It’s been fascinating to follow up on what’s happening at the Unist’ot’en camp.
At first glance, this might look like a local issue; but there’s nothing local about it. The Unist’ot’en camp is as relevant and far-reaching as it can be. The camp clearly demonstrates the relations between First Nations, big corporations, government and police.
Camp members have been filming their interactions with anyone who attempts to enter their territory without consent (and their videos can be found on You Tube). In one of my favourite videos, Chevron representatives attempt to offer tobacco and bottled water as gifts to camp members. I think this video alone is enough for anyone to understand how the interactions between most pipeline proponents and First Nations have been over the years. When Chevron representative Rod Maier offers Unist’ot’en spokesperson Freda Huson tobacco and bottled water as gifts, he was probably hoping that Huson would warm up to him and let Chevron representatives into the territory. Huson, however, politely (but affirmatively) declines the offer saying, “We’ve got clean water right here that’s good to drink; and that’s pollution, the plastic, that adds to the landfill.”
The fact that a major pipeline proponent such as Chevron believed that bringing bottled water and tobacco to a First Nations camp would be a good idea exemplifies how most pipeline proponents are missing the point entirely. Many First Nations and environmentalists are trying to protect what they believe is much greater than themselves – the land, the wildlife, the future generations’ ability to drink clean water and enjoy an unpolluted and sustainable world (I find it hard to believe that this kind of greater goal could have been bought with bottled water and tobacco). Recently, TransCanada representatives also tried to gain access to the territory through a checkpoint on Chisolm Road. When they were denied access, a TransCanada representative threatened to notify the RCMP.
The B.C. RCMP said that despite what is being portrayed by some media and on social media, they remain impartial in this dispute. Furthermore, the B.C. RCMP said they respect the rights of individuals to peacefully protest.
TransCanada’s Coastal GasLink said they have made over 90 attempted contacts with the hereditary chief and the Unist’ot’en spokesperson. But based on how their interactions have been with Unist’ot’en members so far, I wonder if TransCanada and other pipeline proponents are actually willing to listen to their concerns.
While working on the Unist’ot’en story, I noticed the subtle (but important) differences between the responses of major pipeline proponents and other companies.
When Lakes District News asked logging company Canfor if they had been granted access through Unist’ot’en territory, this is what they said, “To date, Unist’ot’en members have been letting our employees and contractors pass through their camps, which we greatly appreciate.”
When Coastal GasLink was asked the same question, they referred to the road where Unist’ot’en holds a checkpoint as a “public road,” completely ignoring the fact that they were trying to enter Unist’ot’en territory (I would imagine that such communication cannot be effective when dealing with First Nations’ concerns).
But maybe this is why the Unist’ot’en camp exists – to bring awareness to how major pipeline proponents are interacting with locals and First Nations. And most importantly, this camp forces all of us to think about the environment, and how far we are willing to go in order to protect it. Or maybe the camp is simply showing us that we still have a choice.