Freda Huson, 54, the spokeswoman at the Unist’ot’en camp, raised her family on a reserve and worked hard to pay off a house and five vehicles. Still, she said she wasn’t happy, so she came to this wilderness area in 2010 where, as a child, she had spent her holidays fishing and hunting. Since her return, she said her spirit has come back to life.
“Without our land, we aren’t who we are,” Ms. Huson said. “The land is us and we are the land.”
Of the energy industry, which she views as a threat to the land, she had little flattering to say. “They want to take, take, take,” she said. “And they aren’t taking no for an answer.”
Victor Jim, 67, an elected Wet’suwet’en chief, said he also deeply values the natural bounty and the cultural and spiritual importance of the land.
But he said pipeline representatives had satisfied his concerns about the project’s environmental impact and told him the project would go ahead, with or without his signature, so he decided to make a deal.
The reserve he leads relies on federal government funding, and the community struggles to address underemployment and many social issues on a shoestring budget. With cash from the pipeline agreements, the community is planning a language center in hopes of reviving fluency in Wet’suwet’en.
Mr. Jim, 67, is also a hereditary chief, and he said he wanted both arms of the leadership to find a shared solution to the split over the pipeline. “We have got to start working together,” he said.
A few days after the arrests at Gitdumden, the hereditary chiefs arrived at a difficult decision to comply with the temporary injunction, and, for the time being, the two checkpoints are open. The chiefs had expressed concern about exposing people to more arrests and violence, and the issue will return to court soon.
“It’s not over yet,” Ms. Huson said. “The nation has stood up.”