By Andrea Smith
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Chief Judy Wilson, and Chief Bob Chamberlin, representatives of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, prepared to be arrested today as they marched with about 100 protestors all the way to the gate of the Kinder Morgan worksite. The plan was to take “bold action,” facing any opposition from Kinder Morgan or the RCMP.
“The primary importance of why we’re here today is protecting the water and the land. And in our interior nation, Secwepemc, we have about 513 kilometers of pipeline twinning going through, and our people are saying no… Some of the bands have signed on, but they can not speak for our nation,” said Chief Judy Wilson of the Neskonlith Indian Band, and secretary-treasurer for UBCIC.
“The people are very concerned about the land. We really feel the oil and gas industry hasn’t been accountable for the different spills, and the different impacts they had on the land,” she added.
Wilson had her mother, Elder Minnie, standing with her today, showing her support for the march, and wanting to voice her strong feelings of concern.
“We are here today with our hearts, and open ears, to listen to what’s been happening and help the people. As an Elder, I’m very connected to the land, Mother Earth, and I’m worried about what’s going to happen to our waters and our animals… and how it’s going to affect our people, our children to come,” said Minnie.
The entire group of people started out at the bottom of the hill, near the soccer field at Simon Fraser University. People gathered in pockets, sharing words of encouragement with one another, and sometimes hugs and handshakes. Strangers became friends on that field in the name of the same cause.
At 11 a.m., the group divided, and people willing to be arrested were asked to stand on one side of a large yellow banner on the ground. While people who wanted to show support without legal consequences, were asked to stand on the other side. Those willing to be arrested led the way up the trail to the Kinder Morgan work site, and at the front of the group were the three chiefs from UBCIC.
Even the Thunder Beings were present, as a loud crack of thunder echoed through the sky just before the march began, along with one strike of lightning, bringing cheers from the crowd.
In the pouring rain, in one giant flowing line of people walking two-by-two or three-by-three, everyone walked up a trail to the work site, including a stop-off at SFU’s Kwekwecnewtxw Watch House, for quick blessings, prayers and speeches.
Up on the hill, Elder Minnie spoke again, praising everyone for being there, and calling the rain “liquid sunshine” to lighten the mood. A young man named Cedar Parker-George also spoke, using a microphone and speaker set. He energized the crowd by telling them stories he had heard from Elders—including his grandmother Amy George who was present with him today—about Indian residential school experiences, one particularly disturbing story of a man who spoke his language and had his teeth taken out as punishment.
“Not too long ago, we weren’t allowed to use our language. It was illegal for us to have a lawyer, and illegal for us to write. I am thankful I got to grow up with the culture being number one in my life… And the thing is, we’re not alone up here anymore. The Tseil-watuth, and the Coast Salish… we’re not alone here. Thank you,” he said, thanking all the supporters, Indigenous and non-Indigenous alike, who had shown up there today.
Parker-George’s grandmother Amy shared her wisdom, too, when he finished speaking, and both shared a hug afterward.
Grand Chief Phillip was ready to be arrested.
“Well, I think it’s important for all people to know and understand the underlying issue of climate change, and global warming, is an issue that should be of grave concern to all people. As you know, there’s been a very broad-based deeply entrenched opposition to Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline, originating in the tar sands,” said Phillip.
“And to date there’s been approximately 200 courageous land defenders and water protectors that have been arrested. And we’re standing in solidarity with those people, and presenting ourselves for arrest here,” he said.
By 12:45 p.m. the three chiefs had placed themselves directly in front of the Kinder Morgan gate, with their backs against it facing the crowd. Kinder Morgan was nowhere to be seen.
At around 2:30 p.m. the UBCIC members had declared a victory against Kinder-Morgan. No arrests were made, and it had remained a peaceful protest.