Unist'ot'en Camp

From Anarchy In Action
Unist'ot'en camp

The Unist'ot'en ("People of the Headwater") are one of five clans of the indigenous Wet'suwet'en people of British Columbia in Canada. The Unist'ot'en were the first of the clans to live on the territory, and they autonomously control two thirds of the total Wet'suwet'en land. Through directly-democratic processes, they have decided to resist all pipeline construction on their territory, and since 2010 they have organized action camps and a long-running blockade against oil and gas companies.

The Unist'ot'en clan makes decisions in a Feast Hall, where all members gather and engage in a process that "resembles a consensus approach" according "Standing on the Land to Stand Up Against Pipelines," a report collectively written by anonymous indigenous and non-indigenous people who visited the camp in 2012 and 2013.[1] Unist'ot'en members consider Feast Hall decisions "the ultimate authority of the land," according to this report.[2] In addition, the Unist'ot'en have a hereditary Chief who acts as the clan spokesperson. Although Canada has imposed a hierarchical Band Council, many residents say that the Band Council only has "limited authority," which does not include the power to allow pipelines into the territory.[3]

After building a clan cabin directly on the route of the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway and Pacific Trail pipelines, the Unist'ot'en hosted three action camps. Then, they and supporters expanded the cabin into a permanent blockade camp in the winter of 2012.[4] A single-lane bridge is the only way to access Unist'ot'en territory, and those camp members on a "bridge duty" shift are ready to rush to the bridge to put their bodies in the way of invaders from energy companies and law enforcement.[5]

The authors of "Standing on the Land" report that Unist'ot'en tradition celebrates responsibilities rather than rights. Regarding rights as a colonial invention rooted in power-over, Unist'ot'en consider responsibilities, the foundation of the blockade, to be "guided by a power-with relationship to land" and "something that comes from the Creator through natural law."[6]

The journalist Sam Bliss describes the camp as a "sort of utopian project":

Really, the camp is a sort of utopian project. It embodies the possibility of a world where citizens wake up in the morning and do the work they love, whatever that may be, toward goals they believe in, and then share meals and good times and a common cause. The blockade community exists apart from bosses and wages and expert decision-making committees.[7]

On 1 December 2016, the Unist'ot'en Camp posted on Facebook, celebrating the Canadian government's decision to cancel the Northern Gateway Pipeline:

It wasn't the petitions. It wasn't the ENGO [environmental non-governmental organization] campaigns. It was the Grassroots Hereditary system, backed by thousands of years of proven Decision Making Authority, that killed this snake.[8]

The victory was offset, however, since Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced on the same day that he was approving two more pipelines.[9]

  1. "Standing on the Land to Stand Up Against Pipelines: A Report from the Unist'ot'en Camp," Crimethinc, 9 July 2013, http://www.crimethinc.com/texts/recentfeatures/standing.php.
  2. "Standing on the Land".
  3. "Standing on the Land."
  4. "Standing on the Land".
  5. "Standing on the Land." Sam Bliss, "Spending time in a controversial camp that's blocking tar-sands pipelines," Grist, 21 August 2015, http://grist.org/climate-energy/spending-time-in-a-controversial-camp-thats-blocking-tar-sands-pipelines/.
  6. "Standing on the Land".
  7. Bliss, Spending time.
  8. Unis'ot'en Camp, Facebook, 1 December 2016, https://www.facebook.com/unistoten/photos/a.391841194223465.91188.391471340927117/1250615591679350.
  9. Daniel Mesec, "Mixed Reactions as Trudeau Nixes Northern Gateway Pipeline But Approves Kinder Morgan Expansion," Indian Country Today, 1 December 2016, http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2016/12/01/mixed-reactions-trudeau-nixes-northern-gateway-pipeline-approves-kinder-morgan-expansion