Protecting and Growing Unist’ot’en: An Interview with Freda Huson
Interview with Freda Huson by Annie Banks
Freda Huson: I’m the Unist’ot’en spokesperson appointed by our hereditary chiefs. Toghestiy and I have been living on our land in a cabin on the GPS route of numerous proposed pipelines for the past 6 years. We moved out here because we couldn’t protect the territory from proposed pipelines while living on the reservation, which is two hours away. Industry kept coming in without our consent so we felt we could better protect the land if we moved onto it. My dad said the strongest ammunition against the province or anyone else trying to take over your lands is to occupy them. Settlers have occupied our territories and turned them into municipalities and agricultural lands. So we made a decision to occupy our lands and start growing communities out here so we can protect our lands from any incursions from industry. (Excerpted from INM Stream Webinar, Dec. 17, 2015)
In late December 2015, Annie Banks caught up with Freda Huson at the Unist’ot’en Camp.
A.B.: Can you give an update on the [Unist’ot’en Camp] from the summer?
F.H.: Well, Chevron shut down its office at the end of the summer. They said they were only going to spend $500,000 but they think it will take more than that to do a project up here. Things are unusually quiet now because they’re not able to do any of the work they’re planning to do in winter. So I imagine that in May-June things might start to pick up with those companies. Pacific Trails Pipeline and Chevron might have already gotten their studies done, but Coastal Gaslink didn’t. They are the ones we’re fighting, battling right now, who are being ruthless, using the police to get in.
A.B.: Where do you think the camp stands now in its fight?
F.H.: I don’t think it’s over yet. I truthfully believe the government, industry, they’re up to something because if the industries aren’t so great right now why are they still pursuing? I think they are after the water. BC is one of the main, prime provinces in Canada that still has all its water intact so my belief is that these pipelines are more targeted for water than they are for oil and gas. I have a feeling that’s what they’re up to.
A.B.: How do you see the movement of decolonizing happening – or not – in the struggle?
F.H.: I see decolonizing happening in the movement because a lot of people that have been coming to our action camp are learning more about decolonization and how it is going to be necessary for people to decolonize in order to slow down the effects of industry, pollution. We are educated by the system to be colonized and to buy into consumerism, which is what is destroying the planet. Standing on the frontlines and doing all this work is not going to mean anything if you’re not doing anything to reduce consumption.
A.B.: What are some of the shifts that you see in the local community and also in the broader community?
F.H.: One shift I’ve seen is that because of the fear of Bill C-51 a lot of people were supporting anonymously; more people are stepping up but they don’t want to do it publicly. Also, more Indigenous people have been coming out for visits; the chiefs came out this summer showing their support. That was really encouraging, to have people come in from nearby communities and to see the other Indigenous communities building cabins. There are more people getting educated and wanting to step up and help, so that’s really encouraging. Even though the mainstream media is trying to say it’s just a small group, saying it’s just my family, but in reality it isn’t.
A.B.: Was there anything in particular that caused some of those shifts?
F.H.: I think the main turning point was when we did those videos when the police did what they did. They publicly were trying to be aggressors and trying to provoke us to respond and we didn’t, so when people saw that we weren’t this militant group like what everybody is portraying us as, because I was peaceful and calm, we seemed to garner more support.
A.B.: Where do you get all your strength to keep going, through all of it?
F.H.: I think I get most of my strength through prayers. I feel the ancestors out there, and the little babies that I know I’m doing this for. It’s also encouraging having all kinds of people encouraging you with their words. Even all this financial support makes it a lot easier because in this day and age, you can’t do anything without funds. Everyone, from making kindling to cooking in the kitchen to checking traps, all are big contributors to what’s making what we’re doing successful; we couldn’t do it standing by ourselves. No matter what supports people think they’re giving, big or small, everyone’s a part of this revolution that’s happening.