Summer 2016, Unist’ot’en Camp – The Calm Before the Storm

Bob Ages – Ladner BC

After helping with all the USB activity in support of Spring Work Camp, Action Camp and the Youth Art Camp I was finally able to get up to the Yintah* myself in late August for a brief visit. As always it was literally a breath of fresh air to get away from the hubbub of organizing in the city and reconnect with the land.

The trip up with a friend and a truck load of food supplies went smoothly and with a lot of laughs. She thought it was cute when I checked the route of a little side trip on an actual folding paper map – she of course had a smart phone with Google maps. But then I’m from the “two cans on a string” generation.

Was great to see old friends and hear about how the spring and summer activities went. Of course the big development this year is the near completion of the second stage of the Healing Centre. It is looking great and everyone is looking forward to getting the interior work completed.

Another highlight of the summer was the work on the bunkhouse mural; the finishing touches were just being completed. It is absolutely gorgeous thanks to Toghestiy’s artistry. Was good to see the permaculture garden bursting with the last produce of the season and the pit-house roof completed and already sprouting with native vegetation – as Wet’suwet’en homes did before colonization and dispossession.

The relaxed atmosphere at the camp this summer felt a little strange after last year’s high alert. It had been a little tense at the end of August 2015 doing bridge duty in the dark hours before sunrise while the RCMP Emergency Response Team waited just two hours away in Smithers for the signal to move in with their armoured vehicles and automatic weapons. A signal that never came due to the quick and massive outpouring of support and solidarity all across Turtle Island and  beyond.

This year after another quiet day doing routine chores and a little carpentry a fresh volunteer woke me up at 4 am, alarmed by the passage of a logging truck. I explained that the clan has an agreement to allow logging of a cut block on the territory – part of their strategy to maintain good relations with the forestry contractors and workers who are their neighbours and importantly to demonstrate they are not “blockading” but rather continuing to exercise their historic stewardship of the land, determining who may – and who may not – access the Yintah.

But this year is probably the calm in the eye of a hurricane. We’ve all heard about the uncertainty around investment decisions regarding the pipelines and the fracked gas industry in general. Perhaps it is just a matter of time before this fantasy of riches and jobs from LNG collapses. But our information is that like cornered rats the companies are getting desperate, even more determined to demonstrate their viability to investors by getting construction underway. And there is a provincial election in 2017 where the lack of progress on Christy Clark’s grand vision of a fracked future may be highlighted. So our advice to supporters is to gear up and make plans to be at the camp for as long as you can spare next year. Skip a semester from school, book some extended vacation time from work, or otherwise free yourself up for a good long spell on the front line.

The day before heading home to the Lower Mainland I was honoured to be able to help Freda fulfill the  promise she made to her dad before he passed a year ago; to fix the fence around her parent’s house in Moricetown for her mom. It was a long tough work day for an old fart like me but there was a great crew and it got done just before it turned too dark to see where to hit a nail.

To end this report  thought I’d relate a funny story from the late night drive we took from camp to Moricetown so we could get an early start on that fence. We were pulled over by a female RCMP officer for speeding. Got off with a warning and reminder that section of highway has speed limit of 90 kmh, not 100. Toghestiy commented afterwards it was a perfect example of white privilege, good reason to always have the old white guy driving the truck, not the “NDN’s”. I had to disagree. I’m sure it was my charm and good looks. Lol

* Yintah is a Wet’suwet’en word that describes the land, air, water and all beings. It can also be translated as “Mother Earth”. It also contains within it an awareness of the relationships, values and respect inherent in Indigenous protocol and laws.