UN Headquarters (New York City) – Freda Huson, spokesperson for the Unist’ot’en house group of the Wet’suwet’en people traveled to New York City this week to attend the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. On Wednesday, April 24, she addressed the forum and invited the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Rights to visit Unist’ot’en territory and witness ongoing human rights violations against Wet’suwet’en People.
As she spoke, Indigenous delegates rose to stand behind her in support, including Chief Na’moks of the Wet’suwet’en Tsayu Clan (John Ridsdale), Omaha elder Nathan Phillips, and Ron Tremblay, Grand Chief of the Wolastoq tribal council.
Her speech emphasized Unist’ot’en people’s relationship to the land, the continued colonial violence inflicted by industry, the erosion of Indigenous rights, and the Canadian state’s perpetration of genocide. Huson concluded by extending an invitation to Ms. Victoria Tauli Corpuz, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to visit Unist’ot’en territory.
In a separate statement, Chief Na’moks of the Wet’suwet’en Tsayu Clan spoke on behalf of the Office of Wet’suwet’en and with support from the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, concluding: “Indigenous legal orders and Indigenous systems of governance must be recognized and respected, and not trampled upon in the interest of corporate development. Indigenous people have the right to protect and defend our homes and territories. We have the right to free, prior, and informed consent from any industrial activities in and affecting our lands and territories. We should not be threatened or criminalized for the exercise of these established rights.”
Full text of Freda Huson’s statement to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, April 24, 2019:
“Thank you for the opportunity to speak.
I am Freda Huson of Unist’ot’en – Wet’suwet’en People of Canada.
I am here today to express concerns with human rights violations happening to my people. Since time immemorial, my people have lived in a balanced relationship with our lands. We depend on the land to survive, and we are responsible for protecting it. Since Canada began settling on our territories, we have been forced onto reservations and away from our traditional land base. There are fewer and fewer animals to hunt, the salmon run is diminishing, and the water in the river is low. In order to protect what we have left, my family has been reoccupying one of our territories at Talbeets Kwa which is along the Morice River in northern British Columbia. My ancestors have lived there since time immemorial, and I have been living there permanently for the last ten years. In these ten years we have constructed a cabin, a healing centre for members of our community who are healing from colonial trauma and addiction, a traditional pithouse and permaculture garden.
We re-occupied our lands to prevent industry from invading and polluting them for pipeline projects. We have practiced free prior and informed consent to determine who is given access to the territory.
We make decisions about our lands through our system of hereditary leadership and participation in our feast hall. Our hereditary chiefs have said “no” to pipelines on Wet’suwet’en territory.
This year, a pipeline company forced a court injunction on us. If we stop them from entering our territory because they don’t have consent, we face arrest. We have not been able to hunt or gather our traditional foods. The company has security and police force to keep us from exercising our Indigenous rights. Elders, women, and healing center clients have been threatened with arrest for accessing our own territory.
The pipeline company is violating Wet’suwet’en law, trespassing on our territory, and starting to destroy the land. They have already destroyed a heritage site. After they bulldozed part of the forest, we searched through the piles of dirt for evidence of my people. We found artifacts. The archaeology branch of the government with police assistance came in and took the artifacts, and then released a news bulletin claiming the artifacts were not from their original place.
They are trying to erase us from our own land. All these acts that continue are acts of genocide. They want to extinguish our rights to our lands.
My people depend on our territory for berries, medicines, meat and healing on the land.
I am here today to make UN aware of the continued genocide happening in Canada, and to demand that our Indigenous rights and laws are respected.”