NEWS UNSETTLED | Understanding Unist’ot’en Part II

Op-eds Opinions
Photo by Belle White, Photo Editor.

With so few words, there is no possible way to convey the truth of what is happening at Unist’ot’en. Thankfully, there already exists a constant source of valuable information regarding these matters. Like most sovereign peoples, the Unist’ot’en speak for themselves. I implore you to look up their website. With that in mind, here are my thoughts on the matter.   

Understanding the weight and consequences of the situation on Wet’suwet’en land requires nothing less than diligent and critical research into Canada’s founding and the convictions of the settlers who justified colonialism. If one wishes to better understand what is happening at Unist’ot’en, it is necessary to examine the mentality of the settler and its invention of the Indian.

Like an Emily Carr painting, most settlers hold only a superficial and (post-)impressionistic image of Indigenous realities.

Abstraction is what permits the settler mind to render moot the human conflict that has defined the colonial enterprise. The idea of Indianness as an antithesis to progress is reflected in countless settler convictions regarding the viability of our governments and the worth of our oral histories and cultural intelligence. As an Indigenous student at UVic, this has proven very difficult to navigate. Like an Emily Carr painting, most settlers hold only a superficial and (post-)impressionistic image of Indigenous realities.

By existing in our homelands, we inconvenience Canada’s settlers and their colonial ambitions. Perhaps by writing in this column I am doing the same. The idea of Indianness is inherently hostile, and this has led to many efforts seeking to remove its existence.

In a negotiated agreement with the RCMP, the Unist’ot’en were promised unimpeded access to their traplines. This did not stop Coastal GasLink from destroying a trapline in its entirety. When this was reported to the authorities, no action was taken despite the violation of numerous Canadian laws. While enroute to another trapline within the territory, members of the Unist’ot’en camp were stopped and questioned by a member of the RCMP.

By existing in our homelands, we inconvenience Canada’s settlers and their colonial ambitions.

When asked in turn who the Hereditary Chief responsible for these lands was, the RCMP officer did not know. How could he possibly know? This was the first time that he or any of his lineage had ever stepped foot on that territory. He had never tasted the air or even drank the water of those lands until he was told to stop the Indians from inhibiting Canada’s relentless progress.

When it was revealed that Coastal GasLink had been destroying a priceless archaeological site on Unist’ot’en territory, the Unist’ot’en tried without success to arrange a meeting with British Columbia’s Archaeological Branch. After exercising true patience, it was later revealed that government archaeologists visited the site and removed the artifacts in question.

On Feb. 22, I attended an event with the heads of British Columbia’s Archaeological Branch. Their first sentence was, “We will not be discussing the Coastal GasLink project.” I did so anyway, and read a long letter on behalf of the Unist’ot’en requesting that a meeting take place. I was met with silence, and Canada’s progress continues unimpeded.