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More than a 'protest camp'

Staring into a fire outside a sweat lodge at the Unist'ot'en camp, Johnny Morris passes a ball of snow between his hands until it melts.

The 31-year-old Wet'suwet'en man said he's almost three months sober for the first time in years and he attributes it to his time spent on the land focusing on daily activities like trapping and ceremonial sweats.

The camp is known as the place where protesters blocked a natural gas company from accessing a nearby work site, but the healing centre is what's significant to Morris and some others.

"Coming back to the roots of our ancestors, having access to the land, I'm able to trap, to go hunting, to harvest what's out on the land, reconnect with my culture," Morris said. "It truly is a medicine for my spirit, for my soul."

Weeks earlier, emotions at the camp were at a fever pitch as residents and supporters prepared for what they believed would be a police raid on the camp. Many flocked to the area after RCMP enforced a court injunction, dismantling a blockade and arresting 14 people at a site down a gravel road from the camp.

The conflict surrounds Coastal GasLink's plans to build a pipeline from northeastern British Columbia to LNG Canada's export terminal in Kitimat on the coast. While the company said it has agreements with all 20 elected First Nations councils along the pipeline's path, including some Wet'suwet'en bands, the nation's five hereditary clan chiefs say it's illegitimate without their consent too.

The clan chiefs ultimately reached an agreement with RCMP allowing pipeline workers down a road that cuts through the camp, aligning with the interim injunction granted by the B.C. Supreme Court.

The truce has failed to calm concerns at the camp. Members have complained the company began construction work without an archeological assessment and bulldozed through their traplines.

"Them coming into the territory, it's making a big impact. I'm doing my best to better myself, and to see them coming in, bullying their way in, it triggers me," Morris said.

The B.C. Oil and Gas Commission and the Environmental Assessment Office are investigating the complaints, while Coastal GasLink said its actions have been lawful.

Several images repeat in Morris's head from his life before arriving at the camp: The arrest of his father for a crime he says he didn't commit. Waking up in a trauma room to deafening silence with his mother and aunt on either side after nine viles of Narcan reversed his fentanyl overdose. Walking without shoes down a road in the dead of winter after a night of drinking.

Morris arrived at the camp with his wife, Jessica Wilson-Morris, after she had her own wake up call in a hospital bed. The doctor told her he'd never had to tell a 25-year-old that she would die if she didn't stop drinking.

Wilson-Morris said she and Morris have supported one another through trauma after trauma, including the deaths of their fathers and her five-week-old niece. When she told him she was getting sober, he said he would too.

"He's the glue that keeps my broken pieces together," she said.

Wilson-Morris said she's tried rehab before but it never stuck.

"I went to a treatment centre and they wouldn't even listen to me," she said.

The Unist'ot'en camp is different, she said. She's begun sharing her story with residents and supporters, many of whom didn't realize she was there for recovery.

"They listen here," she said. "And we're isolated in a good way here, we're not half an hour away from the liquor store."



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