The following is a primer on the Wet’suwet’en Nation who are re-occupying their traditional and un-surrendered territories to halt the construction of numerous oil and gas pipelines. Heal the people, heal the land.
An Indigenous nation in Northern BC, Canada is occupying their unsurrendered territories, and resisting the construction of several proposed hydraulically fractured gas and bitumen pipelines across their territory.
The Wet’suwet’en and Canadian Law:
The Wet’suwet’en nation have lived on and governed their territories for thousands of years. They have never signed treaties or sold their land to Canada. In 1997, Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs joined with Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs, and won the landmark Delgamuukw-Gidsaywa Supreme Court of Canada case. The court recognized that the Wet’suwet’en people have never given up title to 22,000 km2 (8500mi2) of land in northern British Columbia – an area the size of New Jersey. The court decision also recognized Wet’suwet’en Hereditary chiefs as the rightful representatives of the Wet’suwet’en title holding collective.
Wet’suwet’en hereditary decision making processes were recognized and described in the 2011 Canfor V. Sam ruling of BC’s Supreme Court, which stated: “Each Wet’suwet’en chief has rights and responsibilities specific to the particular territory over which that chief is given a duty to protect. The rights and responsibilities are confirmed, coordinated, and directed to the common good, in other words, governed, through the feast.”
Despite these rulings, the governments of Canada and British Columbia continue to assert jurisdiction over this territory and have issued permits for resource projects without the consent of the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs. Wet’suwet’en people upholding decisions made in accordance with Wet’suwet’en law have been criminalized by the Canadian state, and face the risk of arrest for occupying and controlling access to their house territories.
Wet’suwet’en Governance Structure and UNDRIP:
The Wet’suwet’en nation is comprised of five clans (Gilseyhu, Likhts’amisyu, Laksilyu, Tsayu, Gidimt’en), which are further divided into thirteen house groups. Each house group has several distinct territories. Hereditary chiefs are responsible for the health and sustainability of their house group territories, and Wet’suwet’en law protects against trespass or harvest from the house group territories of others. Wet’suwet’en law is enacted through the Bahtlats (feast hall), where decisions are ratified and clan business is conducted. The Wet’suwet’en feast was made illegal for 100 years through the Canadian potlatch ban, effectively criminalizing Wet’suwet’en governance and political systems. Despite this, Wet’suwet’en people have retained their legal traditions and continue to govern themselves in the feast hall in accordance with Wet’suwet’en law.
The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) aligns with Wet’suwet’en law by describing the right of Indigenous peoples to require Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) before any development occurs on their traditional territories. Despite BC’s intent to implement UNDRIP, the Province has continued to deny the right of FPIC to Indigenous peoples, and has used police force to support non-consensual development on unceded Indigenous territories.
Coastal Gaslink and LNG Canada:
The Wet’suwet’en people, under the governance of their hereditary chiefs, are opposing the largest fracking project in Canadian history. The Coastal Gas Link pipeline (CGL), owned by TC Energy (formerly TransCanada) aims to connect the fracking operations of Northeastern B.C. with a Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facility in the coastal town of Kitimat.
This export terminal, called LNG Canada, is owned by a consortium of multinational oil giants (Shell, PetroChina, Petronas, KOGAS, and Mitsubishi). In a previously attempted LNG pipeline (Pacific Trails Pipeline) there was an agreement for the stakeholders to consider transition to bitumen after five years of operation.
CGL is one of many proposed pipelines attempting to cut across the Wet’suwet’en traditional territories. If built, it could expedite the construction of subsequent proposed bitumen and fracked gas pipelines, and create an incentive for gas companies to tap into shale deposits along the pipeline right of way. This project aims to blaze a trail, in what has been envisioned as an energy corridor through some of the only pristine areas left in this entire region. If CGL were to be built and become operational, it would irreversibly transform the ecology and character of Northern B.C. This is why the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs have all unanimously opposed the construction of ALL pipelines through their territory, ratifying this numerous times in the bahlats.
Wet’suwet’en Land Re-occupations:
Several Wet’suwet’en clans have re-occupied their traditional territories (outside of the reservations alloted by alloted by Canada), in order to revitalize their culture, traditional harvesting practices, and generations of storytelling embedded in the land. These re-occupations include:
Unist’ot’en Village: Gilseyhu clan, Dark House
Talbits Kwa territory, which belongs to Dark House
Head Hereditary Chief Knedebeas
Spokesperson: Hawilhkat / Freda Huson
Unist’ot’en Village is an Indigenous re-occupation of traditional territory. Over the past 10 years, Dark House members and supporters have built a series of cabins, a permaculture garden, greenhouse, and a Healing Center to support members of the Wet’suwet’en community who are healing from addiction and colonial trauma. Unist’ot’en has implemented a Free Prior and Informed Consent protocol in accordance with UNDRIP and Wet’suwet’en law that requires any visitors to the territory to seek the consent of Dark House Hereditary Chiefs. This protocol was in place until the Coastal Gaslink Pipeline company, with support from the RCMP, forcibly entered the territory without consent to begin work on the Coastal GasLink Pipeline in January 2019. Unist’ot’en village is located 66km along the Morice River West forest service road, across the Morice River (Wedzin Kwah) Bridge. Dark House continues to run healing programs for clients at the Healing Center, despite continued industry destruction and police harassment.
Gidimt’en Access Point: Gidimt’en clan, Cas Yikh (Grizzly) House
Lhudis Bin territory, which belongs to Cas Yikh house
Head Hereditary Chief Woos
Spokesperson: Sleydo / Molly Wickham
In Dec. 2018, in the Witset feast hall, the Gidimt’en clan announced their intention to set up a checkpoint at 44 km along the Morice River forest service road. The checkpoint would serve to protect Cas Yikh territory, as well as Dark House’s neighbouring territory (Talbits Kwa), including the Unist’ot’en Healing Center. The access point includes a number of canvas tents, a yurt, an outdoor kitchen, timber frame cabin, children’s play areas and gathering places. They host cultural events, hunting and berry picking workshops, and provide a space for Wet’suwet’en families, elders and children to access the land for cultural practices. The camp is located beside Ts’el Ka’i’ kwe (Lamprey creek), which is a traditional campsite, fishing site, and gathering place. On January 7, 2019, the camp was violently raided by heavily militarized RCMP in order to enforce Coastal GasLink’s interim injunction and ensure CGL’s access to Dark House territory for pipeline construction. After the raid, CGL demolished a number of camp structures to make room for construction equipment, and the RCMP temporarily occupied the site as a surveillance post until it was reclaimed by Gidimt’en clan members. It continues to operate as a gathering place for Wet’suwet’en people and the revitalization of their culture.
Likhts’amisyu – Parrot Lake Village
The Sovereign Likhts’amisyu Village is an Indigneous reoccupation of a former Wet’suwet’en village site at Parrot Lakes. Since mid-2019, Likhts’amisyu members and supporters have built an outdoor kitchen and a series of log cabins, with the long-term vision of creating an environmentally sustainable community, interpretive trails, building a climate research facility, and protecting sacred sites on unceded Likhts’amisyu territory.