How we got a journalist into the Unist’ot’en camp

You can help keep journalist Jerome Turner in Wet’suwet’en territory
Jerome Turner
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Last week, the RCMP set up a roadblock on the remote Morice Forest Service Road, which leads to a series of camps set up by hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation to oppose the construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline on their unceded territory.

Ricochet’s coverage from Wet’suwet’en territory:

This intervention is reminiscent of the actions the RCMP took in advance of a raid at Gidimt’en checkpoint a year ago. The Guardian has reported that RCMP officers had authorization to use lethal force during that raid.

The bridge leading to the Unist'ot'en camp
Jerome Turner

The company building the pipeline, TC Energy, and the B.C. and federal governments have expressed interest in negotiation, but the only outcome they will accept is for the pipeline to be built.

The hereditary chiefs have made clear they cannot, and will not, accept this outcome.

Would the media be there if a raid happened?

When news broke about the RCMP checkpoint, a Ricochet editor started texting contacts at other national outlets to see if they were sending someone to cover the story. The answer for the most part was no. The costs of getting a journalist to a remote part of B.C. are very high, and there was no certainty about when the RCMP might take further action.

Daily life in the Unist'ot'en camp
Jerome Turner

There were exceptions. Amber Bracken, a freelance photojournalist, was up at the Unist’ot’en camp for The Narwhal magazine. Global B.C. journalist Sarah MacDonald was based in Smithers for two weeks to cover the story. By the end of the week, APTN had sent a crew, but they were unable to make it to the Unist’ot’en camp over the weekend. There are also several documentary crews in the area but their output will not come in the form of real-time updates.

The media presence was sparse, to say the least.

So Ricochet decided to figure out how to get a journalist to Wet’suwet’en territory.

How does a crowdfunded outlet put a journalist on a plane the next day?

A contact steered us towards a non-profit that might be willing to support such a project.

It wasn’t. Neither were the next dozen non-profits and NGOs we reached out to. After putting out a call on Twitter, a Ricochet editor received a message from an individual saying they could donate $500. Not enough, but a start!

The Unist'ot'en camp snowplow
Jerome Turner

Then we found a partner that could donate enough to cover the flight and some other costs: Greenpeace Canada. As a crowdfunded outlet, Ricochet’s primary (and almost exclusive) source of funding is individuals, and Greenpeace, like any of our donors, will have no input on editorial content.

So we could get a journalist up there. But there were plenty of other costs we needed to cover. We asked our readers for support, announcing that all donations and new monthly donors in January would go to funding our coverage.

Few journalists make it to Unist’ot’en camp

Journalist Jerome Turner was on a plane the next morning. He’s a member of the Gitxsan nation who knows the area well, and also an accomplished freelancer with over a decade of experience in journalism.

He has made it past the RCMP checkpoint and is currently at the Unist’ot’en camp, where he has captured remarkable photos and videos of what life inside is like for those under siege by the Canadian state. The Unist’ot’en camp is at the 66-kilometre mark of the Morice Forest Service Road, and most of the road leading to it is unplowed in winter. Getting there is a journey and requires the consent of the hereditary chiefs. Jerome is one of only a few journalists to make it this far.

Dogs playing in the snow at the Unist'ot'en camp
Jerome Turner

He was supposed to fly back today. But he asked us to extend his flight so he could keep doing this critically important work. He has only just begun the work of gathering the images and voices needed to tell this story.

You already made this trip possible through your generosity, and we are all deeply thankful for that support. Now we need your help to finish the job.

So it’s up to you. To keep him there until Friday and to support the production of more content will cost us another $2,000. If we raise more, we can keep him there longer. And if by some miracle we raise more than we can spend on this trip, we’ll spend any surplus on further reporting on Indigenous stories.

At the top of this and every page are links to “Become a member” and “Donate.” If you’re on mobile, they’re in the menu at the top left. Please use them and share this piece.

Together, we can make sure the world is watching whatever comes next.

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