The distance the Province and TransCanada need to cross to get to the position of the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs on the Coastal GasLink LNG pipeline is well represented by a bridge over the Morice River south of Houston.
That is where last Tuesday a group of Coastal GasLink (CGL) representatives asking to conduct work were turned away by what the Unist’ot’en are calling a “reoccupation camp” along a forest service road.
Video from Unist’ot’en Facebook group:
The camp headed by the Dark House’s hereditary chief with the support of the other chiefs of the Office of the Wet’suwet’en has been fundraising and putting up buildings with the purpose of blocking any pipeline from going through the territory.
Hereditary chiefs visited the camp in solidarity. The camp’s Facebook page has added that its fighting “…against mining companies, over logging, grazing leases on their hunting areas, over hunting, and oil and gas pipelines…” to “…reassert ourselves on lands which we were displaced from. The Western courts and governments have no choice but to prepare for how we see ourselves living on our own lands.”
On Thursday, TransCanada’s CGL joined contractors for an open house in Witset on employment opportunities. Witset signed a pipeline benefits agreement that the Band said would provide $55.4 million in payments over the life of the project on top of the jobs and training for locals. A secret ballot re-vote earlier this year affirmed its agreement with two-thirds of the new council voting for it.
Including Witset, all elected First Nations along the pipeline route from northeast B.C. to Kitimat have signed agreements.
At the Witset open house, Witset elected Chief Victor Jim said it was not an easy decision and stressed people avoid confrontation with any protesters.
“When CGL came to our meeting, I asked them ‘even if we don’t sign you guys are coming through, aren’t you?’ And he said, ‘yes, we are,’ ” Chief Jim told those gathered at the open house. “We couldn’t pass up on the opportunities for our members. There’s going to be a lot of jobs that are going to become available.
“And I just wanted to let our people know that I don’t want our people to be one-cheque wonders. What happens a lot of times is people get a big cheque and they go out and they do what they do. This will be good 2-3-year jobs that our people will be having, and representing our community the best that we can with some of the jobs that you will be taking.”
According to CGL, it has emplyed 84 Wet’suwet’en members to conduct fieldwork.
It also said $620 million in contract work has been awarded to Indigenous businesses for the project’s right of way. A press release from CGL added that $60 million has so far been spent “locally in northern B.C., including $3 million on community investment initiatives, education and training initiatives.”
One of the businesses hired is a collaboration between Witset and Smithers company Summit Camps called Kyah Summit Camp Services Limited Partnership, which was the company behind putting together the international student housing in Smithers for Coast Mountain College.
It will be in charge of building the Huckleberry camp 25 km south of Houston between July 2020 and March 2022, when it is expected to be operational. That camp will have a lot more going on than pipeline jobs, as all the water, waste water, food and laundry is expected to be hauled in and out of the camp to Houston.
Troy Young of Kyah Resources Inc., whose mom was from Witset, made clear what he thought this meant for the region.
“I see this as a possible generational change in the community, where potentially you have Coastal GasLink and Pacific Trails [Pipeline] providing seven years of well-paying, well-meaning jobs,” said Young, adding he also saw the training that goes into the jobs being useful well after a pipeline was built.
“The actual workforce will have the oppotunity to go all over the province to work for different projects,” he said.
Young also spoke of the infrastructure that will need to be built to support the work, including roads. He pointed to the growth of Grand Prairie, Alb. as an example he’s seen of investement from industry moving in. Young said his biggest concern about all the construction was if the Province could keep up with traffic demands.
CGL said the camps will have large recreation spaces to occupy workers’ time when off the clock, but one concern that Wet’suwet’en hereditary Chief Namox (John Ridsdale) said wasn’t being talked about enough is the influx of men to the area in the work camps.
“When you have people away from home, they don’t have the same responsibility as they would have in their own kitchen, their own living room and their own town. There are not enough police to actually enforce what is currently available, and now you’re going to add thousands of people on top of it?” said Namox.
“I think the responsibility should lie with the people who live here on whether or not they are capable.”
“And I am so tired about the monetary aspect. I want to look at the real problems, which is what are the results. I’m waiting for that ridiculous Prime Minister to start stating that this project is in Canada’s best interest. What about Canadians’ best interest?
“They’re going to come up with some pretty ridiculous statements. They already got this one out there, ‘oh, we’re tired of managing poverty.’ Well, who put you in that poverty? And this is not going to save you; this is just a short-term, little money grab that they’ll have. They’ll ruin the territory, they ruin our lives, and they get to go home and we’re stuck with the mess. We don’t get to go anywhere, we are home,” said Namox, who added he does not blame the Band and hold no animosity towards it for wanting to take money to try to fight poverty.
He was asked if there was an alternative approach. Namox said he wondered why there was not more focus on “green energy.”
“We’re still all right, but we’re making it worse,” said Namox, pointing to boom and bust cycles.
“These projects are not the answer. We have a way of life that we don’t need these.”
The Province is in support of the project.
Premier John Horgan was even in Smithers this August to talk for a couple hours with Wet’suwet’en hereditary leadership. Positions were not changed, with Namox insistent the majority of members are against the project.
Stikine MLA Doug Donaldson said his government would continue the effort to get support. He hopes the civil disobedience continues to be peaceful, as it has been so far.
Donaldson also said work in other areas like the first of its kind MOU on Wet’suwet’en child care, collaborations on environmental monitoring and enforcement, and housing are continuing despite the disagreement.
“The doors are never shut,” said Donaldson.
“We’re not just closing things down and throwing our hands in the air and saying whatever happens, happens.”
The Opposition BC Liberals also support the project.
Skeena MLA Ellis Ross in the legislature:
CGL has drawn up an alternative route east of the Unist’ot’en area, which a company spokesperson said ends before it reaches the Morice River.
“Our Coastal GasLink project will make a decision on the South of Houston Alternate Route in the first part of 2019, with construction activities in that area scheduled to take place closer to 2020,” was the company’s response to a query on routes.