In 1990, the Kanien’kéha:ka Mohawk community of Kanehsatà:ke, an unceded territory, resisted the Canadian military to defend its sovereignty. The reason for the dispute was the nearby town of Oka’s decision to expand a golf course through a portion of Kanehsatà:ke, which included sacred burial grounds. Now, 25 years later, in the unceded Wet’suwet’en territory located in British Columbia, the Unist’ot’en clan is resisting numerous pipeline projects that threaten its land and sovereignty, and expects heavy-handed Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) intervention. These attempts to develop Indigenous land are a product of ongoing colonialism. The Canadian government and corporations need to respect Indigenous sovereignty and stop exploiting Indigenous land.
In contrast to the mainstream media’s portrayal, the Unist’ot’en camp is not a protest or demonstration. As the camp’s website declares, the Unist’ot’en “occupying and using [their] traditional territory as [they] have for centuries.” The Unist’ot’en territory, and the Wet’suwet’en territory of which it is a part, are “unceded, unsurrendered, and untreatied.” The Unist’ot’en clan governs itself according to its own legal systems and recognizes the authority of only those systems. In recent years, it has set up checkpoints that control who can enter its territory, based on a system of “free prior and informed consent,” a standard among many Indigenous communities. Those who wish to enter the Unist’ot’en camp must inform the hereditary chiefs and receive their consent in advance.
Eleven energy companies, including Kinder Morgan, Enbridge, and Chevron, currently have plans to build pipelines through Unist’ot’en territory. The destructive environmental impact of these proposals makes the blatant disregard for the community’s right to decide what happens on its territory all the more outrageous. Chevron is currently clearcutting the forest only two kilometres away from the camp for the construction of the Pacific Trail Pipeline, violating the sovereignty of the Unist’ot’en clan. Meanwhile, the RCMP has maintained a heavy presence in the camp, meeting with representatives of the Unist’ot’en clan and reportedly threatening to arrest camp occupants. Although the RCMP claims “neutrality” in the dispute, the Unist’ot’en clan is on high alert, fearing an impending mass arrest on its own territory.
Settlers in Canada have a responsibility to educate themselves about this ongoing process of colonialism in which they are complicit, and about the history of the land on which they live. Anyone wishing to support the camp can do so through financial donations, as well as by participating in solidarity actions. Colonialism is not a thing of the past, and it is as pressing now as ever to do what the Canadian government won’t: stand against the violent occupation of Indigenous land.
—The McGill Daily Editorial Board