It began as a trickle of protesters camped out on Burnaby Mountain in British Columbia in mid-September and has grown to more than 1,000. Since it heated up about a week ago, more than 60 people have been arrested and charged with civil disobedience for crossing a police line.
Kinder Morgan is seeking a $5.4 billion pipeline expansion that would stretch from the Alberta oil sands to Burnaby. While the matter is under federal review, the company has gone ahead with geotechnical work on the mountain, the planned route of the pipeline.
Support is streaming in from First Nations, the most recent being Heiltsuk Nation in Bella Bella, British Columbia, which declared “unwavering support for the keepers of the sacred fire on Burnaby Mountain,” the nation said in a statement.
"Our relatives from the Salish Sea are demonstrating the courage and conviction of our ancestors," said Heiltsuk Chief Councilor Marilyn Slett in the November 25 statement. "We applaud them and we applaud those allies standing with them, and send an unequivocal message that Heiltsuk stand shoulder to shoulder with all those who are fulfilling their duty to the land."
"Our peoples have always been keepers of the lands and waters," adds Heiltsuk hereditary chief Harvey Humchitt. "Now we are called to be defenders as well as keepers. The land defenders on Burnaby Mountain are upholding ancestral law first and foremost, and we support them wholeheartedly."
The Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) also spoke out against the pipeline, expressing support for officials of Burnaby, which is suing Kinder Morgan over the project, as well as the First Nations who are participating in the protest.
“The Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs stands in solidarity with those that have been arrested and we will continue to stand in support with those on the Mountain to uphold and defend Indigenous rights, land rights and human rights,” said UBCIC President and Grand Chief Stewart Phillip in the statement. “It is infuriating and beyond frustrating that we are faced with this provocative and heavy-handed approach by the RCMP when at this time the City of Burnaby’s court proceedings have not even been completed. Kinder Morgan is despoiling the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area to brazenly push ahead with their proposed expanded pipeline in the face of massive opposition.”
The testing work began on October 29, according to a timeline on Rabble.ca, in three locations on the mountain, inside a conservation area. The work involves erecting and drilling rigs into six-inch test holes, but also entails chopping down trees, Rabble.ca said. Protesters have blocked work at one of the testing sites and access to another. On November 14, Kinder Morgan was granted the right by a British Columbia court to override local regulations and keep on with its work, with an injunction issued on November 17 by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
This brought hundreds of protesters onto the mountain. And, as with the People’s Climate March on the far side of Turtle Island in New York City on September 21, Indigenous Peoples led the way.
"The government is unable to look out for the lands and the waters," said Ruben George of Tsleil-Waututh Nation, speaking to protesters on November 17, according to the Vancouver Observer. "So we as the Tsleil Waututh people—we will look out for you! And that’s why we’re suing ’em!”
The Tsleil Waututh filed suit against Kinder Morgan on May 2. On the ground they have been joined by more than 1,000 people over the course of the past few weeks, assembling in direct defiance of a court order that limited city power to enforce local bans on test drilling.
Northwest Salish Coast tribes from Washington State have opposed the pipeline expansion from the beginning as well, and have continued to rally in support of the protesters.
It was December 2013 when Kinder Morgan applied to Canada’s National Energy Board (NEB) to expand its Trans Mountain pipeline and more than double its capacity. But the battle lines were drawn as early as November 2012, when the company first presented its proposal.
The project entails increasing the pipeline’s capacity and adding to the 120 miles of existing pipeline with 614 miles of new pipeline. The goal is to pull even more oil out of the Alberta oil sands, which many tribes on both sides of the U.S.–Canada border oppose not just because of the threat it poses to pristine Native territory but also because of the larger impact on climate.
Among the 60 people arrested are Lynne Quarmby, a professor and molecular biologist from Simon Fraser University, and Campo Suzuki, grandson of renowned environmentalist David Suzuki.
“Canadians deserve a government that will address climate change,” said Quarmby in a statement after her arrest. “The fact that people are not allowed to talk about climate change in the pipeline hearings is evidence that the process is broken and corrupt.”