Coastal GasLink will never be welcome to build a pipeline crossing the Wet’suwet’en Nation’s unceded traditional territory, says a hereditary subchief who is the co-founder of a northern B.C. camp built a decade ago to block pipelines.
“It would be just like if I was trying to sell you a vacuum and I asked you, ‘Do you want to buy this vacuum?’ and you said no but I pushed your door open,” Freda Huson said during a 25-minute interview in Smithers, B.C. “You don’t just keep pushing or go find the neighbours to approve a project for somebody else’s land.”
Hereditary chiefs who are opposed to Coastal GasLink’s $6.6-billion pipeline project say Indigenous authority over the Wet’suwet’en’s traditional territory rests with hereditary and not elected leaders.
Ms. Huson and Warner Naziel, who goes by the hereditary name Smogelgem, co-founded the Unist’ot’en camp in 2010 and opened a healing lodge in 2015 on the site near Houston, B.C.
The Unist’ot’en group is affiliated with Dark House, one of 13 Wet’suwet’en hereditary house groups, which in turn fall under five clans. Ms. Huson is a wing chief (subchief) who received the hereditary name Howilhkat last year under Dark House.
“When you do a business plan, you make sure you have all your ducks in row and you make sure you have permission. It’s not my fault if you’re going to lose your money because you didn’t do your homework,” she said.
Earlier this month, RCMP arrested 28 opponents of the pipeline, including Ms. Huson, along a logging road that leads to the Unist’ot’en camp, representatives of which were among the groups that had set up barricades to prevent Coastal GasLink workers from crossing the Morice River Bridge to get to their construction sites.
The natural gas pipeline project has been approved by all 20 elected First Nation councils along the route, but a group of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs has led a vocal campaign to oppose it. About 190 kilometres of the 670-kilometre route crosses the Wet’suwet’en’s territory.
Ms. Huson said a section of the pipeline route is too close to the healing lodge, and the location of a work camp unfairly prevents Wet’suwet’en members from hunting in the area. “Do you think I’m going to be able to shoot a gun on that road now with people there? That’s our hunting grounds. That’s where we hunt moose,” she said.
On Dec. 31, a B.C. Supreme Court judge extended an injunction against Wet’suwet’en members and their anti-pipeline supporters. Coastal GasLink named Ms. Huson and Mr. Naziel as the two key defendants in the injunction case. After living together for a decade, they separated in early 2019.
The pipeline would transport natural gas from northeast B.C. to Kitimat on the West Coast, where LNG Canada has started building an $18-billion terminal for exporting liquefied natural gas to Asia. Both the B.C. and federal governments back the LNG terminal and natural gas pipeline.
Calgary-based TC Energy Corp., which owns Coastal GasLink, announced in December that it will sell a 65-per-cent stake in the pipeline project to two investors, with the transaction slated to close in the first half of 2020.
“Coastal GasLink has the money and the court system on their side,” Ms. Huson said. “But for investors, you should be worried about your investment.”
Claire Marshall, an Indigenous-relations consultant for Coastal GasLink from 2012 to early 2019, said in an affidavit that pipeline representatives reached out repeatedly to hereditary leaders.
Ms. Marshall said Coastal GasLink has been thwarted in attempts to consult since 2013 with Warner William, head chief of Dark House. She also said attempts to negotiate with Ms. Huson, who is Mr. William’s niece, have been stymied since 2014.
Ms. Huson said governments and Coastal GasLink are fixated on generating revenue when they should be paying attention to climate change. “They’ve got dollar signs in their eyes,” she said. “Unist’ot’en means people of the headwaters. We’ve protected the headwaters since time immemorial, and we’re still protecting the headwaters today.”
Supporters of hereditary chiefs have been posing questions over the years to drivers who want to cross the Morice River Bridge. Ms. Huson said it has been important to enforce the protocol before allowing entry across the bridge, based on these questions: “Who are you, where are you from, how long do you plan to stay? If I let you in, do you work for industry or government that’s destroying our land? How will your visit benefit Unist’ot’en?”
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