Sam Wall | News Editor
This past Friday evening saw a celebration of the Unist’ot’en camp in the Gathering Place of UNBC. The event featured live entertainment, information about the camp, and a speech by Freda Huson, the camp spokesperson. The Unist’ot’en, formally known as the Unist’ot’en of the C’ilhlts’ehkhyu, are one group among the Wet’suwet’en who have been most active and vocal in their resistance to resource extraction projects in their territory. The newly developed Prince George Unist’ot’en Support Group hosted the event, using their Facebook page as a platform to discuss the camp.
The evening began with an introduction by the MC, Doug Koyama, a musician from Quesnel. Koyama handed over the microphone to Clarence John, who welcomed everyone to the Lheidli T’enneh territory, on behalf of the chief and council. The first performers were the Khast’an Drummers, who were introduced by Jennifer Pighin. The group consists of mainly people from Lheidli, but members of other bands are welcome. They began by performing the “Wet’suwet’en Women’s Water song,” which according to Pighin, comes from “where the rivers meet, where the water carries us. Prayer, ceremony, symbols of land and animals, that’s what this is really about, is keeping that harmony.”
Next up was Doug Koyama, who used his voice and loop pedal to build up layers of sound with such depth as to blur what sounds came first. In discussing his music, Koyama said he is “Expressing what this moment holds, the energy of this moment, so it’s always an adventure to see what’s going to come out of it.” Local poet Erin Bauman joined Koyama on stage to perform a song that he had built around one of Bauman’s poems. The song was called “Time to Stand Up,” and used Koyama’s loop pedal and voice to add a mystical aspect to Bauman’s poetic call to action.
Next up was the key speaker of the evening, Freda Huson, who began by performing a song that came to her in the Unist’ot’en camp, called “Take Me Back, Take Me Back.”
Huson’s drumming and singing reminded us of the rightful treatment of the land and Mother Earth. Next, Huson spoke about what had been happening on her clan’s territory over the last several years, and how it led to the creation of a resistance camp. Huson addressed the effects of past and present resource extraction on their land, as well as how it affected the animals they consume and live with, which ultimately threatens their way of life and culture. Huson says, “We’re polluting the earth so much that it’s impacting our environment, and when you impact the environment, you impact the animals, and when you start impacting the animals, then we’re going to be impacted.” She began to get seriously involved and active in these issues when she found out that band leadership had accepted money from Lions Gate Metals and created a Memorandum of Understanding with them, meaning that the company had begun sending workers and equipment into the territory. Huson and several other members of the community decided to travel two hours from their homes, to the area of their territory that was most at risk, to protest this work. This is how the camp was originally created, and several cabins were set up there, deliberately in the path of these projects.
According to the information sheet handed out at the event, the cabin and resistance camp were built five years ago at Talbits Kwah at Gosnell Creek and Wedzin Kwah, also known as Morice River. Several companies have been issued work permits to the territory, including Enbridge Energy Partners, Husky Energy Inc., SNC Lavalin Inc., and PETRONAS Global. The purpose of the camp is to occupy the traditional territory that has been used by the clan for hundreds of years, and show how they continue to use and occupy their traditional territory.
The Unist’ot’en do not see their work as a protest or demonstration, but rather “a peaceful expression of their connection to their territory.” The clan has a blockade set up on the bridge into their territory, where newcomers are always asked “Who are you? Where are you from? Who gives you permission to be here?” This procedure is followed to emphasize the importance of regaining consent to who can be on and use the territory.
Huson mentioned some hardships that the camp has encountered since its creation, such as several cabins being purposely burned down, with no legal repercussions. Because of this, the camp must always remain occupied, which can be limiting to Huson as a spokesperson. The Unist’ot’en have plans to build a cultural and spiritual healing centre, to bring people back to the land, as Huson says, “land and water is life.” She mentioned that people have already found healing by being on the land, and they have fundraised 50 thousand dollars for the construction of the healing centre. When the cosmetics company LUSH heard about their goals, they provided an extra 25 thousand to install a heating system, and another environmental group gave money to improve their solar power system. Because the Unist’ot’en camp is not a non-profit organization, they cannot apply for grants, so all of the fundraising and organization they do is grassroots.
Huson’s speech was followed by performances by Saltwater Hank and the Saline Solution, Samson’s Delilah, and Kym Gouchie. The event was successful in drawing approximately 40 people to learn and celebrate. It was sponsored by the UNBC First Nations Centre Gathering Place, Nicholson Billiards, and Kelly O’Bryans Neighbourhood Restaurant, who provided food for the event.
If you are interested in getting involved, you can contact the Unist’ot’en camp through their facebook page at https://www. facebook.com/unistoten/ or join the Prince George Unist’ot’en Support Group Network at https://www.facebook.com/USGPG/ or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org . If you would like to donate to the camp, you can send E-transfers to email@example.com or mail to Tse Wedi Eltlh, 620 CN Station Rd., Smithers B.C., V0J 2N1. The Unist’ot’en Camp hosts a work camp in May for three weeks, where anyone can contribute their skilled or unskilled labour. They also hold an Action camp for one week in July, where participants are taught how to actively engage in the process. Huson stated that anyone wanting to help can do so by spreading the word about what is happening on the land, and spread the truth about how the environment and people are being impacted.