The Standing Rock standoff over the Dakota Access Pipeline was a reminder that colonization, and resistance to it, both exist in the present tense. Fossil fuel pipelines that despoil indigenous lands and waters have become key flashpoints in long-standing anti-colonial resistance.
An important precursor and inspiration for the Standing Rock camp is an indigenous occupation in northern British Columbia, Canada. For the past eight years, the Unist’ot’en clan have reoccupied their traditional territory. When the camp began in 2009, seven pipelines had been proposed to cross their territory, as well as their water source, the salmon-bearing Morice River. But thanks to Unist’ot’en resistance, oil and gas companies have been blocked from building new fossil fuel infrastructure. The lesser known but wildly successful Unist’ot’en encampment holds crucial lessons for anti-pipeline and anti-colonial organizers across North America, or Turtle Island, as many indigenous nations call it.
We visited the occupation this summer. Upon arriving, visitors must undergo a border-crossing protocol. There is only one way in and out of Unist’ot’en territory – a bridge that crosses the Morice River. Before being allowed to cross, we were asked where we came from, whether we worked for the government or the fossil fuel industry, and how our visit could benefit the Unist’ot’en.
We explained that we are both settlers, people living on and benefiting from indigenous lands. We also expressed our willingness to help in whatever ways were needed during our stay, such as kitchen duty, gardening and construction. Finally, we shared our commitment to decolonization and climate justice, and our appreciation for how Unist’ot’en land defense accomplishes both; it returns indigenous lands to indigenous peoples while blocking fossil fuel infrastructure that threatens the entire human estate. After a short consultation, clan members welcomed us to leave Canada and cross into Unist’ot’en territory.
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