In conversation with Wet’suwet’en advocate Delee Nikal

In northern British Columbia, the Wet’suwet’en are defending their unceded territory (Yintah) from Coastal GasLink’s (CGL) liquefied natural gas (LNG) pipeline. The Dinï ze’ and Ts’akë ze’ (Chiefs) oppose the CGL project, which would turn pristine forests and salmon streams into a fossil fuel corridor. Coastal GasLink already bulldozed through Wet’suwet’en territories last year, destroying archaeological sites and occupying their land with industrial man-camps. If Coastal GasLink were to be built, it would lock in decades of fossil fuel extraction at a time when scientists are warning of imminent climate change catastrophe unless all countries rapidly scale down production of fossil fuels.

The Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs have launched two separate legal actions to defend their rights and title from unwanted industrial activity, and to hold the governments of Canada and British Columbia accountable to climate commitments for future generations. 

For RAVEN’s “In Conversation” series via Instagram, we spoke with Delee Nikal, a Wet’suwet’en woman & Gidimt’en clan member. She grew up within her Wet’suwet’en community, and actively participates in the traditional governance system. She has been an activist & advocate for Indigenous and MMIWG2S issues through labour organizations for over a decade, and has presented at the United Nations. 

Delee now focuses on organizing with grassroots movements, and education through social media, as a content creator with Wet’suwet’en Checkpoint.

You can watch the full conversation here.

RAVEN:  Can you share what is at stake for your territories?

On my territories we can still drink from the river, it is crystal clear from the headwaters. Coastal Gas Link (CGL) wants to do their drilling under the river and it would impact everything–all of the salmon spawning grounds. It’s not only CGL, but also an open pit coal mine has been proposed in the territory where test drilling has shown massive coal bed methane pockets. Our entire territories are at stake. CGL sets a precedent for what the government can get away with by not acknowledging Indigneous rights and sovereignty. 

The biggest collective threat I am seeing is the government trying to bypass the traditional governance system here. When two parties come to the table it has to be in good faith. 

How can people express solidarity and support for Indigenous rights?

My advice to anyone who wants to be a part of any of these struggles is to look in your own territories and there are people working against the injustice and land theft that is occurring. There are still over 100 reserves without potable water, there is criminalization of land defenders. There is always going to be somebody standing up, it doesn’t have to just be Indigneous movements, all of our justice movements are interconnected. 

How do you see the movement for Indigenous rights connected across communities from coast to coast?

If the government is not respecting our traditional governance system and doesn’t have to protect our rights and waters, what does that say about other nations where every single treaty has been broken? This is sending a clear message that if they can do it with one nation, they will continue encroachment and take more land from more nations.

Why do Indigneous territories matter? 

Without a land base, you don’t have a nation. For Indigenous peoples as a whole, our concept of an economy is based on our lands, waters, knowledge and people. Our economy is the environment around us and that is everything. The continual destruction of our territories says that it is ok to erase our histories, our being and our peoples and that does set a precedent for every other nation. 

What are some insights you would like to share about getting involved in the movement for Indigenous rights?

We have our voices for a reason. I used to be a really chatty kid and when I was young my uncle said, ‘you don’t need to speak all the time, you learn from listening to your elders and when you get to be older, then you can speak. But now you take the time and you learn.’ I think everyone needs to take the time to learn and share their knowledge. 

People need to take individual responsibility to take action, it’s not land defenders who should have to do all of the work. It shouldn’t fall solely on BIPOC and Indigenous land defenders, people need to take collective responsibility for change to happen. 

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