Indigenous Activists Fight the ‘Standing Rock of the North’
The proposed Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion would run through 518 kilometers of Secwepemc territory. Kanahus Manuel of the Secwepemc Women’s Warrior Society discusses Indigenous activists’ struggle to stop the expansion
D. Lascaris: This is Dimitri Lascaris for The Real News. A 2013 report by the right-wing Canadian think tank the Fraser Institute estimated that over the next decade, more than 600 major oil and gas projects worth approximately $650 billion were planned in Canada. According to the Fraser Institute, for every one of the projects proposed for western Canada, at least one First Nation community was “implicated.” The Fraser Institute claims that this could give Indigenous peoples an opportunity to increase employment and economic prosperity through collaboration in energy development.
But the Indigenous activists on the other side of the protest barricade in western Canada have a different point of view. A recent study published by the Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade, titled “Standing Rock of the North: The Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion,” outlines the risks that the financial and banking community face by investing in the $7.4 billion pipeline expansion to triple the amount of highly toxic tar sands bitumen flowing from Alberta to the British Columbia coast. The report lays out the environmental, political, and historical issues, and perhaps most crucially, the legal threat to the Trans Mountain Pipeline project. In particular, the report notes that the proposed expansion would run through 518 kilometers of Secwepemc territory in south-central Interior of British Columbia.
We are pleased to be joined today by Kanahus Manuel, who is a member of the Secwepemc Women’s Warrior Society and co-founder of the Tiny House Warriors: Our Land is Home Project to stop the Trans Mountain expansion. In her battle against the pipeline, Kanahus has been imprisoned and is named on several court injunctions for blocking destructive industrial projects in her people’s unceded territory. Kanahus joins us today from the Neskonlith Indian Reserve 690 in the Secwepemc territory, fresh from a European tour. Thank you for joining us today, Kanahus.
K. Manuel: Thank you for having me.
D. Lascaris: In Europe, I understand you met with financial institutions that are invested in the proposed Trans Mountain expansion. With whom did you meet precisely, and what was the essence of your message?
K. Manuel: We traveled to both Paris, France, and to Zurich, Switzerland, Zurich, Switzerland being as the Swiss Wall Street, as they were calling it there. We met with Credit Suisse, which is one of the financiers of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline. We asked on them and called on them to divest directly or indirectly to the construction or the operation of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, Trans Mountain Pipeline, that lies within our territory, and all of BC, which is unceded. We really had to educate the bankers and these financiers about the actual risks, because Kinder Morgan has not properly informed them of the risks.
Powerful message that we traveled with is that our land is unceded, and that the province of British Columbia, Canada, nor Great Britain never got the title to our lands. We’ve never ceded, or surrendered, or released our lands to any foreign government. This is what we traveled with when we traveled with this risk brief that you were mentioning. It cited all of this, including that it was illegal from 1927 to 1951 for us to even address this unceded and unsettled land issue here in so-called British Columbia and within our territory.
At that point, that was already in my grandfather’s age, and he began organizing in our nations and across BC on the housing issue. You fast forward to now, our generation, and we’re still dealing with the housing crisis and housing issues here in our territory in unceded BC, because as of now, what the government of Canada did when they came to usurp our lands was to take every single Indigenous person off of our traditional land base and put us onto 0.2 Indian reserves, in which we live in now. I’m right now calling and talking from Neskonlith Indian Reserve 690. To us, it’s a concentration camp. It was a way that the government of British Columbia and Canada could come and take the wealth of our lands and resources, and push us onto the 0.2% Indian reserve concentration camps.
This is not what we want as a people. We are fighting for our land. We are fighting for our rights. We’re fighting for recognition. We’re fighting for our title to our lands that we never gave up.
D. Lascaris: I just want to go back to the very beginning. When this project was built, I understand, and you refer to this in your remarks, it was not built with the consent of First Nations for the simple reason that the people of First Nations who were affected by this land hand no lawful right even to organize, for the purpose of resisting peacefully, whether through advocacy or otherwise, the construction of the pipeline. Is that correct?
K. Manuel: Yes, the original 1953 pipeline, when it went in, the Kinder Morgan pipeline that’s in existence and goes through our territory right now never got the consent of our people. It was in 1951 that Kinder Morgan got the approval, and at that point is when these laws for us to hire lawyers, to discuss the land issue, it was illegal for us. At that point, all of this destructive development throughout our territory, we’ve been bombarded by clear-cut logging, water extraction, tourism development, massive developments in our mountains, in which we resisted in 2001, 2002. That’s where I ended up doing jail time because we were protecting land, addressing and really forcing the government to address this unceded land question, as they call it here.
The province of British Columbia will continue to throw this Indian issue back to the federal government, and the federal government will say that there’s a way to deal with these unsettled land grievances, and it’s through the BC treaty process, and throw us back into the province. We’re not getting anywhere within this country, and that’s why we choose to go abroad. We choose to go target directly to the financial institutions that are funding these destructive projects on our land that’s destroying our land, in which our whole existence is based on, as the Secwepemc people. Our language, our culture, our food harvesting, everything is based upon the lands.
By forcing us onto these concentration camps where we cannot even leave these boundaries and to go off onto our territory, we see our houses bulldozed down. We see our houses burnt down to the ground out on our territories. We have mass arrests happening as Indigenous people stand up to protect lands. We are exhausting all of our remedies here in the country of Canada because they criminalize us as Indigenous people just to assert our own territorial authority, to assert that we’ve never given up this land.
D. Lascaris: Kanahus, the Fraser Institute, in its 2013 report, pointed out that Canada’s national unemployment rate at the time of the report was 7.1%, whereas the unemployment rate for First Nations reserves was over three times greater, at 23%. In a rare show of sympathy by the Fraser Institute for First Nations, the Fraser Institute understandably called the Indigenous unemployment rate staggering. But its solution is to expand fossil fuels expansion, solution to this unemployment crisis. How do you respond to the institute’s economic rationale for fossil fuels expansion?
K. Manuel: Right now, Indigenous people, First Nations or status Indians living on Indian reserves here in Canada, when you look at the UN Human Rights Index, Canada is right at the top, and Indians living on Indian reserves are down in the 50, like with any other third world country. The reality is you don’t need to be an expert in economics to know that if we’re living on 0.2% of our land base, who is going to be poor and who is going to be rich? Canada has been benefiting off the theft of our lands and resources since the very beginning. They’re celebrating 150 years of that theft this year in their birthday.
Here on Neskonlith Indian Reserve, we come from a very small community. There’s only two employers on this reserve. There’s the Neskonlith Indian Band, which has federal funding that keeps the social conditions of our people from just barely surviving, and a gas station that could possibly hire four people. There’s no employment on our reserve. Everyone has to leave, all the educated people of our community leave to go find employment in urban settings. 60% of our members are off reserve, living in urban settings. Here in the community, we have like a 80% unemployment rate. One person on welfare, social assistance, a single person gets $235 a month. That’s the impoverishment that we’re living in.
With this campaign, Tiny House Warriors: Our Land is Home, to build these tiny houses on wheels, to put them in the direct path of the pipeline, to protect our most important economy, which is our food and our lands, at the same time promoting to be our own entrepreneurs and enterprisers, and finding creative, innovative ways. Some of our Tiny House Warriors are going to be small business, to actually show our communities there’s options and the alternatives to fossil fuel, including the jobs. They’re flooding these government funding with jobs for youth. They’re targeting our youth to work for these jobs. They’re targeting our youth to go work at the tar sands. We need to be able to create alternative solutions for our young people as well, and with these Tiny Houses, we’re-
D. Lascaris: As I understand your argument, that means that the government has to allow you to control the unceded territory over which these pipelines now cross, and to develop those resources in the manner that you and your people see fit. Is …
K. Manuel: They need to back off. They need to get out of our territory. There is no consent. There has never been any consent for any of this, either civilian occupation, government occupation, industrial development, as they say, on our territory. There has never been consent, and there needs to be remedies in place for us to be able to assert our land without including them. This is our land. We have our own governance structures within our nation.
This has been a short time in a blink of an eye in the history of Secwepemc people. We’ve been here for tens of tens of thousands of years since the beginning of time. We have mammoth tusks carved by our people. We have rock paintings. We have all of our stories that go to the beginning of creation. That’s the power that we stand on. We know that this system of society is not sustainable. The Alberta tar sands is not sustainable. They have to stop it at its source. We have to. They have to keep it in the ground, because the tar sands is going to create even a bigger magnitude of changes in this world.
They want to mine this area the size of France, the size of Texas. They’re going to continue to ravage the earth if we don’t stop them, and the only ones that will stop them are the people that actually get out there and use their bodies to stop them.
D. Lascaris: I want to just conclude by going back to the beginning, when we were talking about your visit to Europe, Kanahus. Your argument to these banks, including Credit Suisse, was it focused exclusively on the legal risk, and therefore the financial implications of investing, or did you also articulate to them these historical injustices and appeal to their sense of humanity, and not just to their bottom line? If so, what do you think ultimately they’re going to do? What was your sense of the reaction from these European financial institutions?
K. Manuel: The real legal risk and the hard law of unceded title really drove home to them. They understand that you need the clear, proper title to the land in order for them to either ensure the pipeline, or invest into and finance any of these companies. They stood up. They noticed that we did our research. We were able to properly articulate why unceded title is risky for their finances. They knew that it was very clear that Kinder Morgan does not have the consent, and it’s not what Kinder Morgan is saying to them. They’re saying that they do have the consent of the Indigenous peoples, so going and seeing these people firsthand, face to face, and saying, “No, Kinder Morgan doesn’t have the consent. Canada or BC doesn’t have the consent,” and that’s the minimal standards, is the free, prior informed consent from Indigenous people for these projects to go through.
We traveled there on a global movement, the Divest the Globe, to bring together all different types of organizations. We’re a part of that organizing that was also taking place over there, but one of the things that was important upon meeting with Credit Suisse is they asked two questions at the end. One of them was, “Who is the proper decision maker? Who is the rightful title holder, and how do we do about getting consent?” If we’re saying that Canada is violating international, Indigenous, and human rights by bypassing and manufacturing leaders with the Indian and Northern Affairs. Before it was the Indian agents, but now those are the chief and council system, where the chief and council system and the reserve system, band office system here in Canada, is federally imposed, and their boss is Carolyn Bennett, the Minister of Indian Affairs.
What we’re saying is we have a traditional governance to make decisions. We know who are the proper decision makers, and we know traditionally, and who we are as the Secwepemc, that it’s always been collective, and it’s been collective between every man, woman, and child in our nation has a say on what happens to the territory. Not one reserve band, chief and council, can sign with Kinder Morgan or sign with the government, and that means that we’re giving up our title to our land, no. These are our legal processes that have been put in place by the government to take more land, to control more land.
There’s 60% of this INAC system, Indian Affairs Chief and Council System, across the country of Canada, that are in termination tables and termination talks with the federal government, somewhere or another. They made it illegal to even stay extinguishment in these modern-day treaties that they’re trying to push on our people, to say we extinguish our lands to them, and they grant us back lands as fee simple title. We refused that process because we will never extinguish our land, and our ancestors laid that before us in multiple historical declarations that said, “We will never surrender our land. We will never cede, surrender, or release our land to any foreign entity or government.” That’s what we stick by, as this generation, 2017, and this is what we train the next generation and our children is that we will never surrender.
[inaudible 00:16:17] Recognize our nations accordingly as nations, as distinct Indigenous nations that have the rights to self-determination in this world.
D. Lascaris: All right. Well, it’s been a pleasure talking today, Kanahus, and we will continue to follow with great interest your resistance to the Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion. This has been Dimitri Lascaris reporting for The Real News.