Pipeline Development Blocked by Indigenous Group in B.C.

In a region filled with grizzly bears, trees lay across a logging road which forms a very specific message, “No Pipelines! No Entry!” This is the result of a dispute between the government of Canada and a First Nations clan remains ongoing about what should happen to the 435-square mile area, each of which claim it as their own. This started in 2009 when the government of Canada started issuing permits for a pipeline corridor which would link the fracking fields of British Columbia and the tar sands of Alberta. Canada’s plan is to become a global energy superpower and is hoping to stake its economic future and legislative agenda on the expansion of its fossil fuel sectors and resource. These pipelines would act as the arteries of a trillion-dollar gas and bitumen industry.

Since June, the chiefs of the Unist’ot’en and supporters have made it almost impossible for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and TransCanada and Chevron work crews to enter the territory. Even though the pipeline companies have worked around the issue and modified their projects to skirt the Unist’ot’en’s main encampment, they still plan to build through that piece of land that was traditionally used by the clan. The Unist’ot’en remain strong and refuse to accept the prospect so they have formed a barrier with heavy chains, plywood and barbed wire gate, a pickup truck, spotlights and an emergency siren. The clan has transformed their territory into a border that is guarded by a volunteer crew of guards.

In order to gain access, you have to answer a series of five questions administered by clan representative which includes; Who are you? Where are you from? Do you work for industry or government that’s destroying our land? What skills do you bring? And How will your visit benefit the Unist’ot’en? The U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples inspired this protocol and will continue to monitor their territorial boundaries and will enforce trespassing laws. The only workers who have been granted access to the territory are loggers, tree planters and a guide outfitter since they have instituted this protocol and pipeline contractors have been asked to leave.

Unfortunately for the Unist’ot’en, it is believed that energy companies are gathering information to acquire a court injunction which would allow police to force open the roads so that the pipeline crews can work without interruption. Helicopters that were carrying TransCanada crews were also found entering the territory without permission and were asked to leave, which they complied. The second crew which was escorted by an ex-military pilot and security staff was forced to leave after volunteers grounded their helicopter by staging a sit-in beneath its rotor blades.

The Unist’ot’en clan have supplies airdropped in and they have even made their own pizza made with wild salmon cooked in a wood-fired oven and drank river water. Their kids are playing on a teeter-totter made of 2-by-4’s and they sit around campfires telling stories. While they are doing this, Chevron crews and security teams are moving closer to the territory as they conduct studies and survey for a pipeline right of way. Other than a few helicopters in the distance and the occasional emergency siren, the community continues to stand their ground and live quietly and in peace, for now.

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