Freda Huson has been praying. The Wet’suwet’en matriarch and wing chief of the Unist’ot’en Dark House Clan left her home on the Witset First Nation more than a decade ago to return to her yintah, the land of her ancestors, in order to protect it from encroaching industry.
On the land, she built a healing centre with her niece and sister, where Wet’suwet’en can return to their roots, connect with the land and drink the waters of the Wedzin Kwa, a sacred river so pure that people can drink directly from it.
But now industry is moving in on the Wet’suwet’en territory in northern British Columbia (BC).
For years, Indigenous land defenders like Freda have sought to protect their lands and sacred headwaters from the construction of a pipeline.
First proposed in 2012, the 670-kilometre- (417-mile)-long Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline is intended to carry liquified natural gas (LNG) from northeast BC to a terminal on the coast in Kitimat. A portion of it is set to pass through the Wet’suwet’en Nation – 22,000 square kilometres of unceded territory that was never legally signed over to the Crown or to Canada.
But Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs from the nation’s five clans and 13 houses oppose the multibillion-dollar pipeline and say they were not consulted before the province approved it.
While the pipeline project is supported by the five elected Wet’suwet’en band councils (which were established by Canada’s 1867 Indian Act, which sought to undermine traditional forms of Indigenous governance and to control all aspects of the lives of Indigenous people), a 1997 ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada recognised that it is the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who are the rightful titleholders to the land.
And they say they are determined to defend it.
But since the construction of the pipeline began in 2018, there have been three militarised raids by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) on resistance camps established by Indigenous land defenders on Wet’suwet’en land – the latest of which was in November, when RCMP armed with assault rifles, dogs and chainsaws arrested more than 30 land defenders, supporters and journalists.
Around the time of the raids in November, RCMP helicopters circled above the healing centre for over a week. “The government has so much to lose, it’s why they’ve sent all the police in here, militarised police, because they’re giving all they got just the way our land defenders are giving it all they got to protect our water and our air, the lands for our future,” Freda says.
Now, the land defenders fear armed police are again preparing to move in on them.
Here, they explain why they are prepared to put their lives on the line to defend Indigenous sovereignty and to protect the environment for future generations.