This episode discusses the Unist’ot’en campaign to protect their land and preserve it for future generations. In 2010, the Unist’ot’en began constructing a cabin within their territory in the exact place where three companies, TC Energy, Enbridge, and Pacific Trails, intended to build pipelines. Their campaign has faced hostility and violence, including from the government of Canada, and its national police force, the RCMP. Most recently, TC Energy’s Coastal GasLink project was backed by the RCMP in an attempt to gain access to the Unist’ot’en camp. To the dismay of Coastal GasLink and Canada’s colonial government, the camp has also received immense support both locally and internationally, with solidarity blockades of Canada’s railroad threatening to shut Canada down.
Dr. Tait narrates her daily journey home on Highway 16, also known as the Highway of Tears. It received this name because of the numerous indigenous girls and women that have disappeared and supposedly been killed across the stretch of the road that leads from more populated areas to the territory of the Unist’ot’en. From the side of official authorities, there has been no attempt to resolve the cases. In fact, the Canadian police force is actively perpetrating violence against indigenous people and thus further increase the fear that Dr. Tait and other women experience travelling the 66 km road to their remote territory, knowing they could be stopped and abused at any time.
In the 1990s , the Canadian government recognised the legal jurisdiction of the Unist’ot’en over their territory, meaning they acknowledged the clans’ right to occupy and use the land. However, both the government and police pretend as if the law doesn’t exist. This disparity in Canadian laws is as old as Canada itself. To deal with the colonial trauma that indigenous peoples have had to deal with for generations, Dr. Tait set up a cabin to function as a Healing Centre that would help indigenous peoples cope with colonial trauma. This includes the disappearance and murder of thousands of indigenous women, as well as arrests of innocent people.
The situation is worsened by the construction of the Coastal GasLinks pipeline, planned to run directly through the Unist’ot’en territory. Following an interim injunction at the BC supreme court, the company received permission to access the territory for pre-construction work. This resulted in the establishment of a land camp, containing hundreds of workers that are further undermining the indigenous peoples’ security.
“It is worrying that industrial workers, who come freely and go freely from our territory without any kind of police checks, without any kind of accountability, without any connection to the land or the people in the area”
Nevertheless, the chiefs at first decided not to resist, hoping for a just verdict. However, the courts’ final verdict was that anyone attempting to interfere with CGLs’ work would be breaching injunction and thus subject to arrest. When the chiefs attempted to resist, basing their actions on Wetsueten law, the police violently enforced the courts’ decision and further marginalised the indigenous clan. The episode gives an insightful overview over the legal human rights abuses taking place in Canada. These should be seen in the bigger picture, as globally indigenous peoples are discriminated against the law and find themselves in powerless positions to challenge authorities.
Link for further information:
- Unist’ot’en website with recent updates – https://unistoten.camp/wetsuweten-hereditary-chiefs-meet-with-mohawks-of-tyendinaga-set-conditions-for-nation-to-nation-talks/
- Link between ‘men camps’ and violence against women – https://thenarwhal.ca/b-c-failed-to-consider-links-between-man-camps-violence-against-indigenous-women-wetsuweten-argue/
- Interview with another activist – https://www.democracynow.org/2020/2/13/wet_suwet_en_territory_pipeline_opposition
- On indigenous law – http://jfklaw.ca/making-space-for-indigenous-law/