NAISA Council Statement in Solidarity with the Wetʻsuwetʻen First Nation

February 22, 2019

The Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA) stands in solidarity with the WET’SUWET’EN First Nation as they bravely defend their peoples and territories in British Columbia, Canada, from pipeline development. These protectors have been caring for the lands and waters for countless generations, and their resistance against violent and illegal incursions into their territory by the RCMP and Coastal GasLink is a continuation of that legacy. The long-term struggle of the Wet´suwet´en is a legitimate, legally sanctioned struggle for rights, autonomy and sovereignty on their unceded territories. We send strength and appreciation to the folks of the Unist´ot´en Healing Centre, Gidumt’en checkpoint and the Wet’suwet’en nation.

‘Anuc niwh’it’ën (Wet’suwet’en law) and feast governance systems remain intact and continue to be utilized by the Wet’suwet’en in governing themselves. The Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs are title holders, and maintain the authority and jurisdiction to make decisions on unceded lands. The 22,000 square km of Wet’suwet’en Territory is divided into 5 clans and 13 house groups. Each clan within the Wet’suwet’en Nation has full jurisdiction under their law to control access to their respective territories. The Unist’ot’en (Dark House) is occupying and using their traditional territory as they have for centuries. They have never ceded sovereign title and rights to their land, waters, and resources.

The Unist’ot’en and Gidumt’en have not given their free, prior, and informed consent for Coastal GasLink or any company to establish pipelines or industrial work camps on their territories. The Unist’ot’en Healing Centre has long been envisioned as a space to heal from the trauma suffered by so many First Nations in Canada due to colonial and extractivist violence. Projects such as the Trans-Canada pipeline perpetuate this violence. To invade this space of healing is unconscionable.

The people of Unist’ot’en and Gidumt’en have pointed out that the establishment of industry work camps–temporary housing facilities for up to thousands of mostly non-Indigenous male workers brought in for industrial work–create the social conditions for an increase of violence against Indigenous women and children. James Anaya, former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has written that, “Indigenous women have reported that the influx of workers into Indigenous communities as a result of extractive projects also led to increased incidents of sexual harassment and violence, including rape and assault.” A report on Indigenous Communities and Industrial Camps: Promoting Healthy Communities in Settings of Industrial Change, prepared by The Firelight Group with Lake Babine Nation and Nak’azdli Whut’en, elaborates on the ways Indigenous women are subject to “risk pile up,” particularly when “there is a pattern of drugs and alcohol use that is prevalent among industrial camp workers and is a contributing factor to violence against local women and girls. Increases in substance abuse and gambling throughout the life cycle of extractive industry projects is well documented.” The rate of murdered and/or missing Indigenous women and transgender people is already several times higher than the rate of the rest of the population in Canada, and the conditions of extractivist industrial work camps further entrenches the problem. These are exactly the kind of traumatic social dynamics that the Unist’ot’en Healing Center seeks to address.

NAISA Council stands against the illegal encroachment of the RCMP and Coastal GasLink on the traditional territories of the Unist’tot’en and Gitumt’en. Moreover, the arrest on January 8, 2019, of 14 people protecting Wet’suwet’en homelands raises serious concerns about the role of settler Canadian courts and police in claiming jurisdictional authority over unceded Indigenous homelands. Their actions are is a direct refutation of the self-determining authority of Indigenous nations as well as the principles of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which Canada fully endorsed in 2016.

Further, NAISA Council notes that the twin crises of climate chaos and rising inequality are worsening. The 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report has warned that humans must make a hard shift away from fossil fuel usage to limit increasing global temperatures to 1.5 degrees and trying to slow or halt catastrophic climate change. Scientists have made it clear that new fossil fuel infrastructure present the source of the world’s most threatening emissions. Shale gas development and its related infrastructure will have serious impacts on the territories of the First Nations peoples within British Columbia, as well as on areas of extraction in the northeast, along the territories and watersheds the pipeline will cross, and on coastal communities in the Salish Sea and K̲andaliig̲wii (the Hecate Straight). All will be impacted by increased tanker traffic.

We call the Canadian government, the BC provincial government, TransCanada and Coastal GasLink to immediately stop the illegal work on Unist’ot’en and Gidumt’en territories by Coastal Gas Link. We urge the federal and provincial governments to respect Indigenous rights as outlined in the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous people (UNDRIP) and in ‘Anuc niwh’it’en (Wet’suwet’en law). We firmly oppose the Trans-Canada pipeline project threatening Indigenous lands. To meet Canada’s commitments to reconciliation and Canada’s climate targets, the Canadian government needs to stop forcing gas pipelines violently through Indigenous lands.

The NAISA Council notes that over 1000 scholars from across Canada and around the world have signed a “Statement of Solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en people of British Columbia” and we encourage our members to consider signing it as well. To do so, click here.

We further ask all of those who agree with this statement to take such actions as have been suggested by the Wet’suwet’en people themselves:

The Council of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association