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British Columbia Pipeline protest leaders vow to maintain right-of-way blockade

Dini Ze Toghestiy and his wife, Freda Huson, are determined to continue their blockade.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Leaders of a small native camp in central B.C. that is blocking the right-of-way of a proposed gas pipeline say they won't be moving any time soon, even if a court orders them to.

Freda Huson and her husband, Dini Ze Toghestiy, who are both Wet'suwet'en members, said they have been dug in so long on the Pacific Trail Pipeline Project route that they consider the camp their home now.

In Vancouver over the weekend to attend "training workshops" for anti-pipeline protesters, Ms. Huson said she suspects an injunction may soon be brought against the camp, which is located about 60 kilometres south of Houston.

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"We don't give a care about their injunction … the blockade is already in place … nobody has a right to remove me," said Ms. Huson, who belongs to the Unis'tot'en clan of the Wet'suwet'en.

"We actually live there … so basically they are trying to put an injunction on our home," she said.

"One of the big messages we're trying to get out … we're not criminals, we're not looking for violence. We're out there to try to protect the water and our land and our food so future generations can enjoy it," said Mr. Toghestiy, a hereditary chief.

The Unis'tot'en Action Camp was first put up in 2010 after industry proposed a $1.5-billion, 470-kilometre gas pipeline between Summit Lake and a new liquefied natural gas plant to be built in Kitimat.

Since the protest camp was established, it has grown from a few tents, to include a cabin and a traditional pit house. A bunk house and more pit houses are planned.

Zoe Blunt, a spokesperson for Forest Action Network, an environmental group that supports the protest camp, said the number of people there varies throughout the year from a handful to 200.

Ms. Blunt's group organized a caravan of supporters to go to the camp last summer and is currently raising funds in case money is needed to defend anyone arrested there.

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The Pacific Trail Pipeline is the most advanced of several LNG projects proposed in B.C. Environmental approvals are in place and the right-of-way is surveyed, but Chevron Canada Ltd. and project partners Apache Canada Ltd. have yet to make a final decision on proceeding with the project.

The proponents claim to have widespread native support for the project.

"Fifteen of the 16 First Nations along the proposed PTP route are partners in the pipeline," said Gillian Robinson-Riddell a spokesperson for Chevron Canada Ltd.

She said bands supporting the project have signed on as partners in the First Nations (PTP) Group Ltd., an aboriginal company that is doing a variety of contract work related to both the pipeline and LNG plant proposals.

"We're working toward a final investment decision but there are a few factors [that have to be confirmed] yet," said Ms. Robinson-Ridell on Monday. "Of course, we're looking for further certainty around cost and design of the project … and we are looking for further First Nation support."

She said her company is aware of the Unis'tot'en Action Camp, but denied the company is seeking an injunction against them.

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"We have not filed anything," she said.

Ms. Robinson-Riddell said although major construction work has not started on the project, 75 per cent of all pipeline contracts awarded so far have gone to First Nations businesses.

Karen Ogen, chief of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation, one of the bands that makes up the larger tribal group, said most native communities support the proposed pipeline. However, she accepted that supporters of the Unis'tot'en Action Camp don't feel that way.

"Everybody has a right to their own opinion," she said.

Follow me on Twitter: @markhumeglobe

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