Report Back from Unist'hot'en Gathering, Wet'suwet'en Territory
From August 12-15, 2011, members of the Unist’hot’en clan of the Wet'suwet'en nation hosted their second gathering to oppose industrial threats in their traditional territory. Specifically, they are opposed to two major pipelines that will cut through their territory, the Pacific Trails Pipeline and Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline system.
According to the Wet'suwet'en organizers of the camp, these pipelines threaten their way of life by endangering land and water along the proposed route, which roughly parallels Highway 16. In Wet'suwet'en territory, the pipelines are proposed to be built directly alongside the Morice River (Wedzin Kwah in Wet'suwet'en). The river remains pure and pristine, despite extensive logging in the region.
The Unist'hot'en Camp is located some 66 kilometres south of Houston and alongside the Morice River. Over the previous year, a large log cabin has been built at the site in the route of the proposed pipelines. At this year's gathering, a “No Pipelines” banner was placed in trees near the entrance and wire fencing constructed. A previous cabin built at another site was burned to the ground last year, and the Wet'suwet'en are taking measures to increase their security at the camp.
Approximately thirty people attended the gathering, ranging from independent journalists & film makers to hardcore anarchists from East Vancouver. Discussions were held in the cabin and around camp fires, focusing on organizing strategies to mobilize grassroots opposition to the Pacific Trails Pipeline. The Wet'suwet'en also conducted a traditional welcoming of guests, shared songs and stories, as well as food from their territory.
Who Are the Wet'suwet'en?
The Wet'suwet'en are closely related to the Dakelh, or Carrier, and were once referred to as the Western Carrier. There are four main communities of the Wet'suwet'en: Burns Lake, Palling, Hagwilget, and Moricetown. The current population of the Wet'suwet'en is approximately 3,000.
According to Mel Bazil, a Gitxsan/Wet'suwet'en man who helped organized the gathering:
The Wet'suwet'en have five clans, Tsayu (Beaver Clan), C'Iltsehkhyu (Unist'hot'en Night Hawk and Big Frog Clan), Lihksilyu (Caribour and Small Frog), Lihkts'amisyu (Fireweed and Killerwhale Clan), and Gitimt'en (Bear Clan). We were known to the settlers as the Western Carrier, but prior to contact we knew ourselves as Yinka Dini. The eastern Nuutseni's called us Wet'suwet'en.
Oil and Gas Stolen from Native Land
Like most of BC, Wet'suwet'en traditional lands remain unceded Indigenous territory, over which BC and the federal government lack jurisdiction. Having failed to legally extinguish Aboriginal title, BC today constitutes an illegal state entity occupying sovereign Indigenous territories, in violation of Canadian and international law. As is the case historically, however, the real imposition of colonial control is achieved through force, and for nearly 150 years state-sanctioned resource exploitation and settlement has occurred on Native land.
As early as the 1880s, Natives in BC began protesting this blatant theft of land. By 1927, the Indian Act was amended to outlaw land claims organizing. During the 1960s and 1970s, Indigenous peoples throughout North America began to mobilize to defend their lands. Along with direct actions carried out by grassroots radicals, band councils began litigation in the courts to change laws and policies (i.e., the Nisga'a land claim).
In 1987, the Gitxsan and Wet'suwet'en launched their joint land title court case known as Delgamuukw (a hereditary title). The case was accompanied by rallies and civil disobedience-style blockades, most often carried out by the band councils (the Office of the Wet'suwet'en was formed during this court case, essentially a tribal council).
After appealing to the Supreme Court of Canada, the Delgamuukw case was concluded in December 1997. The court recognized the prior existence of Aboriginal title but that it must now be accommodated with the assertion of British sovereignty. Negotiations were encouraged to resolve this difference. Nearly 15 years after the Delgamuukw decision, however, there has been a rapid expansion into the most remote Indigenous territories by corporations in search of new resources to extract.
Along with mining, the oil and gas industry has seen record-breaking growth. In 2008-09, the industry contributed some $2.3 billion to the provincial revenue. In 2010, there were some 20,400 oil wells in the province. This growth has been stimulated by increased demand from US and Asian markets. In 2011, PetroChina invested $5.4 billion in Encana to secure supplies of natural gas. In order to transport all this oil and gas from northeastern BC and northern Alberta, several major pipelines are now planned, many of which cross through Wet'suwet'en and other Indigenous nations territories.
No Go for NGOs
Noticeably absent from this year's Unist'hot'en gathering were delegates from environmentalist Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). One reason for their absence may be that, unlike the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, which will transport Tar Sands bitumen, the Pacific Trails Pipeline is intended to carry natural gas from the Prince George area to Kitimat (some 463 kilometres).
The Enbridge line, which has seen significant opposition from Indigenous peoples, environmentalists and NGOs, would comprise two pipelines running some 1170 kilometres, from northern Alberta to ports in Kitimat. These would cross two mountain passes and 733 rivers, creeks and streams, carrying up to 525,000 barrels of bitumen each day from Alberta to Kitimat. There, it would be shipped out of the long arm of Douglas Channel by supertankers bound for Asian markets. The estimated cost is some $5.5 billion. Its link to the tar sands has made it the target of NGOs, whose single issue focus remains Enbridge. According to some critics, this is the because their funders—some of whom are funded by oil corporations—dictate their campaigns.
“There are four pipeline companies proposing to infiltrate our territories, they are: Pacific Trails Pipelines, Enbridge's Northern Gateway Pipeline, Pembina, and Kinder Morgan," said Bazil. "The latter three propose to construct two pipelines each totaling all four companies proposed impacts at seven pipelines," explained Bazil.
“Pembina and Kinder Morgan have enjoyed clandestine proposal and a lack of resistance to their pipeline construction proposals, as has the Pacific Trails Pipeline. It appears that the large resistance to the Enbridge provides the Pacific Trails Pipeline a smokescreen. Too much focus on the loser Enbridge is allowing the three other corporations to establish themselves with little to no resistance," Bazil told the Vancouver Media Co-op in an extended interview.
Facts and Figures
Officially, the Pacific Trails Pipeline is referred to as the Kitimat-Summit Lake Natural Gas Pipeline Looping (KSL) project. It will move natural gas from Summit Lake (near Prince George) to Kitimat using an underground 36 inch diameter pipeline with an 18-metre right of way on each side. It is planned to have a carrying capacity up to approximately 1,000 Mmcf/d (million cubic feet per day).
Near Kitimat, a Liquid Natural Gas processing facility will be built (at Bish Cove, on a Haisla reserve, approximately 650 kilometers/400 miles north of Vancouver). The facility is planned for an initial output capacity of 5 million metric tonnes per annum. From ports in Kitimat it will be shipped by oil tankers to Asian markets. The total cost of the pipeline is some $1 billion, and it is planned to be operational by 2015.
According to the Pacific Trails Pipeline website:
Pacific Trail Pipelines will provide a direct connection between the Spectra Energy Transmission pipeline system and the Kitimat LNG terminal for the transportation of natural gas from Western Canada to Asian markets.
The current Spectra natural gas pipeline runs from the far north-east corner of BC (the Horn River area, located within Treaty 8 lands) to the lower mainland. Much of this natural gas is acquired through fracking, a highly destructive method of extraction that pumps liquid into rock layers to create fractures through which gas or oil is removed (also referred to as hydraulic fracturing).
Pacific Trail Blazer for Enbridge?
According to the Wet'suwet'en and others, the proposed Pacific Trails Pipeline has a similar right-of-way to Enbridge's pipeline. Originally permitted to take natural gas into the tar sands, the proposed pipeline flow has since been reversed, and is now proposed to serve to transport natural gas from shale deposits extracted through fracking in north east BC to export markets via Kitimat. The Pacific Trails Pipeline is slated to measure nearly a meter in diameter, with a wide right of way on each side. Because it is liquid natural gas, it has also faced less regulatory hurdles and has slid through with barely any opposition expressed. A very real danger is that the Pacific Trails Pipeline will serve as a trail blazer for Enbridge; after all, why oppose a pipeline if there is already one built? This is an all too common argument used by industry in other areas.
During a May 2011 interview with Fox News, Enbridge CEO Pat Daniel discussed Enbridge's move into the natural gas market and its collaboration with other corporations, including the possibility of joining their respective pipeline projects (Enbridge's Gateway and the Pacific Trail Pipeline).
“We think we're in a very strong position with regard to exporting Canadian natural gas in particular. We're currently putting forward our credentials to the proponents - EOG, Apache, Shell and others - that are working on moving Western Canadian natural gas out to the West Coast; and we would hope to be able to see some synergies with the right-of-way that we're working on with our Gateway pipeline out to the West Coast. So, yes, we're very interested in doing that and we would hope to be the the pipeline provider for one or both of those alternatives.”
Band Councils Cash In
While many NGOs and band councils have opposed the proposed Enbridge pipeline, the Pacific Trails Pipeline is actually supported by 15 band councils along the planned 463 kilometre route. An agreement signed in 2009 gives these bands a combined 30 percent stakes in the pipeline. Some of the supporting bands include Burns Lake, Stallat'en First Nation, the Carrier-Sekani Tribal Council, and the Wet'suwet'en First Nation.
According to Chief David Luggi of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, the 15 bands “could realize cash flows of $540 million to $570 million over the life of the 25 year deal”. The bands will also receive $18 million each over the next two years from Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC). This funding will be used to train some 600 Aboriginal people to work in the construction of the pipeline (Pacific Trail Pipelines Aboriginal Skills Employment Partnership). 300 have already begun training, according to Luggi.
Know Your Enemy: Pacific Trails Pipeline
The three major stockholders of the Pacific Trails Pipeline are Apache Canada Ltd. (40 per cent and operator), Encana (30 per cent) and EOG Canada (30 per cent). The Kitimat processing plant will be jointly owned by Apache and EOG.
Apache Canada Ltd. is a subsidiary of the Apache Corporation, which is based in Houston, Texas, with regional offices and operations in the US, Canada, Argentina, Australia, Egypt, and the UK North Sea. In 2010, its market capitalization was approximately $30 billion. The proven reserves at the end of 2009 totaled 2.37 billion barrels of oil equivalent, roughly half oil and half natural gas. The company is traded on the New York Stock Exchange as APA.
EOG Resources Canada Inc. is a subsidiary of EOG Resources, Inc. based in the US with operations in Canada, the UK, China, and Trinidad. It is traded on the NYSE as EOG.
Encana is a Canadian natural gas corporation created by Canadian Pacific Railway and later merged with the Alberta Energy Corporation in 2002. It is based in Calgary, Alberta. Its operations have been opposed in Alberta and northern BC, where its pipelines have been subjected to explosive attacks by persons unknown near Dawson's Creek. Encana's US subsidiary has also been criticized for its fracking practises (which it also uses in northeastern BC. It is traded on the NYSE and Toronto Stock Exchange as ECA.
The Final Conflict
Today, the BC Central Interior and far north are facing a renewed onslaught of mining and oil & gas projects, as well as infrastructure to support these (i.e., power lines, roads, etc.). As the global capitalist system continues to decline, facing growing economic and ecological crises, it is also experiencing resource depletion. Some analysts believe we have already reached peak oil, a vital necessity to industrial capitalism, and that in the next one or two decades there will be significant disruptions to the entire capitalist system.
As a result, corporations and government are turning to the most remote and previously inaccessible sources of gas and oil, as well as minerals. The Alberta Tar Sands, the largest industrial project in the history of the world, is one aspect of this. Proposals to drill for oil in the Arctic, the Mackenzie Valley pipeline, and offshore drilling, also arise from the depletion of resources and the capitalist's need to acquire more. Despite plans to develop railway 'pipelines' by CN and CP Rail (to Prince Rupert and Vancouver, respectively), pipelines are the main method of transporting oil and gas from northeastern BC and Alberta to either US or Asian markets.
Since the early 2000s, however, numerous Indigenous peoples have been organizing to oppose many of these industrial projects. In 2008, the Tahltan won a temporary victory when Shell announced it was suspending its plans to drill for coal-bed methane gas in the headwaters of the Skeena, Nass, and Stikine rivers. The proposed Kemess North mine in Tse Keh Nay territory was also turned down after significant opposition to the company's plan to turn Amazay Lake into a tailings pond. Most recently, the Tsilhqot'in organized opposition to the proposed gold and copper mine at Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) and succeeded in temporarily halting it. In these struggles, as well as that against the Enbridge pipeline, there has been significant alliances built with non-Native settlers in the region.
Along with organizing against major industrial projects there has also been a campaign by Native peoples to raise awareness about the over 30 missing/murdered women (most Aboriginal) along Highway 16, also referred to as the "Highway of Tears."
When asked to summarize his opinion about the ongoing struggle to protect Wet'suwet'en land and territory, Bazil stated:
We can drink straight from the river Wedzin Kwah [Morice River] and we aim to maintain that for thousands of more years and will escalate in our resistance to viciously protect our future generations and their relationship with our world that is largely governed by laws of respect.
For more info:
Unist'hot'en Wet'suwet'en Contacts:
Freda Huson at 250 847-8897 or her email at firstname.lastname@example.org;
Mel Bazil at 250 877 2805, or his email email@example.com
For more information on the Pacific Trails Pipeline project, see the article “In BC, Pipes Spell Double Trouble,” by Dawn Paley.