Week Four: Unist’ot’en

In the readings for the first three weeks of this session, we have focused on developing a better understanding of some important issues in the background of the current conflict on Wet’suwet’en territory. In the first week, we looked at the imposition of Crown sovereignty and of the band council system on Indigenous nations and their systems of governance. We then looked at this imposition in practice through the lens of Delgamuukw v. British Columbia. Last week, we read a commentary and criticism on the Delgamuukw decision by John Borrows. Our conversation centred on questions of cultural jurisdiction and the (im)possibilities of reconciling the Canadian legal system with the many Indigenous legal systems that preexist it, and that it subjugates.

This week, we want to keep the key themes of our previous studies in our minds as we jump forward towards the present. We will be looking at the Unist’ot’en community, a Wet’suwet’en House is asserting its land rights and has been at the centre of a number of pipeline conflicts in recent years. The most recent of which came to a head in late-2018 and early-2019 over the LNG Coastal GasLink pipeline, which is set to cut through Wet’suwet’en territory, and specifically directly through the Unist’ot’en community’s healing centre.

The healing centre was, in fact, strategically built along the GPS coordinates of the pipeline’s proposed route:


This second map shows the routes of 5 proposed pipelines (the Northern Gateway has since been effectively killed) that would go directly through Wet’suwet’en territory. Three of these would cut directly through Unist’ot’en, including the pipeline at the heart of the most recent controversy: the liquid natural gas (LNG) Coastal GasLink Pipeline. More information on these pipelines can be found here at http://unistoten.camp/no-pipelines/background-of-the-campaign/.




We suggest you begin this week’s readings by having a look at the origin story of the Unist’ot’en community, and then reviewing some of the key facts about the latest standoff at Unist’ot’en and Unist’ot’en’s own official timeline of events.

Then, move on to the main reading: “Reoccupation and Resurgence: Indigenous Protest Camps in Canada” by Adam J. Barker and Russell Myers Ross (vice-chair of the Tŝilhqot’in national government and chief of Yuneŝit’in government (one of six Tŝilhqot’in communities), in Protest Camps in International Context (Brown, Feigenbaum, Frenzel & McCurdy, 2017). This article looks at several protest “camps,” Grassy Narrows, Oka, and Unist’ot’en. While the article does not focus exclusively on Unist’ot’en, it does provide a foundation upon which to build an understanding of the project of the community.

Some questions to keep in mind while reading:

  1. How does what we know of Delgamuukw inform our reading of the project of the Unist’ot’en community?
  2. How does the article portray the concept of “governance” within Indigenous protest camps?

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