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"No Band Councils or Tribal Councils have jurisdiction over Unist'ot'en territory"

An interview with Freda Huson

by Brett Rhyno

» Download file 'fredaaug1.mp3' (9.3MB)

Photo by Caelie Frampton
Photo by Caelie Frampton

Interview with Freda Huson Friday August 1st 2014

TALBITS KWA, Sovereign Unist'ot'en Territory

Since 2010, the Unist'ot'en have occupied and defended their traditional territory from pipeline development in defiance of industry, the province of British Columbia, and the government of Canada. Recently they exposed secretive talks between the Moricetown Band Council and the Pacific Trails Pipeline (PTP).

Brett Rhyno, Media Coop

Freda Huson, Unist'ot'en Camp

BR Would a deal between Moricetown Band Council and PTP have any jurisdiction over Unist'ot'en traditional territory?

FH No Band Councils or Tribal Councils have jurisdiction over Unist'ot'en territory. We're a heriditary system which has five clans and each of those clans are broken into house groups. The only one that doesn't have house groups but just has a description of the terriory is my clan which is known to the Delgamuukw as the Gilseyhu but people better know my family as Unist'ot'en. We're probably one of the largest families and the largest group. We have jurisdiction, have proved in in the Delgamuukw, and we've never given over that juridiction to the province, the federal government, band councils or tribal councils.

BR What would you like to say to any Band Council members that might be considering such a deal with PTP

FH I've already said it right to their face that Band Council is a system that was imposed by the federal government just so they can try to take over management of our land and resources. It's not even a system where they have any decision making power. It's just implementing policies and programs that are developed by Indian Affairs and white society. Basically they are just implementing whatever they decide.

One and formost they are Wet'suwet'en and one and formost they belong to a clan. They are that before they are a band councilor or a chief councilor and each and every one of them belong to a clan whether it by Tsayu, Laksilyu, Gitdumden, Laksamshu or Gilseyhu. They are that foremost and according to Wet'suwet'en law you can't make decision on another clan's territory. The only people that can make a decision on Unist'ot'en territory is Unist'ot'en people. Nobody from any other clan can decide for us what happens on our land.

BR What actions have you taken since you found out about the proposed deal?

FH We've made it public, the deal that was trying to be proposed. I've phoned the Office of the Wet'suwet'en questioning them about that agreement. I've actually phoned people who were in attendence at that meeting becaues they were falsely trying to say that Knedebeas was in agreement becasue they were talking about our territory.

He's our head chief and when I spoke to him he didn't say he had agreed to anything in those meetings. I spoke to another one of the chiefs that were invited to the meeting because the main head chief said no to all pipelines. He wasn't invited to these meetings, they invited another wing chief into the meetings and he said that he was attending the meetings to ask legitimate meetings. He wasn't agreeing or saying no to either parties side.

So there's some shady stuff it looks like is happening becasue I'm getting conflicting messages from the various people that were in attendance at these meetings. It didn't look like they knew what was going on, they were being fleeced in by the Band Chief who doesn't have juridiction off reserve.

According to that document it was an agreement between Apache and Chevron with the Moricetown Band, but there was a clause in there saying they had to have the Wet'suwet'en hereditary chiefs on side before they could agree with that deal and they didn't. We have 13 hereditary chiefs and they had just a handful of them.

According to our system that is illegal because you have to have all 13 chiefs involved in any major decision and even so all those 13 chiefs don't make general decisions over all the territories. Each chief is responsible for their own. Gitdumden has their own hereditary chiefs and they are the only ones along with their membership that can decide on Gitdumden territory.

My five chiefs, not just one, all five chiefs, along with all the Unist'ot'en membership only can decide on this territory. Not one person can make a decision on their own, that's not our system. That's the democratic way of the so-called Canada and British Columbia how they make decisions. That's not our deciding system. Ours is by consensus. Band Offices can't do a referundem and try to decide if pipelines can go through traditonal territories, that's not their jurisdiction. The only time they can do a referundem is within the boundaries of the reservation.

The example I like to use is Vancouver becasue all of the communities are connected with each other and they are divided by boundaries for their municipalities. For example, Burnaby, Langley, Downtown Vancouver, North Vancouver, they all have seperate mayors. The North Vancouver mayor cannot decide anyhting for Burnaby, and Burnaby can't decide anything for Downtown Vancouver. Each of them have their own councilors that work with the mayor and they only decide within those boundaries.

That's the same thing that's set up for the reservations. You have a chief and councilors based on the population of that community and there is a boundary around that community and that is the only place they can make decisions. They cannot make decisions on hereditary territories.

BR Were you surprised to learn that PTP has intentions to carry Tar Sands oil and what do you think the reaction will be in the community once this becomes known?

FH We were suspicious of them right from the get go. When they initially submitted for permitting and environmental assesment, their submission was I believe a 36 inch pipe. I think it might have went from 32” to 36” but when they got their approval it was for a smaller pipe. And for some strange reason when they do amendments they don't have to go through the whole approval process again. They expanded it to 40 inch and now I understand it's 42”. And 42 inch is the standard size for oil bitumen pipe. So why would they make a standard for oil bitumen pipe if they are only supposed to be transporting fracked gas.

To me, I knew right from the get go when they expanded to the oil pipe diameter that they had every intention of transporting bitumen through that pipe. In the agreement they were trying to make with my band it says that they would not sell it to any oil bitumen company for five years so why would they just put five years? According to my people they said never. I know they said never. They are deadset against Enbridge but they were real iffy on gas, because they were telling them it was natural gas, it's safe, that's the message and they're believing it. “New technology is never gonna break” That's the message people are being told by a lot of these bands that are buying into it, that's it safe, when in fact it isn't.

BR We have recent reports that PTP has done substantial Right of Way work around Kitimat and Terrace. What response can the company expect if they try to cross into Unist'ot'en territory?

FH They won't be crossing our territory. We've already said no. No means no. There's no negotiating. We're not holding out for them to give us some money. We don't want their blood money because we're protecting our waters, our wildlife, our land for generations ahead. For my future grandchildren, great grandchildren, all my nieces and their children and their grandchildren. It's for the future generation.

We've only got very little left. Everythings been taken up by agriculture, by the municipalities and pretty much settlers have taken over all our lands already and now its settlers who are trying to come in and take what's left. So we're saying no. We're not taking anymore because we've lost so much already and we're thinking of our children.

If we don't protect that for them, they are the ones who will suffer. Sure we're living fine now but there will be no more clean water for them to drink, and all the fish will be gone, and every other animal. They are all connected and rely on each other. Fish need the water, and bears eat the fish and everything is connected and rely on each other. And if we don't sustain all of the earth including the animals if the animal die, we will be the next ones to die because we follow suit with the animals.

Everything we do on this earth today, man has learned that from animals, so why would they disrespect the animals and ruin their homelands by putting stupid pipes through this land. They've already taken everything for agriculture and grizzlies get removed from their habitat because farmers expand. And then all of a sudden it's not the farmers fault that he's kicking the grizzley out of his home. They blame the grizzley and the grizzley either gets shot or else gets moved to another grizzley's territory. And of course that grizzley is going to encounter conflict because they're territorial.

The whole world is messed up right now because everything is about economics, economics, all the bottom line of how much money they can make, yet one day that money is going to mean nothing. That whole ecomony is going to collapse because it can't sustain itself. There's way too many people in this planet, and pretty soon they won't be able to feed all the people. We'll run into the same problem as China.

China can't sustain itself because they have way too many people and they limit people to have one child. Well we're running into that problem because we have a lot of people keep coming and coming into our lands. There's way too many people and we can't keep up with it. And because we've destroyed the climate so much even agriculture is going to have a hard time surviving with climate change.

BR What was your response and what do you think the significance of Apache divesting from the LNG project.

FH I'm happy that it's come to that because that was our main goal to ensure that the investors don't continue on investing in a failing project. It just really blows me away. I work in economic development and when you look at the economy in BC, oil and gas is second from the bottom and forestry is at the very bottom.

Why are our people still trying to invest in a losing economy instead of investing in to stuff that is going to improve the economy and create jobs? Right now tourism is one of the highest employers of BC residents and why would they destroy the beauty out here when they could look into tourism initiatives like eco-tourism so that you can ensure that you're not going to impact the waters, you're not going to impact the lands?


There are a lot of other oppourtunities. There's alternative energies. Technology seems to be way up there. Why are we being so stupid as investing in something that's at the tail end? You're not going to make no money out of it. It's going to be boom and bust. It blows me away that people in leadership are uneducated and making uneducated decisions. It appears that people aren't listening. They aren't waking up.

All I can say to these people is you're going to be woken up when the economy collapses and the dollar doesn't mean a thing. You're going to have to fend for yourself and you're not going to survive.

If you don't know how to live off the land, get your own food, grow your own food, you're going to be the first people to go. The ones who have always lived modestly, and grew their own food, and knew how to take care of themselves, and didn't rely on anybody else to sustain their own families, they are the only people that are gong to survive.

The first people that are going to go are the people in city centres. You get your food in the grocery stores. Eventually those grocery store shelves are going to go empty. Because we're doing nothing to stop global warming, we're doing nothing to prevent industries to continue to pollute. For some odd reason Canada and the BC government is not doing nothing to minimize the pollution from these industries. Instread they're supporting these industries and thinking that's their saviour when it's killing the whole planet and it's going to kill all mankind eventually.

BR Do you have any message to get out to specifically Media Coop audience about how they can support the camp or to fight against the system in their own homes.

FH Get educated and give facts, facts, facts. Get the facts from the people that already have no water because of the fracking fields. Where people are already sick and dying and where the crooked industry has silenced them from speaking to media because they have no choice.

They invest every damn dollar they have into agriculture and their farmland they bought but then it ran out of water. Or else their water is poisoned. They tell them they can put in a fancy expensive filtering system worth thousands and thousands of dollars if they sign this agreement that their not going to go to media or anybody.

If they don't sign that silencing agreement they're not gonna help them. And a lot of them end up just signing it because what else are they gonna do? So educate people. People have to wake up. Before it's too late.

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