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I Left Home to Dig Pit Toilets on the Front Lines of the Wet’suwet’en Standoff

“I felt I couldn’t just stand by and watch this in the news anymore,” Susan Bibbing told VICE.

by Jesse Winter
Feb 3 2020, 7:35pm

Susan Bibbing answered a call for Wet'suwet'en supporters. Photos by Jesse Winter

If you’d asked Susan Bibbing two years ago how she planned to kick off the new decade, carving a pit latrine from the frozen ground of northern B.C. likely wouldn’t have factored in the conversation.

But when the self-described West Vancouver housewife saw pictures and video from last year’s police raid on a Wet’suwet’en land defender blockade, it was the last straw.

“I felt I couldn’t just stand by and watch this in the news anymore,” Bibbing told VICE. When the Gidimt’en clan of the Wet’suwet’en nation issued a call for supporters in January, Bibbing answered it along with dozens of others.

Huddled on a cot at the new Wet’suwet’en supporter camp outside a nearby RCMP checkpoint as the sun peeked over nearby mountains, Bibbing said the violence she saw in the raids last year pushed her to do something to help.

Wet'suwet'en supporter
A Wet'suwet'en supporter who asked not to be identified.

And while this is her first trip north to support the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs in their fight against a natural gas pipeline through their territory, Bibbing has a lot of experience in similar environmental movements.

She has supported the Tiny House Warriors and the Mountain Protectors in their opposition to the Trans Mountain Pipeline project. For her trip to Wet’suwet’en territory she brought donations from Extinction Rebellion in Vancouver, where she helped that group stage direct-action protests, shutting down bridges in the city.

“I think a lot of settler-descendant people like myself are rather late to the game. Indigenous people have been defending their territory for hundreds of years,” she said. “People who are non-Indigenous are really starting to wake up in big numbers and add their voices.”

supporter vehicles
Supporters' cars line the road at a Wet'suwet'en camp

While many of the supporters are not from Wet’suwet’en territory, their help is welcomed on the front lines as long as they agree to abide by the leadership of the hereditary chiefs and Wet’suwet’en leaders like Molly Wickham.

Most are reluctant to talk about their backgrounds because, they say, this isn’t about them. It’s about the people whose land they are helping to defend.

In Bibbing’s case, she said the ongoing climate change emergency makes supporting opposition to fossil fuel projects more than just an Indigenous issue.

“I mean, if you don’t value oxygen and clean water, then I suppose this isn’t your fight,” she said.

pit toilet
A pit toilet, part of a day's work.

Since arriving at the camp at kilometer 27 of the Morice West Forest Service Road, Bibbing has pitched in helping build the latrine (which—mercifully—was replaced by a portable toilet over the weekend), shovel soaking wet sawdust from the floor of the main plywood-and-plastic cabin, clear snow for an insulated bunkhouse, and more.

“Wherever I have a skill set that I see I can apply, I just jump in. As everyone, I just follow under the guidance of the hereditary chiefs,” she said.

She’s far from alone. As the stalemate between Wet’suwet’en land defenders and the RCMP has dragged on, supporters have come from as far as Edmonton and the U.S. to back up the people who live on this land.

Bunk house outside
Construction projects, including a new bunk house, are ongoing.

At the 27-kilometre camp, a core of a half-dozen or so land defenders have kept watch on RCMP movements for weeks, supported by a rotating cast of others who come and go, helping where they can.

Because of security concerns, the land defenders are careful not to reveal details about exact numbers of people inside the police roadblocks or deeper inside the territory, behind the barricades.

Donations of clothing, food, building supplies and time helps keep the series of Wet’suwet’en camps along the forest road going as they continue to occupy and use their traditional lands in spite of a court injunction forbidding the roadblocks.

bunk house
An insulated bunk house in the making.

Other supporters have come from much closer to home. On Saturday, hereditary chiefs from the Gitxsan nation arrived with donations of firewood and other supplies for the supporter camp.

Wiimoulglxsw (who is also known as Art Wilson) is Gitxsan hereditary chief. He said his nation and the Wet’suwet’en have been allies for thousands of years, and continue to stand together now.

Meanwhile, upwards of 100 additional RCMP officers have begun setting up a camp in Houston, about a half-hour’s drive from the front lines.

Twelve kilometers inside the police cordon, Sabina Dennis of the Dakelh Cariboo Clan sat on a cot of her own inside a canvas wall tent.

Gitxan chief
Gitxsan hereditary chief Wiimoulglxsw speaks to Wet'suwet'en supporters.

Wrapped in furs just as she was when she stared down police armed with assault rifles at the blockade last January, Dennis said her nation’s people historically traveled to Wet’suwet’en territory from as far away as Quesnel, B.C. and her own ties here run deep.

“I saw a lot of pain here last year,” Dennis said. “A lot of people suffered that day. It was literally a direct assault, and what I would consider a rape of the women and the people of the land.”

The RCMP have said they will continue to hold off enforcing a B.C. Supreme Court Injunction to allow for continued dialogue between the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, the province and Coastal GasLink.

Last week the province announced that former Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen would act as a liaison, hoping to help broker a peaceful resolution to the standoff.

But with the hereditary chiefs remaining adamant the only resolution they’ll accept is Coastal GasLink withdrawing from their territory, the stage is set for a possible repeat of last year’s enforcement action.

concert
Supporters listen to live music after sharing a meal of donated food.

For Dennis, she is determined to support her Wet’suwet’en allies, and unafraid of facing police through barbed wire again.

“To be able to see them and face off with them is an honour because it takes that to protect the women and children and the animals, and all beings that live on this planet,” Dennis said.

As both land defenders and police continue to quietly prepare for the expected confrontation, Susan Bibbing took careful notes at a recent legal observer training. She was headed back to Vancouver for a few days of rest, and to give her husband a break at home, but she is hoping to come back.

“I think (being a legal observer) would be a really good role to play, especially for people who really want to support but are apprehensive about actually getting themselves arrested,” Bibbings said.

“I think there is a huge demographic of people who fit into that category. If a West Vancouver housewife can do it, anyone can do it.”

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