Secwepemc land defenders face risks as construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline proceeds near Blue River

Published by Brent Patterson on

Twitter photo by Brandi Morin: “Ceremony starting ahead of arrival of protestors against Tiny House Warriors living at Secwepemc traditional territories set in the path of TMX [Trans Mountain] pipeline expansion.”

On July 25, Secwepemc land defenders and allies gathered in Blue River (located about 230 kilometres north of Kamloops) in continued opposition to the construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline on Secwepemc territory in British Columbia.

The pipeline project, now owned by the Canadian government, would cross 518 kilometres of Secwepemc territory and move 890,000 barrels per day of bitumen oil from northern Alberta to the British Columbia coast for export on super tankers.

Opposition to megaproject, violence against Indigenous women

Earlier this month, 610AM reported: “Trans Mountain has started initial construction on its pipeline expansion through Blue River.” That article adds: “Trans Mountain says a [500 person] work camp in Blue River likely won’t be needed until next spring.”

In the meantime, the news report suggests that the Trans Mountain workforce is using local accommodations.

James Anaya, the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, has noted: “Indigenous women have reported that the influx of workers into indigenous communities as a result of extractive projects also led to increased incidents of sexual harassment and violence, including rape and assault.”

A Secwepemc Women’s Declaration states: “Wherever man camps are set up, we face exponential increases in sexual violence.”

Pro-pipeline rally at Blue River

The Secwepemc gathering on July 25 was also organized in response to a “rally to reclaim the North Thompson Valley” that argued: “the people who rightfully call the valley home – all people – have had enough of the illegitimate protest and their vulgar and divisive methods. It’s time for them to leave.”

610AM reports: “Rally organizer Darren Bowser says his community is tired of the ‘bad behaviour’ from the Tiny House Warriors as they continue to oppose the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion in the area.”

Title and rights holders of territories

The rally also happened in the context of a July 2 statement by the Simpcw First Nation and the Tk’emlUps te Secwepemc endorsing the pipeline.

That statement adds: “The leadership of the Simpcw and Tk’emlUps te Secwepemc, expressly oppose the Tiny House Warrior’s occupation of lands within Simpcwul’ecw and denounce the threatening and aggressive conduct towards all peoples.”

Commenting on their statement of support for the pipeline, Chief Judy Wilson of the Neskonlith First Nation stated: “Even the Canadian courts – which are in a conflict of interest – recognize that Aboriginal Title and Rights are held collectively by the Indigenous Peoples, not by one or two Indian Act bands.”

Secwepemc land defender Kanahus Manuel has also responded: “Federal Indian Bands are not the rightful or collective title holders. Therefore, they can’t make decisions regarding our collective territories.”

Manuel has further explained that the elected chief-and-council system was unilaterally imposed by the federal government and has no authority outside their own reserve.

Risks faced by Secwepemc land defenders

Prior to the rally, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs stated: “UBCIC deeply respects the authority and jurisdiction of all First Nations and hopes that respect and open communication can substitute any potentially violent and inflammatory actions against Indigenous land defenders.”

The UBCIC statement adds: “[The Tiny House Warriors] have experienced repeated incidences of misogyny, racism, harassment, and violence for their opposition to the pipeline and the associated work camps that imperil the safety and welfare of Indigenous women and girls.”

On July 25, Amnesty International Canada expressed concern for the potential for violence given the pro-pipeline rally and the Secwepemc gathering.

Their email to the RCMP stated: “Amnesty International is concerned that in this context there is potential for there to be tension and confrontation, and even for the situation on Saturday to flare up with personal attacks or violence.”

Land defenders globally, the need for protection from violence

The human rights organization Global Witness documented 164 killings of land and environmental defenders around the world in 2018 – “ordinary people murdered for defending their homes, forests and rivers against destructive industries.”

That violence can come from state security services, private security, business interests, community members, and others.

Among their recommendations to address this, they say “governments, companies and investors must work jointly” to “make strong public statements recognizing the important and legitimate role of land and environmental defenders in guaranteeing safe and stable communities and ecosystems, committing to their protection.”

In this instance, the Trans Mountain Corporation, which is building the pipeline, is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Canada Development Investment Corporation, a federal government-owned Crown corporation, that is accountable to the Parliament of Canada.

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