Deep in the forest, surrounded by the rapid on-going destruction of ancient lands, there grows a powerful place of healing and decolonization. Despite what can often seem like a concerted effort to extinguish indigenous culture, the Unist’ot’en clan have built a place where anyone willing to refuse to destroy the land are welcome to join them in this healing. On the banks of the Wedzin Kwa, Wet’sewet’en people have reconnected with the land and with their ancient culture, and relationships have been built with peoples from other lands near and far.
“With the impacts of climate change and toxic dangers from industrial projects based on greed and selfishness we have always expressed our concern that this is not just a challenge that my people need to overcome but a challenge that faces all of humanity.” says Freda Huson, Spokesperson of the Unist’ot’en People.
Why is it that people who at are the forefront of a movement of peaceful healing and reconciliation should be concerned with being labeled and treated as terrorists? A large part of that answer lies in the fact that up to 13 oil and gas pipelines have been proposed to run through Unist’ot’en territory, pipelines that the Unist’ot’en firmly oppose.
“Our people have attempted for thousands upon thousands of years to live peacefully on our lands. We have met many adversaries throughout the millenia who have had other ideas of the future of our territories.” says Toghestiy, Hereditary Chief of the Likhts’amisyu. “We have protected our lands from all on comers and will continue to do so, secure in the knowledge that our unborn generation’s integrity is protected.”
The Canadian state has been drawing a tight perimeter around its oil and gas interests. In the past few years, despite growing public concern around climate change, it has been working to equate its financial stability, and by extension the safety and security of the people, with its ability to access and protect oil and gas reserves.
The Harper government’s new Anti-Terrorism Act, Bill C-51 grants Canadian security agencies increased power to spy on, harass and criminalize anyone that the state decides is a threat to security or the financial stability of the state. These new powers would grant CSIS the ability to ‘disrupt’ activities that threaten national security, a situation very vaguely defined within Canadian law.
Bill C-51, which the government and media insist targets violent Jihadism, conveniently puts into law practices that the state has long been employing to stifle the opposition towards their aggressive resource colonialism. More importantly, it draws attention to the possibility of these repressive state tactics being directed at anyone who supports resistance to state policy in any form, whether deed or word, creating a chilling effect on dissent. Within this proposed legislation, any ‘interference with critical infrastructure’ can be considered “activity that undermines the security of Canada”. Since the groundwork has been laid for the state to argue that oil and gas development is ‘critical infrastructure’, opposition to such development becomes, in the eyes of the state, a threat to national security.
It matters little that people like the Unist’ot’en have acted peacefully with peaceful intentions throughout the occupation of their lands. It has not stopped the RCMP from labeling them ‘violent extremists’ as demonstrated in a leaked report. Previous reports have revealed that residents of Unist’ot’en Camp have been the target of surveillance both within and outside the territory. It is not conjecture that Unist’ot’en Camp and other original people who stand in the way of rampant oil and gas development are being painted as potential terrorists. An ongoing campaign has been in place for many years to ratchet up fear against original peoples taking a stand on their territory, even though all acts of violence surrounding modern land occupations have been instigated by state security forces, from Oka to Elsipogtog. Violent repression of original peoples in order to colonize or obtain resources has been acceptable since first contact, but any violence resulting from self defense by original peoples has been criminalized heavily, to the point of being considered ‘extremism’ and ‘terrorism’.
So Bill C-51 did not happen overnight; we’ve seen it coming in the way that protests and occupations have been surveilled and responded to by state actors. What we are witnessing is a slowly dying paradigm of conquest and colonialism, which its defenders are clinging to desperately.
“Now is a defining time for our people. We will assume our roles and nurture a promise of peace and prosperity for many millennium to come,” says Toghestiy, Hereditary Chief of the Likhts’amisyu.
“We are healers and teachers who uphold our responsibilities with the hopes, guidance, and blessings of our Warrior ancestors,” says Freda Huson, Spokesperson of the Unist’ot’en People. “We are challenging a terrorist state bent on forcing their projects through our lands with lies and deceit. We will prevail because we are guided by prayers and ceremonies.”