Members of the Secwepemc Nation have taken over a provincial park, erecting tiny houses in protest against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
The North Thompson River Provincial Park near Clearwater was host to an Indigenous cultural tattooing ceremony this past weekend, closing it down to campers from July 6 to 9, according to the Ministry of Environment.
However, some event participants have remained on site, saying they are occupying the park in protest against the contentious pipeline expansion project.
JUST IN: Tiny homes being placed inside North Thompson River Provincial Park near #ClearwaterBC, as Tiny House Warriors have brought in 3 homes and apparently constructing more. More to come. @BlackPressMedia— Ashley Wadhwani (@ashwadhwani) July 11, 2018
Images: Kanahus Manuel pic.twitter.com/kH4Qb7VH0c
Kanahus Manuel, an activist who participated in events like the Dakota Access Pipeline protests at Standing Rock, is onsite at the provincial park and said in a statement that three tiny houses have been placed inside, with more being constructed.
“Justin Trudeau has left us no choice. This pipeline violates our rights and endangers our lands and waters. To stop it, we’re reclaiming our ancestral village and bringing our traditions back to life,” she said in a statement Wednesday.
The Trans Mountain pipeline expansion was bought by the federal government last month from Texas-based company Kinder Morgan.
The expansion is set to increase the transport of bitumen to nearly 900,000 barrels of crude oil per day, running more than 1,100 kilometres from Edmonton, Alta., to Burnaby.
The tiny houses, one of which is visible at the entrance of the park, are part a project by the Tiny House Warriors. Additional tiny houses are being constructed on the site, Manuel said.
Led by Manuel, the Tiny House Warriors have a mission to stop the pipeline from crossing what it calls unceded Secwepemc territory, according to its website.
“If Trudeau wants to build this pipeline, he will need to empty this village a second time; in doing so, he would make continued colonization and cultural genocide part of his legacy of so-called reconciliation,” she said.
In a statement Tuesday, Manuel said some of the pipeline goes through Secwepemc land.
Manuel said Secwepemc people should have the right to practise their ceremonies on what they feel is their own land and to be able to do so in peace.
“This is what reconciliation looks like; for this past weekend we’ve had this security gate and checkpoint here at the [park’s entrance] to really protect our ceremony, because we’ve had a bunch of racist Clearwater residents, settlers, and people from the surrounding area … that came to force their way into our ceremonies,” she said.
“This is really important to us because we need to be able to create our own safe spaces to have our ceremonies for traditional tattoos and taking back our ceremonies to mark our bodies with our ancestors’ marks.”
Secwepemc doesn’t have right to assert land titles of park, Chief says
According to a map provided by Secwepemc members, the group’s land stretches from north of Valemount to south of Kamloops and includes Clearwater as well as the provincial park.
But in a statement Friday, Chief of Simpcw First Nation Shelly Loring disputed these claims.
“Only Simpcw has the authority to assert title and rights to the parklands,” she said in a news release. “As an independent advocacy group, the Secwepemc Land Defenders do not have any authority to claim rights to our lands, in fact, in our view, the Secwepemc Land Defenders ought to have obtained Simpcw’s consent to hold the event on our lands.”
Chief Loring said she and the Simpcw band council also wanted to make the distinction between Simpcw First Nation, the Secwepemc Nation and the Secwepemc Land Defenders, clear.
“Traditionally, the Secwepemc collectively protected the territories of the Shuswap; however, each Secwepemc Nation was, and is, separate and independent, with its own territory boundaries within the larger Secwepemculecw,” she said.
Clearwater Times attempted to attend the protest inside the provincial park Tuesday but was denied access by organizers, who said an Indigenous ceremony was underway.
Mike McKenzie, one of the Secwepemc members who was standing at the entrance, said that Loring’s claims are debatable.
McKenzie argued Loring doesn’t speak for his group, nor does she have the right to speak for the area the park encompasses.
“Shelly Loring does not hold title to the collective Secwepemc Nation and what she is telling people is that only her people, and her federally-implemented community, are allowed to speak for this area and that’s wrong; the collective title and jurisdiction is of the entire Secwepemc Nation for all Secwepemc people—she has no right to tell us we’re not allowed to be here,” McKenzie said.
The ministry told Black Press Media that the park will remain closed while “efforts are made to respectfully resolve the situation.”
“The Province recognizes the right to engage in peaceful protest, however it also recognizes that people and families who are simply wanting a camping experience in this particular park are – regrettably - being inconvenienced,” the ministry said.
To accommodate campers impacted, BC Parks is offering refunds to those who have already paid and assisting in making alternative plans for those who are displaced.