Following a week where pipeline opponents dangled from a Vancouver bridge to temporarily block oil tanker traffic, an Indigenous protest camp has raised the stakes by blockading an entire park along the controversial Trans Mountain pipeline expansion route.
The occupation at North Thompson provincial park near Clearwater, BC, began as a ceremonial gathering over the weekend. Kanahus Manuel of the Secwepemc First Nation invited Indigenous tattoo artists from all over the province to share and learn traditional hand poke art.
When the weekend gathering came to an end, Manuel said a group of Indigenous warriors decided to stay at the site to stop the Trans Mountain expansion. When reached by phone Wednesday, Manuel was standing guard at the park’s entrance, telling would-be campers to find somewhere else to pitch their tents.
“We are saying this is no longer a park,” she told VICE. “We’re re-establishing our ancestral village site. We’re going to reclaim this area in order to assert our authority and jurisdiction.”
Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline currently transports Northern Alberta crude through British Columbia to Metro Vancouver ports. The pipe crosses through more than 500 kilometres of Secwepemc territory—land Manuel says was never ceded to Canada.
The protest camp is taking shape weeks after Canada took ownership of the Trans Mountain project, which has faced massive opposition from First Nations and environmentalists. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has declared the $7.4 billion pipeline a matter of “national interest” while opponents say it’s an ecological disaster waiting to happen. The “twinned” pipe will transport diluted bitumen instead of standard crude, and will increase tanker traffic in Vancouver’s Burrard Inlet sevenfold.
Manuel has vowed to stop construction of the project by putting tiny houses in the pipeline’s path, starting with its route along the North Thompson river. Construction on the homes began last September, with three of them now positioned along the Trans Mountain route.
“As Indigenous people we've always put our bodies on the front lines, but this way we want to show that our land is our home,” Manuel told VICE last year. “We're putting tiny houses out there to scream that message to the world: that pushing a pipeline through is tearing through our home.”
The camp has already raised some tensions in the area, with police making appearances at the gates and monitoring by helicopter. One former supporter told VICE he was roughly ejected from the camp and accused of doing drugs—something he reported to the RCMP.
According to Manuel, BC’s government has yet to make contact with the protesters. So far, the province doesn’t appear to be making moves to dismantle the camp.
"The province recognizes the right to engage in peaceful protest, however, also recognizes that people and families who are simply wanting a camping experience in this particular park are regrettably being inconvenienced," reads an environment ministry statement to CBC.
With more supporters arriving with tents and supplies, Manuel says she’s prepared to camp out for the long haul. She told VICE she is reaching out to Indigenous rights lawyers and human rights observers to monitor the situation.
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