Wet'suwet'en and Unis'toten Nations Rise up Against Big Oil

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In this country, known as Canada, which is actually the stolen native land of Turtle Island, Indigenous communities are rising up to join the tide of resistance to neocolonialism by fighting the imposition of pipelines and the tar sands in Western Canada.

by Julien Lalonde

Julien Lalonde is a Climate Justice activist with Toronto Bolivia Solidarity and Rainforest Action Network Toronto. He is an organizing member and participant of the People’s Assembly on Climate Justice in Toronto. He recently travelled to Northern BC and Alberta to take part in the Wet’suwet’en/Unis’tot’en First Nations Environmental Action Camp to build on Indigenous Solidarity and Tar Sands Resistance.

Today indigenous peoples in Bolivia, South America, and all over the world are leading a cultural Revolution to reverse 500 years of colonialism and exploitation. In this country, known as Canada, which is actually the stolen native land of Turtle Island, Indigenous communities are rising up to join the tide of resistance to neocolonialism by fighting the imposition of pipelines and the tar sands in Western Canada.

In Western Canada, extractive industries and corporations are despoiling Mother Earth and its peoples. In oil and gas extraction areas, communities are victim to a devastation of the natural world as the tentacles of the oil industry span to wreak havoc on all lifeways.

Free, prior, and informed consent for any extraction project should be prerequisite with no questions asked, but the vulture combination of rotten government and big industry plunder the earth with almost complete impunity.

In the media, the corporate sponsored side refers to the black resource of Alberta as the Oil Sands which is inaccurate, and deceitful because the tar sands are, in fact, exactly that, TAR sands. The resource is not oil because it is thick even beyond viscous, it is like dried molasses times 10, it is tar, it is asphalt.

The Tar Sands is a monster of non-sustainability, which requires an enormous amount of giant trucks, fuel, machinery, energy, cement, pipes, and water to operate; the tar sands are economically, socially, biospherically, and energy negative.

Canada, the newly emerged and self-declared petrostate is one of the biggest climate criminals in the world, and one of the planet’s most ominous and prolific perpetrators of environmental destruction.

To give an idea of the magnitude of the problem we are facing, the bitumen-producing zone in Northern Alberta contains nearly 175 billion barrels in proven reserves. Environmental assessments have discovered that SAGD (steam assisted gravity drainage), one of the energy-intensive processes used to extract the thick, hard bitumen from the earth, would displace and kill caribou, fish, bear, and moose over a region ranging from 1 -3 million acres in size.

The operation is massively reducing the water quality and quantity in the region, using approximately 4 barrels of fresh water for every barrel of oil extracted. This amounts to billions upon billions of cubic feet of water per year, 90% of it left too toxic to consume.

I could go on and on and on with stats and facts about how severely bitumen extraction is trashing the planet, but simply put, the Tar Sands is the most environmentally destructive extraction project in the history of humanity. To some, this is already common knowledge, but it is important to repeat again and again to truly understand the magnitude and severity of what is happening in Alberta.

The Indigenous populations of British Columbia and Alberta, however, are not standing idly by. In Northern BC, the communities of Wet’Suwet’En and Unis’Toten are currently fighting a proposed Enbridge pipeline which is slated to cross directly through Unis’Toten territory.

Tsalik Gitwet of the Wet’Suwet’En clan, explains how

“the decolonization process is both personal (mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual) and community based (no one gets left behind). It is daunting as we are faced with Neocolonization also, via environmental racism.”

Here Taslik mentions environmental racism, he also often talks about the challenge of facing the two-pronged aggression of colonization and neocolonization. In response, these communities are creating empowerment through traditional practices, and in doing so are stopping the ongoing attempts of cultural genocide in its tracks. They are reclaiming their past as the way forward to embrace their future.

Again Tsalik explains that

“rather than institutionalizing our knowledge and history, which only makes it a thing of the past and further erodes the living quality of our laws and ways of living….each part of our living history must be given breath each day.”

In embracing their traditional practices, they are manifesting the culture of self-sufficiency and interconnectedness with Mother Nature’s webs of life.

In July, the communities of Wet’Suwet’En and Unis’Toten collaborated to host a training camp to build on their ongoing resistance. There is a cabin being built on the campsite directly on the track of the proposed Enbridge pipeline. Warner, the hereditary chief of the Wet’Suwet’En clan, plans to move in to the cabin with his family in permanent resistance to the pipeline.

The priority right now for the Indigenous communities of Turtle Island, for Mother Earth, and for humanity at large, is necessarily the stopping of the Tar sands and the pipelines, and preventing the petroleum complex from turning North America into one big oil machine.

The Tar Sands is a gaping wound in the planet, the hemorrhaging of Mother Earth, and the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is internal bleeding. Big oil is destroying the health, and the sustainability of our beautiful world.

Petroleum extraction is a modern consumption addiction that must be stopped immediately; it is the central symptom of a system in crisis. Our only option is to move forward in the direction of a world free of fossil fuels.

Daniel Wildcat, a scholar of indigenous resistance from the Yuchi and Muscogee tribes, talks about indigenous ingenuity, which he calls indigenuity, and about the nature-culture nexus as a necessary course for the future of the planet.

The traditional practices of the Indigenous peoples of the land; harmony with nature, living well instead of living better, and self-sufficient sustainability, come together to form the culture of life, the only way forward not only for indigenous communities, but for all of humanity.

I finish with another quote from Tsalik:

“Our very way of life is the living laws. We can only perform these actions and ways of life after letting go of the ties that bind and keep us reliant and subservient.”

A collective effort is required to sever the mechanical and artificial creations that are despoiling the richness of human life and destroying the planet; we must do so in order to effect the systemic change that is so badly needed.