Indigenous land defenders at risk on Secwepemc Territory in British Columbia

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Indigenous land defenders are at risk around the world for defending their territories and the environment from destructive extractivist industries.

There are links that can be made between the dynamics that Peace Brigades International observes in Latin America and what is now unfolding here.

The construction of the Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline

A tense situation is unfortunately developing on Secwepemc Territory in British Columbia, Canada that could escalate in the coming months.

The Trans Mountain export pipeline would be 1,150 kilometres in length and transport 890,000 barrels a day of crude oil from Edmonton (Treaty 6 territory in Alberta) to Burnaby (Tsleil-Waututh territory in British Columbia). The Canadian government bought the existing pipeline infrastructure from Texas-based Kinder Morgan in May 2018.

The Financial Post recently reported, “Trans Mountain Corp. has restarted construction on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, the company said on [August 21], a year after the contentious project stalled because of regulatory delays.”

And on September 1, the Alaska Highway News further noted, “[The contracting company] Ledcor Sicim haven’t yet been given their ‘Notice to Proceed’ for the stretch from Hargreaves to Blue River.” But that notice to proceed could come soon.

Violence against the land, violence against women

The Peace Brigades International-Guatemala Project accompanies Lorena Cabnal and the TZ’KAT Network of Ancestral Healers of Community Feminism from Ixmulew.

TZ’KAT highlights “that the struggle for the defense of the land against extractivism must be simultaneous and inseparable from the struggle for women in such territories to live a life free from violence and the exploitation of their bodies.”

The Alaska Highway News article notes, “Trans Mountain had planned a 500-person work camp near Valemount to accommodate workers as well as another camp near Blue River.”

Both Valemount and Blue River are located on Secwepemc Territory and this video shows work at the Valemount camp already underway.

This new report by highlights, “The proposed pipeline expansion project would install several temporary work camps through Secwepemc Territories in Interior BC, where Indigenous resistance to the pipeline is particularly strong.”

“The influx of temporary workers for resource development projects have historically seen rates of sexual violence towards women increase dramatically in the communities surrounding the camps. Canada’s history of colonialism and its systematic oppression of Indigenous peoples must be understood and considered when observing the power dynamics between non-local temporary workers and Indigenous women in rural communities.”

Indigenous resistance

Peace Brigades International-Guatemala also accompanies the Peaceful Resistance of La Puya that for years has maintained a peaceful, 24-hour blockade at the entrance to the El Tambor mine given the environmental impacts of the mine, as well as the violent imposition of the project against their will.

On Secwepemc Territory, the report notes, “In this region, the Tiny House Warriors are building 10 tiny houses to be placed strategically along the 518 kilometre pipeline route through Secwepemc Territories.”

Beverly Manuel of the Tiny House Warriors has stated, “We have six tiny houses built and ready to launch. Five are already blockading Trans Mountain’s man camp in Blue River.”


Peace Brigades International has noted, “In Colombia, Guatemala, Mexico, Honduras and Nepal women defenders face additional pressure and discrimination because of their gender and because they challenge entrenched discrimination and accepted norms of behaviour. Indigenous women and women from rural areas are among those most at risk.”

Kanahus Manuel of the Tiny House Warriors has tweeted that men from the company are constantly driving by her home. She has also posted on Instagram that, “White supremacist #TransMountain pipeline security harass me and family.”


Peace Brigades International-United Kingdom has written, “In the context of defending human rights, we understand criminalisation to derive from the intent to discredit, sabotage or impede the work of human rights defenders through the misuse of the legal system, and through adverse and cynical manipulation of public discourse.”

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, has further stated, “Disregard of indigenous rights of traditional lands ownership breeds tensions, subsequent violence and criminalization, as indigenous peoples become trespassers or illegal occupants of their own lands…”

In July 2018, Kanahus Manuel was arrested by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) after allegedly defying an eviction order from North Thompson Provincial Park by the BC Parks service. Manuel has highlighted that the park is on Secwepemc land and that the RCMP and BC Parks service have no jurisdiction there.

While the construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline still faces legal challenges, regulatory obligations, and ongoing protests, the company building it expects that the pipeline will be in service by 2022.

Peace Brigades International-Canada is following this and is concerned about the risk of violence against these human rights defenders.

As PBI-Canada chair Ed Bianchi has commented, “We have to find a way to find common ground, to see opportunities and everything that arises and to work collectively towards a common goal of a world that is free of colonization and the impacts of colonization, a world where Indigenous sovereignty is recognized and celebrated and where self-determination is not something that people aspire to but something that people live everyday.”

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