miércoles, agosto 31, 2016

Turtle Island Pollinating Ríos Vivos Tour: Chapter Two: The line drawn at the Widzin Kwa

From the Peace River Valley we headed west, visiting the Circle (A) Ranch for an evening before we continued towards another territory in resistance, for another river, the Widzin Kwa. Back in 2013, the Brigid Edition of the Earth First! Journal graced the inner cover of the magazine with a full color photographic poster of the biodiversity impacted by the Quimbo Hydroelectric Project in Huila, Colombia. The same edition of the journal had the cover story of how the Unist'ot'en Clan of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation had recuperated their ancestral lands and through the Unist'ot'en Camp are protecting their territory from the construction of a network of gas and oil pipelines all connected to both the infamous Tar Sands of so called northern Alberta and the associated fracking in Northeastern British Columbia that intend to reach Pacific Coast ports to fulfill the demands of Asian markets. 

The Tar Sands of northern Alberta are considered to be the world´s third largest petroleum deposit after those found in Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. The Athabasca River Valley, the territory that was sacrificed for industry, development, and jobs, is now a place with no ground water, where there is no game to hunt or fish to catch, and where the remains of pipeline spills and clouds of chemicals
Found on www.zoeblunt.ca
cover the land and sky. Respiratory diseases and cancer are a constant amongst the local inhabitants. The territory of the Dene and Cree First Nations peoples that has been consumed by the voracious appetite of industry, growth, capitalist progress, and development are a grim reminder of what awaits other communities and ecosystems of peoples not capable of defending their territories from such interests.

The Tar Sands and all of its associated infrastructure projects such as the pipelines and ports goes beyond just northern Alberta. The entire project would leave a path of destruction throughout countless territories and has already more than contributed its share to pushing the entire planet further into the current climate crisis downplayed as, climate change. 
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Whether PM Trudeau wishes to recognize it or not, the massive conflagration that consumed much of the area around Fort McCay in early May 2016 has everything to do with the global climate crisis and the role of the Tar Sands, both regionally and globally in this industry created crisis. 

The corporations vested in spreading the pipeline projects in the west include Chevron’s nearly 300-mile Pacific Trail natural gas pipeline, the 725-mile Northern Gateway crude oil pipeline, and TransCanada’s +400-mile Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline. The Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline has led to deep tension between industry and resistant First Nations clans like the Unist’ot’en.  

Unique within much of North America´s colonial history is that many First Nations peoples of what is now known as British Columbia never formally had any diplomatic relations with colonial governments, and for the most part have not signed any treaties, making the whole of their territories unseceded land, such as is the case of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation. While the Canadian State and the British Crown have yet to decide if they will recognize  over a hundred of First Nations’ land claims to territories that have been under indigenous stewardship since time immemorial, like the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, many are returning to their traditional territories, and the log standing push for autonomy is gaining in momentum.  

Many First Nations peoples have been forced to live in towns and reserves often far away from their traditional lands in order to go work or school and land defense has been a means to change this. Through processes of land defense such as the Unist'ot'en Camp, many First Nations land defenders have had the opportunity to recuperate traditional practices that for various reasons they were not been able to prior to the establishment of camps based on cultural reclamation, such as to plant and harvest, hunt, fish, trap,  relearn traditional crafting skills, and regain knowledge to live with the land again. Land defense for many has essentially become a way to further decolonization.

With the magnitude of the projects associated with the Tar Sands, and the threat posed from both the companies and the state, through pipeline construction in unseeded and autonomous territories,  it should be of no surprise that the amount of First Nations communities and clans establishing territorial defense camps in response have increased.. These acts of self-determination have not been without reaction. In the case of the Unist'ot'en Camp, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RMCP), along with unmarked individuals, have continually harassed, threatened, and attacked the camp, as well as people traveling between the camp and neighbouring communities. Companies like Coastal GasLink and Pacific Trail continue to harass land defenders, and is continually looking for new ways to enter a territory which they have no claim to. Workers are dropped off by helicopter far from the camp in order to advance the necessary referencing for the pipeline´s route. This has led to land defenders having to split off from the main camp and spend shifts in the forest on the lookout for these incursions.  

Since the Unist'ot'en setup camp on the Widzin Kwa six years ago, the Gitdumden and Likhts'amisyu Clans of the Wet’suwet’en Nation have also set up blockades against the construction of pipelines. Neighboring the Wet’suwet’en, the Wilp (house) of Luutkudziiwus of the Gitxsan Nation are resisting the construction of TransCanada´s  Prince Rupert Gas Transmission Project  (PRGT) by means of the Madii Lii camp. This camp, like Unist’ot’en. has also fostered a return of many to the territory, and practices of living with the land. Further south, near Vancouver, the Burnaby/Langley – Kinder Morgan pipeline has had continued resistance from the Kwantlen Nation and its supporters. On the coast near the city of Prince Rupert, the Malaysian company Petronas seeks to create an LNG Gas Terminal where all the pipelines would arrive to process and export the gas and oil by the Pacific Ocean. In the days we were visiting the Unist'ot'en Camp, the Lax Kw'alaams Nations’ warriors successfully defended Lelu Island by denying access to the territory to workers responsible for initiating construction of the LNG terminal.

Land defense camps and blockades led by First Nations have not only been successful in halting pipelines and Tar Sands related projects, but also in stopping bear hunts, hotel developments, the creation of salmon farms, and logging. In many cases the land defense camps have not only served as a time and space for elders to share and transmit knowledge to the youth of their own territory, and to decolonize relationships with the ancestral lands some may have grown distant with, but also as a place where youth from other First Nations communities can come as well to learn and to heal, as many have lost their own traditional territories to the pollution and destruction of wildlife that these kinds of projects cause. The land defense camps have become a place where diverse groups of allies of all ages, backgrounds, interests and capacities convene in supporting the construction of Native autonomy and self-determination. 

It was under this context and time when we experienced the Unist’ot’en Camp. After passing through the town of Houston, we turned onto a gravel road, and after driving some hours we approached a bridge blockaded with signs, logs, and other obstacles. Some distance away we pulled to the side before getting out of the car and walking over to the bridge. As so many before us, and so many since, we were asked “Name? Do we work for industry? What skills do we have to offer? How long will we be there?”  After radioing in, we were given the okay to enter, and crossed the bridge by foot. Throughout the landscape of the north and even on the gravel road we drove in on, seeing large expanses of land clear cut of trees was common, though not here. The forest was thick with layers of life that due to the season, being mere weeks before the first snow fall, was preparing to enter into slumber.  

Walking throughout the camp it was incredible to witness what had been accomplished in the past five years since its creation. There structures where people stay, a healing center that also serves as a kitchen and a dining area, and gardens and grow beds. Throughout the space we met a variety of people coming from different places  with different experiences and backgrounds, who all shared the necessary values to find themselves there contributing their droplet of water, and their grain of sand for the defense of this territory. Because of limited time, we were not able to visit further within the territory where a traditional pit house was in the process of being erected.

After making our rounds through the camp, we met with Freda Huson. We shared about our rivers, territories, and processes. And we asked for permission to exchange gifts    between territories, and from other rivers in resistance. Freda explained how “The waters of this river heal. In the warmer months people will enter into the cold waters and as it flows over them it heals. You can drink this water right from the river”.  And it was healing.  As the elements from the territory were exchanged, we could feel the icy waters wakeup the entire body, even though it was just our hands that were getting wet. That evening was spent in the Healing Center where the Mesoamérica Resiste piece was presented, along with a performance by hip hop artist Testament, and a presentation about the experiences of Ríos Vivos, and anti-Canadian gold mining.

The following day we returned to Houston and at the Friendship Center, thanks to the Unist'ot'en Camp Solidarity House, a meal was shared, Mesoamérica Resiste was again presented and Testament performed. From Houston we continued to Prince George where we shared Mesoamérica Resiste and the experiences of Ríos Vivos and Polinizaciones at the University of Northern British Columbia. After Prince George we continued to the small mining town of Wells, and then on to Forest Grove for performances by Testament and presentations of Mesoamérica Resiste.

As tour life required being on the road for long hours each day and spending little time in any one place, large amounts of time were available for reflection, though this entry is being written nearly six months after the fact. Now, months later, thinking of the role of land defense strategies such as the Unist'ot'en Camp, and how it has also functioned as a place for people to decolonize, we can’t help but naturally think of Asoquimbo´s land liberations in central Huila in 2014, and the land blockades around the dam site that were erected so many times between 2011 and 2014. Understanding the relationship between colonization and the worsening of the global climate crisis, as well as the root causes, such as the Tar Sands (where fires raged this year in northern Alberta), the direct actions of land defense and Earth liberation against these dirty projects, with camps like Unist’ot’en, or initiatives like Project Mesoamérica, and IIRSA, are imperative if this planet´s current inhabitants, nonhuman and human, are to stand a chance in the storm that is building.  

For more information about or how to support the Unist’ot’en Camp please visit: http://unistotencamp.com/

Picture by Gidagaakoonz Mooz Ndootem

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