A SPECIAL THANKS! to all who helped put this report back together, and an EXTRA SPECIAL THANKS! to all the wonderful people who helped us along the way with donations, roofs, and well-wishes. We couldn’t do this without your support!
The frontline of the struggle for indigenous sovereignty – against industrial extraction, against corporate pipelines – is not in Washington D.C. or Victoria, British Columbia. It is not in the offices of Greenpeace or 350.org. To get to one of the many places the where the battle is being waged, you have to travel an hour and a half down a dirt logging road in central British Columbia. Surrounded by forests of Black Spruce and Lodge Pole Pine on the bank of the Morice River, at the edge of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation territory, is the Unis’tot’en Action Camp. Here, the Wet’suwet’en are holding their ground, defending their traditional lands from a set of 9 oil & gas pipelines the Canadian government (and a host of multinational corporations, collectively worth hundreds of billions of dollars) want to build. Earlier this month, for the third year in a row, they invited their allies and supporters to take part in the week-long Action Camp, which included workshops, discussions, trainings, mutual aid, and relationship building.
But our story begins almost three weeks beforehand.
A few of the roadshow crew hanging out by the trusty van waiting for the others to catch up. From left: Val, Dillon, Andrew, and Spencer (Photo by Max Wilbert)
Over the last several weeks, organizers from DGR have been traveling up the Pacific Northwest on our way to the Unis’tot’en Action Camp. Along the way, we stopped in cities to gather donations, funds, and messages of support and solidarity for the Wet’suwet’en.
Max, Val and Xander started the tour in Eugene, OR, where about 20 people met in the Meitreya Straw Bale House, which is squeezed into the corner of a packed garden. Our first talk went smoothly, with some great discussion afterwards. We got some great donations and got a chance to visit with some interesting, unique folks. Thanks to the people in Eugene who helped put this event on!
In Bend, Rachel, Alex, and T.R joined the tour and caravan, and we were treated to a meal consisting of some of the chief foods of the region – fresh local salmon, berries, and greens – as well as great discussion about activism, solidarity, and the Cascadia bioregion. Those who hosted us in Bend are also working hard on a documentary called Occupied Cascadia, which includes interviews with Lierre Keith, Derrick Jensen, and DGR’s Dillon Thomson and Max Wilbert. You can watch the trailer here.
In Portland, Val and Rachel spent three days at RadFem Reboot, a conference on radical feminism that they found to be a valuable experience of woman-centered learning and solidarity. The rest of us went hiking in the Columbia River Gorge, where we picked huckleberries and listened as a local friend told us about the horrific role of damns in destroying the land. We also rendezvoused with supporters in several parks to collect donations of food, camping, and clothing.
T.R., Dillon, and Xander keeping watch by the fire (Photo by Max Wilbert)
In Olympia, we only had a handful of folks come out for the talk. Max and Xander were the only two at Last Word Books, with the rest of the crew staying back in Portland. With a small audience we decided to go with more of a discussion format than a presentation/q & a arrangement. Max and Xander gave a short version of their talks, then proceeded into a discussion about Indigenous support and some of the issues faced by Indigenous communities.
Immediately after Olympia, it was on to Seattle, where we spoke at Couth Buzzard Books and were treated to live music by not one, but two fantastic local musicians, Jeremy Serwer and Mads Jacobson. After some great discussions about militant strategy and class-based politics, we took a late-night ferry to Vashon Island, to spend a short 24 hours at the Localize This! Action Camp, organized by the Backbone Campaign.
We were fortunate enough to have several days of rest in Bellingham, where Dillon, Tarun, Andrew and Spencer joined our northward journey. We were hosted at the local Co-op by the Fertile Ground Environmental Institute (a local non-profit founded by some current DGR members), and the event had the largest turnout of the tour. We received LOADS of food donations from our many wonderful supporters in Bellingham. We also spent time swimming at Whatcom Falls and exploring a rare patch of old-growth forest, before leaving for Vancouver and our rendezvous with a caravan organized by Zoe Blunt from Forest Action Network among other organizations.
After crossing the border without any hassles, we spent a slow afternoon playing Frisbee, reading, and napping in a park, before heading to the Purple Thistle Centre (where we met up with Ivor and Lona), where our event in Vancouver was held. We had some wonderful conversations with folks about security culture, prisoner support, and preventing the infiltration of masculinity into our movements. After the event, we headed to nearby Calvary Baptist Church, which had reached out and offered us sleeping space. The next morning, we met around sixty folks traveling with the caravan, and after a last-minute oil change, we embarked on the 700 mile trek to the action camp.
Camping the first night on the caravan between Vancouver and the camp (Photo by Max Wilbert)
We didn’t arrive at the camp until 4:00 am two days later, after getting lost in the endless and confusing matrix of unmarked logging roads that snake around through the hills and along rivers. It was cold and dark, with the earliest hints of daylight beginning to creep up along the eastern edge of the sky as we rolled to a stop at the bridge over Wedzin Kwah (Morice River). Wet’suwet’en territory, the location of the action camp, lay beyond the bridge on the other side. After honking a car horn, we waited to be met on the bridge by the hosts of the Action Camp. The Unis’tot’en call the protocol for entering their territory ‘Free, Prior, & Informed Consent’.
Those seeking to pass through or stay on their lands wait at the edge of the territory until they are met by Unis’tot’en, who ask who they are, where they come from, what their business is on Unis’tot’en land, and of what benefit it will be to the Unis’tot’en. The protocol is tradition to the Unis’tot’en, and those permitted into their territory are expected to respect and abide by Unis’tot’en law. After filing one by one to meet and introduce ourselves to the hosts, we rolled wearily across the bridge and into camp, set up our tents, and collapsed for a much needed, if brief, sleep.
The next day was spent settling into camp, meeting the other participants, and helping erect some basic infrastructure. After a late oatmeal breakfast, we broke out into informal work crews, some of us building a camp-kitchen, others dug and built latrines, cleared and built a camp gathering circle & benches, and set up ropes for tree-climbing trainings. After a productive day of getting to know one another, we were honored with a performance by the ‘Ewk Hiyah Hozdli Dance Group Co-op, singing and dancing traditional Wet’suwet’en songs.
Beautiful Sky in the land of the Unis’tot’en (Photo by Max Wilbert)
The morning was spent as a whole group, meeting and introducing ourselves to the Chief and some of the elders of the Unis’tot’en Clan, and hearing their words about the Unis’tot’en resistance against the pipelines. We also were updated on some events from the previous night, when logging contractors with the company Canfor tried to enter the territory for a logging operation. The Unis’tot’en met them on the bridge over the Morice River, at the edge of their territory. The loggers were surprised by having to identify themselves and justify their entrance onto Unis’tot’en land. They were asked to present the maps of the area they were operating in, and when the Unis’tot’en saw that the Canfor contractors were logging out a right-of-way for a pipeline, they denied access. While upset at being turned away, the loggers hopefully left with a new appreciation for Unis’tot’en protocol and sovereignty.
We all spent that afternoon together at the first half of a two-part Decolonization & Respectful Race Relations workshop, led by a Coast Salish woman. She talked about her experience of decolonizing herself and the struggles that accompanied that journey, as well as addressing the systemic oppression and colonization that affect her people.
Elders preparing moose meat for camp dinner (Photo by Max Wilbert)
The next day (Wednesday the 8th) saw a surprise visit by three members of the Warrior Alliance, a coalition of members from different First Nations warrior societies. Together with a former member of the Black Panther Party, they put on a full day workshop. In the morning, they talked about what a warrior is and what it means to be a warrior. Needless to say, the criteria they presented are glaringly different (and incalculably more honorable) than those of soldiers within Settler (or Invader) Society. After breaking for lunch, the topics turned to organizational strategy & security, and protecting ourselves and our movements from the COINTELPRO & counterinsurgency tactics so often employed against us by police and state forces. It was incredibly informative and eye-opening; an invaluable experience to say the least. Sitting around a small fire on sentry duty down by the bridge, with our minds still churning from the discussions earlier in the day, some of us had time to talk about how this all applied to DGR, and where we’d like to see ourselves move as an organization. That night, a women’s circle was also convened around a fire near the camping area, providing both indigenous and settler women with an opportunity to share their experiences.
Thursday was a day of serious workshop-ing; beginning with the second half of the Decolonization workshop, which discussed about cultural appropriation, settler/invader privilege, and how indigenous peoples are often outnumbered by white outsiders. In the words of the presenter, the workshop was aimed at making people ‘uncomfortable’, and it was openly discussed how those acting in ‘solidarity’ with indigenous struggles so often put their own spiritual and emotional needs ahead of the cause at hand, effectively commodifying indigenous cultures and ways of being, rather than fully respecting and standing in solidarity with those struggles. It was one of the most powerful and necessary topics & discussions that took place at the camp, and left everyone with lots to think about and (more importantly) act on.
The Unis’tot’en welcome mat for Pacific Trails (Photo by Max Wilbert)
Deep Green Resistance had the honor (and challenge) of following the Decolonization workshop. Xander, Val and TR spoke briefly about the destruction & oppression inherent to civilization, the Decisive Ecological Warfare Strategy promoted by DGR, and some of our own guidelines for indigenous solidarity work. There were a lot of great points brought up, and great answers and discussion. One man asked whether bicycles were part of the future we envisioned, and after a lengthy answer about the horrors of industrial mining & manufacturing, someone else summed it up beautifully & succinctly, saying “Who cares about bicycles?” When the health of the world is at risk, technological trinkets that require mining and production (and therefore destruction and oppression) should not be our focus.
That afternoon, we split among several different workshops; some of us went for a plant walk guided by some of the Wet’suwet’en, some attended a film-making workshop led by Frank Lopez (of Submedia & END:CIV fame), some helped construct a smokehouse, and others practiced tree-climbing.
Friday, the last day of the camp, saw another fast-paced series of workshops: “Nonviolent Direct Action”, “Creative Action Planning”, and “Systems Change not Climate Change” (during which Indigenous peoples from across so-called Canada spoke about how climate change was affecting & damaging their traditional lands and ways of being).
At the same time, a crew of us spent the morning digging holes for food caches, where dried and non-perishable foods would be stored for future use. Later in the day, we wove willow-mats and cut pine boughs to cover the holes before burying them with dirt. As a surprise, our hosts took us on a short walk to show us an old pit-house, where Unis’tot’en had lived decades before, and trees they had marked.
Our last night saw more drumming and performances, with several heartfelt goodbyes and folks beginning to leave the camp. We found our hosts after things died down and formally thanked them for inviting us into their territory, and promised continued solidarity and support. We made a hasty departure very early the next morning, leaving early in the morning, about the same time we had arrived, as the first pale fingers of daylight started to stretch across the quickly fading stars. Our time in Unis’tot’en territory was brief, but the connections and relationships we made will last much longer. Having set foot on Unis’tot’en territory, having drunk from the water and eaten from the land, we are indebted to defend this place and stand in solidarity with the Unis’tot’en people to protect their landbase.