Deep in the forest, surrounded by the rapid on-going destruction of ancient lands, there grows a powerful place of healing and decolonization. Despite what can often seem like a concerted effort to extinguish indigenous culture, the Unist’ot’en clan have built a place where anyone willing to refuse to destroy the land are welcome to join them in this healing. On the banks of the Wedzin Kwa, Wet’sewet’en people have reconnected with the land and with their ancient culture, and relationships have been built with peoples from other lands near and far.
“With the impacts of climate change and toxic dangers from industrial projects based on greed and selfishness we have always expressed our concern that this is not just a challenge that my people need to overcome but a challenge that faces all of humanity.” says Freda Huson, Spokesperson of the Unist’ot’en People. “Together we must make a collective effort to provide an outcome that will allow for our survival as humans. We need to decolonize and heal the planet because if we don’t, she will make us pay. That is why we are making a Healing Center on our lands. It will be a place for healing and decolonization.”
Why is it that people who at are the forefront of a movement of peaceful healing and reconciliation should be concerned with being labeled and treated as terrorists?
A large part of that answer lies in the fact that up to 13 oil and gas pipelines have been proposed to run through Unist’ot’en territory. Pipelines that the Unist’ot’en have refused to allow access for.
This should be the end of the story, as the Unist’ot’en have the final say on what happens within their unceded territory. Several Supreme Court decisions and a Royal Proclamation dictate that the Canadian state recognize and accept this authority. The Canadian state however, like any large nation state, can often demonstrate complete disregard for it’s own laws, even it’s founding documents, if wealth and power are at stake.
“Our people have attempted for thousands upon thousands of years to live peacefully on our lands. We have met many adversaries throughout the millenia who have had other ideas of the future of our territories.” says Toghestiy, Hereditary Chief of the Likhts’amisyu. “We have protected our lands from all on comers and will continue to do so secure in the knowledge that our unborn generation’s integrity is protected.”
The Canadian state, desperate to maintain it’s hegemony, has been drawing a tight perimeter around it’s oil and gas interests. In the past few years, despite the growing concern among the general public towards the issue of climate change, the Canadian government has been working to firmly equate the financial stability of the state, and by extension the safety and security of the people, with it’s ability to access oil and gas reserves. As the measures required to access these resources become more extreme, environmental impacts have become more prominent, and nowhere are those impacts more deeply felt than among land-based cultures living along polluted waterways and nearby or within these zones of extraction.
The latest violation from the Harper government is Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act. This bill, which has passed second reading and is now in House Committee, would grant Canadian security agencies even greater power to spy on, harass and criminalize anyone that the state decides is a threat to security or the financial stability of the state.
Included in the legislation is the expansion of powers for CSIS, Canada’s spy agency, to move beyond simply spying to actual law enforcement, creating, as many have called it, a secret police force. There is a certain frightening irony to this, given that CSIS itself was created as a means of controlling an out-of-control RCMP, by separating it’s spying powers from it’s enforcement powers. The RCMP’s former Security Service Directorate was disbanded in 1984 after the unit’s activities, which included burning a barn owned by the family of a Quebec separatist, became the subject of an investigation known as the McDonald Commission.
These new powers would grant CSIS the ability to ‘disrupt’ activities that threaten national security, a situation very vaguely defined within Canadian law. Whereas the illegal activities of Canada’s spy agency were once a big enough issue to create a whole new agency, a complete reversal would occur, allowing CSIS to undertake any action it deems necessary to prevent possible terrorist plots, including breaking the law, both within and outside of Canada.
The Harper government and much of the domestic media are insistant that these measures are required to combat the threat of Islamic terror groups such as ISIS, treating any objections to the bill as being in support of violent Islamic extremism. There’s an absurd irony to this, coming at the same time that CSIS is being accussed by Turkish officials of having one of their assets help ISIS recruit 3 young British women. This kind of highly duplicitious and hypocritical activity points towards the truth, that the real targets of C51 are those who express opposition to the Harper Government agenda.
Again though, why should a clan of peaceful people occupying their own territory be concerned with legislation targeting ‘terrorists’? After all, there have been no threats of violence, no intent to intimidate or terrorize anyone, or any of the actions we have long associated with terrorism.
Bill C51, while ostensibly targeted towards violent Jihadism, conveniently puts into law practices that the state has long been employing to stifle the opposition towards their aggressive resource colonialism. More importantly than that, it draws attention to the possibility of these repressive state tactics happening, and furthermore happening to anyone who supports resistance to state policy in any form, whether deed or word, creating a chilling effect on dissent.
Within this proposed legislation, any ‘interference with critical infrastructure’ can be considered “activity that undermines the security of Canada”.
Whereas the groundwork has been laid for the state to argue that oil and gas development is ‘critical infrastructure’, then opposition to such development becomes, in the eyes of the state, a threat to national security.
It matters little that people like the Unist’ot’en have acted peacefully with peaceful intentions throughout the occupation of their lands. It has not stopped the RCMP from labeling them ‘violent extremists’ as demonstrated in a leaked report. Previous reports have revealed that residents of Unist’ot’en Camp have been the target of surveillance both within and outside the territory. It is thus not simply conjecture that Unist’ot’en Camp and other original people who stand in the way of rampant oil and gas development are being painted as potential terrorists. An on-going campaign has been in place for many years to ratchet up fear against original peoples taking a stand on their territory; an extremely mis-guided campaign, given that all acts of violence surrounding modern land occupations have been instigated by state security forces, from Oka to Elsipogtog. Violent repression of original peoples in order to colonize or obtain resources has been acceptable since first contact, but any violence resulting from self defense of original peoples has been criminalized heavily, to the point of being considered ‘extremism’ and ‘terrorism’
Under the provisions of this new legislation, CSIS don’t have to wait for any violent action to occur in order to exercise it’s new powers to ‘disrupt’, using any measures, even illegal ones, that it considers necessary, without any public oversight. Bill C51 would apply not just to those caught committing an act of terrorism, but to those who advocate or are even considered simply capable of committing terrorist activity. Specifically it lowers the threshold for preventative detention (arrest without trial, evidence or charge) from those who ‘will’ commit an offense to those who ‘may’ commit an offense, and extends the amount of time one can be held from 3 to 7 days to up to a year.
The bill also gives CSIS sweeping powers to silence anyone suspected of advocating terrorist activity, whether in public or private, by seizing anything it considers ‘terrorist propaganda’, from websites to pamphlets to video taken at a protest. Bill C51 also allows for an even greater sharing of information between government agencies and security forces, many of which are violations of privacy prohibited by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Bill C51 is so filled with violations of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that it is unlikely to survive in it’s current form after being challenged in the Supreme Court by a number of parties, including the AFN. That doesn’t mean that the damage is not already being wrought. Opposition to C51 is not just about opposition to a certain set of laws and definitions, but to the way that their presentation and the resulting debate are designed to frighten us into silence.
Bill C51 is not a development that occured overnight, but one which we have been able to see coming in the way that protests and occupations have been surveiled and acted upon for over a decade. Misuse of state power has always been a concern, and in this age of information, we now have many examples to draw from. What we are seeing is a slowly dying paradigm of conquest and colonialism, one whose defenders are clinging desperately to.
“Now is a defining time for our people. We will assume our roles and nurture a promise of peace and prosperity for many millennium to come.” says Toghestiy, Hereditary Chief of the Likhts’amisyu.
“We are healers and teachers who uphold our responsibilities with the hopes, guidance, and blessings of our Warrior ancestors.” says Freda Huson, Spokesperson of the Unist’ot’en People. “We are challenging a terrorist state bent on forcing their projects through our lands with lies and deceit. They will try and break many of their own laws, ignore the Constitution and Charter, as well as mislabel oil pipelines as LNG pipelines to get their way. We will prevail because we are guided by prayers and ceremonies.” Freda Huson, Spokesperson of the Unist’ot’en People.