Report on Likhts’amisyu Clan land reclamation underway in Wet’suwet’en Territory in so-called British Columbia.
Many of us in the environmental movement share a dream of a free society, in which people live together, caring for the land they inhabit. We imagine such a community as an autonomous zone, existing independently of the colonial, capitalist system we oppose.
I am pleased to report that I now write these words from exactly such a place. I now find myself by the shore of Parrott Lake, on a territory belonging to the Sun House of the Likhts’amisyu Clan of the Wet’suwet’en Nation. The exact place where we now camp was a Wet’suwet’en village site for many generations. In subsequent waves of colonial violence, the Wet’suwet’en were driven from this ancestral home. Now they have reclaimed it and are building a new village, which is be a place of cultural revitalization, of learning, of healing, and of stewardship of the land.
Some context is required here. The Likhts’amisyu is one of the five clans of the Wet’suwet’en Nation. For the last ten years, the Wet’suwet’en have been resisting an array of pipelines through which industry intends to ship diluted bitumen and fracked gas to the Northwest Coast for export. The focal point of these efforts have been the Unist’ot’en Camp, a long-standing territorial re-occupation which was built directly in the path of the proposed pipeline corridor. Years of resistance have caused multiple multi-billion-dollar projects to be delayed and/or cancelled. Things came to a head this winter, when the Coastal GasLink pipeline corporation obtained an injunction against the camp. In response, a blockade was established on a neighbouring territory by members of another Wet’suwet’en clan, the Gidimt’en. This was done as an act of solidarity with the Unistot’en, and was announced in the Wet’suwet’en feast hall, with the support of all five clans.
For three weeks, the Gidimt’en Access Checkpoint, as the new camp was called, blocked pipeline workers and police from entering the territory. Then, on January 7th, 2019, militarized federal police raided the Gidimt’en camp, arresting 14 people and setting off a Canada-wide wave of protests. Two days later, the RCMP breached the gate of the Unist’ot’en Camp, and pipeline workers entered the territory, where they began destroying a vast swath of forest to make way for the pipeline right-of-way, as well as a large man camp to house pipeline workers.
It is important that people realize that this fight is far from over. Although preliminary work has begun on the pipeline, and the LNG export terminal in the coastal city of Kitimat, no pipe has yet been laid. The events of December and January should be regarded as one phase in a struggle that has been going on for a decade.
A new phase of struggle has begun, and the Likhts’amisyu village represents a continuation and an expansion of Wet’suwet’en resistance. Part of the strategy is to stymie CGL by blocking them at multiple points. Whereas at the beginning of December, there was one camp resisting ongoing colonialism on Wet’suwet’en territory, there are now three – the Unist’ot’en, the Gidimt’en, and the Likhts’amisyu.
In the wake of the events of the winter, the Likhts’amisyu decided that the time was right to assert their sovereignty, and in May of this year, they began the process of building a new village. They received a donation of a significant number of logs, which they used to begin building log cabins. This was fortunate, as all of this construction has been done on a shoestring budget, with community members paying out of their pockets for many expenses. As things currently stand, one log cabin is built and awaits the addition of a roof, a second is being built, and the foundation for a third has been laid. The roofs will have to wait until some more funds come in. The plan is to have all three cabins constructed before the snow comes this Fall. In addition to this, a kitchen / mess hall has also been mostly built, and will be completed within the week.
The reclamation of this exact location is something that members of the Likhts’amisyu Clan had dreamed of for years. This is a traditional village site, likely inhabited by the Wet’suwet’en for centuries, if not millenia. It is located some 40 kilometres South of the logging town of Houston, by the shores of a beautiful mountain lake now called Parrott Lake. Close to the lake, there are alpine meadows rich in berry patches, likely evidence of Wet’suwet’en burning practices. A historic cremation site is located nearby. Many of the folks here speak of the strength of the connection they feel to this place, and of childhood memories of good times here. Everyone agrees: it feels right to be here. One woman spoke of incredibly vivid dreams in which her great-grandmother insisted that she understand how important it was that she bring her family out here.
This place was home to a traditional village up until the turn of the 20th century, when it was burned down as part of a government plan to force all indigenous people onto reserve. Although this marked the end of the village, in the following decades there was at least one Likhts’amisyu cabin here. Back in 1995, Likhts’amisyu chief Dtsa’hayl built a cabin here, which was burned down five years later by a foresty worker. Apparently this was accidental, but the Wet’suwet’en received no compensation. In recent years, the site has been called the Parrott Lake Recreation Site, and has been managed by B.C. Parks and Recreation, which is the branch of the Ministry of Forests that maintains camp sites. As of now, B.C. Parks and Recreation has taken a very respectful approach to the Wet’suwet’en re-occupation, and there have been talks about managing the site in some kind of partnership. This may be due in part to the very friendly, non-confrontational tact taken by the camp leaders here. The vibe here is open and welcoming. When locals do come out to camp, to swim or to go boating, they are greeted in a friendly way, and will often be invited for tea, coffee, or to share food.
On a less positive note, there have been threatening comments made on Facebook against the Likhts’amisyu village. The Likhts’amisyu village is kept occupied 24/7, due to the fear of local people burning down the cabins and out-buildings. Sadly, there is a long history of Wet’suwet’en homes being destroyed maliciously by settlers. It will be important to have support throughout the Fall and Winter in order to maintain a constant presence here.
In terms of bringing Wet’suwet’en community members together, the Likhts’amisyu camp has already met with great success. Often, especially on weekends, the camp has the feeling of a family reunion – people sharing food, telling stories and reminiscing by the fire, while kids and dogs run and play. There are paddle-boards and kayaks here, and the water is perfect. Every evening, from where we sit by the fire, we see the sun paint the sky magnificent colours as it sets over the lake. Clan members have commented on how the village is bringing their families closer together.
All this to say, there is more to the Likhts’amisyu village than opposition to the pipeline. To clan members, it represents a deep yearning for a return to their ancestral way of life. There is a hope that perhaps the day has come when they can at last return home.
There are also plans for a climate change research centre here. The leaders of the Likhts’amisyu Camp are in talks with a respected NGO and the University of Northern British Columbia to collaborate on this project. They are also planning litigation against CGL, and the governments of Canada and B.C.
Both the climate change research centre and the lawsuit reflect the view that the Likhts’amisyu have in regards to the fight against the CGL pipeline – that the struggle to protect their territory is a long-term, intergenerational one, and that it is important in this day and age to fight intelligently, using all tools at their disposal. Chief Dtsa’hayl speaks about the need to seize the initiative in the fight against CGL. The hope is that the lawsuit, in combination with the hard data gained through on-the-ground research, will enable the clan to put the pipeline companies on the defensive.
Although the Likhts’amisyu village is an indigenous-led camp, its leaders envision the participation of non-natives as equal community members. They plan to invite people to homestead here, irrespective of race. If a settler wants to live out here, and help build this community, they may be welcomed to do so. If this sounds like a dream come true for you, you are encouraged to come visit the camp.
Help with the construction activities would very much be appreciated, but we also encourage people to come just to visit. We feel that people who do so will feel a personal connection to this place, and will want to support what is happening here.
In short, what is happening here is new and different, exciting and inspiring. Thus far, there has not been as much support from environmental activists as one would hope. The vast majority of work has been done by Wet’suwet’en community members. This is partly due to the fact that the activities of the Likhts’amisyu are not yet widely known-about. To address this, we are specifically requesting that folks with media production skills, such as photography, videography, video-editing, and podcasting, support us by using their skills to help boost the profile of the Likhts’amisyu Camp.
Lastly, funds are needed. As previously mentioned, we are limited in what we are able to do by monetary constraints. We are building a second log cabin before putting a roof on the first because we need funds for building supplies to complete said roof. Any support would be appreciated – we would greatly appreciate it if supporters would consider hosting fund-raising events or make funding requests on our behalf.
If you feel inspired to do such a thing, if you would like to volunteer to produce media in support of this project, or if you could simply just like to visit, please do no hesitate to get in touch.
We also encourage folks who can to donate to the Sovereign Likhts’amisyu GoFundMe page, a link to which can be found below.
Here are some useful links:
1. The Go Fund Me page is at: https://www.gofundme.com/manage/likhtsamisyu2019
2. The promotional video is at: https://vimeo.com/332477793
3. The Likhtsamisyu website is at: www.likhtsamisyu.com
4. The Facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/likhtsamisyu/
5. The main email for people to reach the chiefs is:firstname.lastname@example.org
6. The main email for people to reach the support team is: email@example.com
7. To subscribe to the Likhts’amisyu listserv, please write firstname.lastname@example.org introducing yourself and saying why and how you would like to support current organizing efforts.
We also ask that people share the above links through their social media accounts and amongst their friends and comrades. Thank you very much!