On July 13 a new caravan of people will be bussed up to the Unist’ot’en Camp, an activist action camp it’s leaders call a “soft blockade”. Like most similar events, the media hasn’t been doing a good job at covering the camp. Movement-friendly media have been publishing misleading information- like Rabble.ca’s post that leaves the reader to believe all of the the Wet’suwet’en people “stand united” against the pipelines, others simply omit the fact that people in the community have opposing views.
Most of the information about the Unist’ot’en camp has been produced by their allies and supporters; many stories come from publications with low moral standards– the result is that there’s been a lot of misinformation circulating around. A prominent activist recently explained his theory to me about why media coverage of these events is often so dismal. Staffing cuts, and the time demands of the 24 hour news cycle can make it difficult for journalists to dig too deep. He suggested to try and encapsulate information for people in the media, “give them some bullet points they can work off, with lots of references”.
In anticipation of a potential conflict at the Unist’ot’en, and in the hope that this will help people better cover the story when it happens, I’ve compiled a list of five things every journalist should know about the camp. It should also be a good guide to those of you who are considering joining the conflict- beware of the risks you take with your dangerous new bedfellows. Not all is as it looks on the surface.
1 ) The Camp’s Demands Don’t Represent All Local Indigenous People
The Unist’ot’en Camp has taken a very strong position against all pipelines. They’re as equally opposed to the oil in the Northern Gateway as they are to proposed natural gas pipelines like the Pacific Trails. The camp claims that eleven pipelines are planned through their traditional territory, and has repeatedly stated that they have a right to veto any and all of the proposed projects.
What most of the alternative media isn’t covering ths that there are indigenous people in their community who believe that some pipeline projects could be beneficial. Take chief Karen Ogden of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, she’s opposed to the Northern Gateway, but has no problems with the Pacific Trails. Here’s how she explained her position in a recent speech to her community:
“Again I’ll say it, do we maintain the status quo and keep our people in poverty, or do we move forward- economically, and socially. Yes there are people who are going to be opposed to it, but like I said are we going to let the majority of our people suffer?”
If your only source of information comes from the movement-friendly media, you may be surprised to learn that four Wet’suwet’en bands have signed-up to the First Nations Group Limited Partnership (FNLP), a group led by former NDP/Liberal MP Bob Rae that’s working towards an agreement on the Pacific Trails. The FNLP claims their initiative will provide up to $200 million in benefits to the 15 first nations who’ve signed it.
Spokespeople and allies of the Unist’ot’en camp claim that the chiefs who signed these agreements are an illegitimate remnant of colonial rule. The protesters say that they’re backed by hereditary chiefs who have the power to overrule. Unist’ot’en spokesperson Warner Naziel (a.k.a. Dini Ze Toghestiy) claims to be one, he says that he rules by considering the will of his people.
But, at the same time, Werner fights to prevent people in the community from hearing the other side of the story- regularly interrupting and shutting down community consultations. If you’re searching for an example of how Canada’s environmental movements might be prone to supporting fascist rule, the Unist’ot’en protesters are a great example. Opposing viewpoints are will be smothered with force.
One of the Canadian media’s greatest failures covering first nations conflicts is that they rarely give a voice to indigenous people whose views are different than the protester’s. Instead, many reporters will amplify the voices of a small minority who force their way in front of the cameras. It sells papers, and makes for great television- but, the lack of airtime/column inches given to opposing indigenous viewpoints is inherently dishonest (it could also be argued that it’s racist, condescending, and/or lazy).
2) The Camp Isn’t, All That, Indigenous
Almost all of the Unist’ot’en Camp’s media coverage was written with the assumption that it’s an indigenous camp. In many ways this is true, spokespeople Warner Naziel and Freda Husan are indigenous, the camp is backed by self-proclaimed hereditary chiefs, and it’s built on land close to indigenous communities. But, like many protests, there’s a lot more to the story.
When one starts looking deeper than the slick banners and posturing protesters, it’s hard not to notice the enormous influence of non-aboriginal “settler allies”. The first clue comes from Warner Naziel himself when he let the cat out of the bag that he and Husan “hardly see any of our own people here”. If Naziel was the populist leader he claims to be, wouldn’t the camp be overflowing with local first nations people?
The real test of who runs a protest is to follow the money. And, in the case of the Unist’ot’en Camp, it appears that the vast majority of it has been running through the hands of their settler allies. One of the largest fundraisers was led by Bob Ages of the Council of Canadians, the same guy who managed the money for Occupy Vancouver and refused to disclose the books; other fundraisers have been led by Zoe Blunt’s Forest Action Network in Victoria, and by Occupy Toronto anarchist Taylor Flook.
Is the camp really indigenous led if the settler allies are handling the bulk of the money? And, if you believe it can be, are you not concerned that indigenous people aren’t in control of it? How is this different than the paternalism of the Indian Act?
3) The Camp Has Already Used Violence
When Freda Husan was interviewed in the Globe & Mail in April, she declared “we’re not criminals, we’re not looking for violence”. It sounds good on (news)paper, but her statement was a bold faced lie. Violence is defined not only by using physical force against someone; but also using intimidation- the threat of violence.
Residents of the Unist’ot’en camp have been physically intimidating pipeline workers and threatening to ‘confiscate’ (steal) their equipment. They’ve made no secret of this, going as far as to record their intimidation and publishing it on their YouTube page, and bragging about it on their website. It was covered by the Vancouver Sun.
The camp crossed the line between violent and peaceful the very first time they did this. The threat they make is to hand an eagle feather to the ‘trespassers’. The hereditary chiefs’ website colourfully declares that anyone who ignores the eagle feather and comes back commits an infraction that’s traditionally punishable “by death”. There’s no indication they’ll ever take things that far, but it’s hard to ignore the implication that they’re willing to respond with force.
Beyond that, the Unist’ot’en camp has become a magnet for people who’ve been instrumental in promoting and enabling political violence. They’re not just hangers-on either, some have taken leadership roles organizing and taking money for the camp. Bob Ages was one of the organizers who helped bring the Black Bloc into the mix during the 2010 Olympics, Zoe Blunt promotes tree spiking and vigilante justice, most of their films are made by Franklin Lopez- a man whose work glorifies street battles against the police (exactly what many participants are looking for).
4) Yes, The Camp Does Work With NGOs
Warner Naziel makes a lot of fuss about NGOs, like his anarchist friends, he claims he believes they’re a barrier to progress. In a December, 2013 interview, he made a clear statement that the Unist’ot’en Camp doesn’t work with them:
“We don’t work with NGO’s; we don’t align ourselves with people who sign petitions. That doesn’t accomplish anything”.
But Naziel’s statement was deceptive, the Unist’ot’en Camp not only works closely with NGOs, but they’ve played an instrumental part in building the camp. The clearest way to explain is straight from the horse’s mouth- Freda Huson was more honest about the camp’s relationships with NGOs in an interview in March:
“We found out about pipelines proposed for our territory along Widzinkwa (Morice River). We decided as a clan that we did not have skills to do peaceful and safe demonstrations. We constructed a cabin in the GPS route of Enbridge and PTP. So invited groups like Indigenous Environmental Network, Ruckus Society, and Council of Canadians to assist in organizing our first annual action camp.”
The Indigenous Environmental Network, Ruckus Society and Council of Canadians are all NGOs. They have a couple other things in-common too; the first is that they’ve all received funding from large American foundations. One foundation where they all intersect is at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the CoC’s have taken donations, while the Ruckus Society and the Indigenous Environmental Network are partners in the Rockefeller Brothers Tar Sands Campaign.
Let’s have a quick look at these three NGOs:
- Council of Canadians:
The CoC’s are a militant and labour affiliated Canadian non-profit. After the violence of the 2002 Quebec City Summit of the Americas, CoC leader Maude Barlow was quoted saying that breaking windows “is sometimes necessary to exercise the right of free speech”. CoC employee Harjap Grewal once took the money for an indigenous group that promoted killing “the white man”. Outside of their militancy, the CoC’s spend a lot of time signing petitions. The CoCs get much of their support from militant Canadian unions, but have received funds from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
- Indigenous Environmental Network:
The IEN is an American based ‘grassroots’ organization that was launched with extensive support from large foundations. Clayton Thomas-Muller has been their most visible spokesperson in Canada, one of the country’s ‘activistocrats’ who all share the same tattoo (fellow tattoo wearer Taylor Flook is currently staying at the camp). He’s also the public face of the remnants of Idle No More, some founders have walked-away in dismay. IEN has benefited from donations from the TIDES Foundation, Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and a host of other NGOs.
- Ruckus Society:
The Ruckus Society is an American group co-founded by Mike Roselle in 1995. Things were getting too hot at his previous group Earth First! after a series of high-profile sabotage incidents, many view Ruckus as Earth First! 2.0. Both organizations use a monkey wrench in their logo, symbolizing their intent to “jam up the system”. Ruckus were key organizers, training some of the violent protesters who were arrested at the Seattle WTO in 1999. Knowing their history, it’s mind-boggling to see that the Ruckus Society has received significant financial support from a wide-range of NGOs (including Rockefeller).
Warner Naziel would have been more accurate in his statement had he said that they don’t work with milquetoast NGOs, organizations that would shun their militant and violent tactics. The CoC’s, IEN and Ruckus society welcome this behaviour with open arms. As for the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, we can only guess at their intentions- perhaps they’re just incompetent at screening who gets their awards.
5) They’re Getting Money From Foreign Revolutionaries
The Deep Green Resistance is one of the most anti-social environmental groups in existence. Their charismatic leader Derek Jensen promotes a doctrine that demands activists must accept their comrades who wish to engage in violence. Jensen has publicly (and consistently, it’s part of his shtick) promoted that it’s acceptable to blow up dams and electrical infrastructure. If you haven’t watched the video of Jensen’s greatest hits, you may be shocked by his words:
The DGR is about as close to an end-of-the-world cult as one can find in the environmentalist movement. Their views are very close to anarcho-primitivism, a belief that the only way to save society is to literally smash the corporate machine- starting with dams and electrical transmission lines. Canadian DGR fanatic McDonald Stainsby said that we only have two years to save the earth, and that was back in 2012: (Indications are that Stainsby may be heading to the camp.)
American DGR members have been running fundraising activities for the camp for at least the past three years. Will Falk of the DGR’s Southwest (US) coalition was recently at the camp, and has been writing articles in American newspapers selling Unist’ot’en to his comrades and urging them to give support. People outside of the country are contributing towards the camp’s eventual escalation. Ultimately, Canadian taxpayers will be left footing the bill to clean it up. (That is, if the world doesn’t end before the end of the year, of course.)
Some Closing Thoughts:
It’s impossible to know at this stage how (or, if) the government and police are planning to deal with the Unist’ot’en, but indications from officials who specialize in extremism indicate they have a keen interest in the activities of the Deep Green Resistance. The camp’s participants include many of the same people who brought us the violence at Vancouver’s 2010 Olympics and the Toronto G20, their NGO partners are unabashedly militant. The camp may provide an excellent opportunity to monitor them.
Besides the cost to the taxpayer, there’s a serious risk that people could get hurt- and not just physically. Camps like the Unist’ot’en attract idealistic young people, easy prey for an end-of-the-world cult. When the arrests get started, it won’t be Harsha Walia and Taylor Flook taking the most serious charges – they always seem to slip away – it’ll be the kids who fall into their webs.
Some NGOs appear to be realizing the risk, and potential liability, of luring unwitting people into taking such risks. It was only a few weeks ago that ForestEthics’ Ben West called for a new Clayoquot Sound, but last week he started reigning himself in saying:
“It’s a very serious thing for people to take on this risk”
And it is. If you’re thinking about joining this protest, stop and take a moment to consider the consequences. An arrest at a protest led by the DGR could result in one being banned from crossing the border into the US (or other countries). Thinking about applying for an internship in the US, cross-border shopping, or going to Burning Man? Forget it, you’ve just been turned-away at the border.
One last message for Joe Foy of the Wilderness Committee. If your statement to the Georgia Straight was genuine last year, and you don’t believe that the DGR’s tactics are going to be productive, why does your charity have so many webpages promoting DGR allies?
It’s confusing, Joe, what are you up to?