Glossary of the Wet’suwet’en struggle


Wet’suwet’en :

The Wet’suwet’en are an Indigenous people living in a territory which they call the Yintah, located north of what is known as “British Columbia” (see map in this newspaper). The traditional language spoken by the Wet’suwet’en is Witsuwit’en. The Wet’suwet’en are divided into five clans: Gilseyhu (Big Frog), Laksilyu (Small Frog), Gidimt’en (Wolf/ Bear), Laksamshu (Fireweed) and Tsayu (Beaver Clan). Wet’suwet’en clans are groups of people belonging to a particular Tribe or House and are used to identify families and territories.


Wedzin Kwa :

Also known by the colonial name “Morice River”, the Wedzin Kwa is a river that flows through the Yintah. Currently, the Wedzin Kwa is threatened by TC Energy’s Coastal GasLink (CGL) pipeline, as they plan to run the pipeline under the river. In addition to infringing on the sovereignty of indigenous communities, TC Energy’s project threatens the long-standing salmon population which is a staple of the Wet’suwet’en diet. This pipeline would also be a disaster from an environmental point of view (see the text Grenhouse Gas and Pipelines).


Gidimt’en and Unist’ot’en camps :

Gidimt’en is one of the five Wet’suwet’en clans. After the injunction sent by CGL in December 2018 to Camp Unist’ot’en (affliated to the Dark House, a house of the Gilseyhu clan), which has been defending the Wedzin Kwa for years by preventing the RCMP and CGL workers from entering their territory with a roadblock, the Gidimt’en clan set up a checkpoint on the road leading to Camp Unist’ot’en. This strategic choice by the Gidimt’en clan was made to show support for the Unist’ot’en clan and to strengthen the resistance to the colonial oil companies and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).


Band Councils :

Band Councils are a decision-making body resulting from colonialism and imposed on Indigenous communities by the Canadian government in 1876 in the Indian Act. Band Council elections are governed by the Government of Canada and the Indian Act. The people sitting on the Band Council of their reservation govern and have the legal legitimacy to legislate on different subjects. It is important to remember that this management model is not at all consistent with the way the Indigenous communities on Turtle Island organized themselves before colonization.


Hereditary chiefs :

Historically, unlike the band councils which have only existed since colonization, it is the hereditary chiefs who are the holders of the territorial sovereignty of the different clans and are therefore responsible for the protection of their territories. These chiefs can be chosen by the elders of a community or by being descendants of other chiefs. Hereditary chiefs have difficulty being recognized by the Canadian government, which, in most cases, deals with band councils.


Delgamuukw and Red Top Decisions :

Delgamuukw and Red Top Decisions is a 1997 Supreme Court of Canada decision recognizing the legitimacy of the Wet’suwet’en clan system and the authority of hereditary chiefs on the Yintah, the Wet’suwet’en territory. This ruling is of great importance to the Wet’suwet’en struggle for self- determination because: 1) it gives legal validity to the oral narratives of indigenous peoples in court judgments; 2) it contributes to the definition of the concept of “indigenous title”, i.e., a communal land right granted to indigenous communities in their territory ; and 3) it recognizes the legitimacy and importance of hereditary Chiefs in Wet’suwet’en territory. Which in theory forces the Government of Canada to negotiate with these Chiefs, although in practice the Canadian state sends the police to beat and arrest the protectors of the territory who do not comply with its demands.