Teachings of the Peace & Unity Summit
In mid-August, I drank water directly out of the Wedzin Kwa, the river from which the Wet’suwet'en (“people of the Wa Dzun Kwuh”) derive their name.
The Wedzin Kwa (which roughly translates to “blue and green pure river”) is sacred to the Wet’suwet’en. It is one of the last potable rivers in British Columbia and an important spawning ground for several species of salmon.
It also happens to be directly in the path of Coastal GasLink, a pipeline that the Wet’suwet’en have been resisting – at times at gunpoint – for years. I was invited to raft the river alongside fellow attendees of the 2023 Peace & Unity Summit, a gathering to rebuild and forge alliances in support of Wet’suwet’en land defenders.
Coincidentally, the summit was hosted in the same Smithers conference room where the RCMP’s notorious C-IRG unit planned illegal raids of Wet’suwet’en territory. But this time, the room was electrified by stories of truth, strength and hope.
In a session called “Reoccupying Traditional Territories,” attendees heard from Molly Wickham (Sleydo’) and Dr. Karla Tait, who are building entire self-sustaining villages on their ancestral territory.
In “Land Use Histories in the Upper Skeena,” Shannon McPhail shared how youth are being trained to protect large swaths of territory by identifying cultural heritage sites.
During the “Land, Water and Air Stewardship in the Face of the Climate Crisis” panel, Tara Marsden told us the story of how the Gixtsan declared 170,000 hectares of their lands off-limits to industry without asking the government’s permission.
And in “Youth Fighting for Their Future,” we heard from young Indigenous leaders who are fearlessly challenging corporate greed with ancestral wisdom and direct action. As Chief Woos summarized in his closing remarks: “the young people are coming back onto the land, and they’re coming back strong.”
It is an unfortunate reality that – as Gitxsan land defender Shaylynn Sampson put it during her panel – places like the Wedzin Kwa have to be fought for. Extractive capitalism is, by design, a threat to clean water.
But there is another way to relate to our world; a way that has been passed on for generations, and that energizes every person who spoke at the Peace and Unity Summit. Sitting and witnessing these conversations was an unimaginable gift that brought me to tears several times (and I’m not much of a crier). I offer them to you today with hope that you have the space and time to watch them, and carry the lessons you learn forward.