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Camped for three years, aboriginal blockaders vow to stop northern LNG pipeline

With surveying and clearing operations for the Pacific Trail pipeline project in northern British Columbia underway, Wet'suwet'en blockaders living at a protest camp beside the Morice River for over three years now are bracing to prevent it from being built across their traditional territory.

"Unist'ot'en Camp has recently learned that the construction phase of the proposed Pacific Trail Pipeline has started from the East and also from the West. They intend to have the pipeline finished to the Eastern and Western borders of our unceded lands with us as the last obstacle," reads a statement on the protesters' website.

Pacific Trail is a joint venture of the Apache Corporation and Chevron. The two companies hope to use the pipeline to move natural gas from hydraulic fracturing operations in B.C.'s northern interior to tidewater at Kitimat, a distance of about 460 kilometres, where it would be liquefied for export overseas.

While the two firms are 50-50 partners in the project, Chevron Canada will control operations of the pipeline and liquefied natural gas facility.

"Chevron and Apache have already made significant investments towards developing the proposed Kitimat LNG project as a liquefied natural gas project," said Chevron Canada spokesperson Gillian Robinson Riddell by email. "If the project proceeds, Chevron and Apache will be making investments of billions of dollars in the LNG facility and development of natural gas production in northeast British Columbia."

Robinson Riddell said the project is supported by many First Nations band councils, adding that 40 per cent of the hours involved in survey and clearing work along the right-of-way was done by First Nations workers, and 75 per cent of the project's subcontracts went to native-owned businesses.

The First Nations blockaders and non-native supporters at the Unist'ot'en camp vow the pipeline will not be built or operated on Wet'suwet'en territory.

Camp spokesperson Freda Huson said that the camp's "soft blockade" is operating at a single lane bridge on the proposed pipeline route. Vehicles are stopped, and drivers and passengers are asked to answer these questions before they proceed:

"Who are you? Where are you from? How long do you plan to stay if we let you in? Do you work for industry or government that's destroying our lands? What skills do you have to offer the camp? How will your visit benefit my people?"

"Wet'suwet'en territory lies between Burns Lake and the coastal mountains," Huson said. "We are concerned that this pipeline, if built, would cross two important salmon spawning channels in our territory."

Huson said the camp, established in July 2010, was more than a protest. Expecting the economy to collapse, she and other residents like Toghestiy (who prefers to be known by his single Wet'suwet'en name) see the camp as a kind of lifeboat, an attempt to create a sustainable community away from the officially sanctioned reserve to which their people have been consigned.

"Under the Indian Act, we were treated like children," Toghestiy said. "They took our territory and left us with crumbs."

Toghestiy said it's important for citizens to resist the B.C. government's rhetoric of "jobs, jobs, jobs."

"The pipeline would represent a quick dollar at the expense of destroying the land, water and people's livelihood," he said. "And don't say 'natural gas.' There is nothing natural about fracking or the gas it produces."

Tom Sandborn covers labour and health policy news for the Tyee. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at tos65@telus.net.

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