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What you need to know about the Unist'ot'en-pipeline standoff

There's nothing simple about this story. 

Unist'ot'en Camp, RCMP, pipelines, First Nations, Enbridge Northern Gateway
Residents and supporters of the Unist'ot'en Camp have sent a loud and clear message to pipeline developers. Photo courtesy of Unist'ot'en Camp.

According to spokesperson Freda Huson, the first thing you need to know about the Unist'ot'en Camp is that it isn't really a camp at all.

“It’s a community," she told Vancouver Observer. "We have permanent structures, it’s not just a bunch of little tents set up here and there.” Huson has lived there for more than three years, and seen the homestead grow and prosper. 

She's not about to let it be bulldozed by pipelines. 

Unist'ot'en, Wet'suwet'en, B.C. First Nations, B.C. LNG

The large map, provided by the Wet'suwet'en First Nation, shows the tentative routes of five major pipeline proposals (natural gas in red, oil in blue) that if approved, would run straight through Wet'suwet'en territory. The small map, pasted in the corner by Vancouver Oberserver, is a rough outline of Wet'suwet'en land. 

It's clear that any pipeline going to Prince Rupert or Kitimat will almost inevitably plough through their ancestral homeland, but which part of this land belongs to the Unist'ot'en?

The answer is complicated. 

Wet'suwet'en structure

The Unist'ot'en have a rich cultural history and are known as "toughest of the Wet'suwet'en" for their abundant and challenging territory. The Wet'suwet'en are an Indigenous group in Canada that consists of six nations led by government chiefs, each allocated reserve land according to the Indian Act

The Unist'ot'en are part of the Moricetown Band by virtue of their membership to the Gilseyhu Clan (Big Frog Clan). The Wet'suwet'en nations consist of five major clans, and a group of small clans within each large one. Each clan is led by a hereditary chief, and the Unist'ot'en follow Chief Knedebeas, Warner William:

Wet'suwet'en, Unist'ot'en, Big Frog Clan, First Nations governance
Wet'suwet'en clan structure. Image courtesy of Wet'suwet'en First Nation. 

The six nations of the Wet'suwet'en have been allocated land by the federal government, but ancestral claims of each Wet'suwet'en clan far predate these handed down divisions.

The Office of the Wet'suwet'en has a rough territory map for the five major clans, with the Gilseyhu in pink, the Laksilyu in orange, the Gitdumden in green, the Laksamshu in yellow, and the Tsayu in blue: 

Wet'suwet'en, Unist'ot'en, First Nations governance, B.C. First Nations

Territory dispute

Based on this map, Unist'ot'en territory falls somewhere within the pink land belonging to the Gilseyhu. Unist'ot'en Camp spokesperson Freda Huson however, has disputed a number of territory maps belonging to other clans, and said that many of them show Unist'ot'en land as being part of their own.

This is particularly troublesome if the clan is member to a Wet'suwet'en nation that has given its support to pipeline projects, she said. 

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