyond rush in and out to grab supplies.
Outside the cabin, a community thrives in the pipelines’ paths. A permaculture garden, a solar-powered electric grid, a bunkhouse, elders’ trailers, campgrounds, a root cellar, a traditional Wet’suwet’en pithouse and a two-story healing center with an industrial kitchen and counseling space have all been built with crowd-sourced funds and volunteer labor.