A group of indigenous and allied activists are protesting Kinder Morgan’s proposed Trans Mountain pipeline by building places for people to live.
Nearly half of the project will run through Secwepemc Nation, one of the largest territories in British Columbia.
But the land is mostly uninhabited, so the Tiny House Warriors movement is trying to erect 10 homes along the project’s path to disrupt it.
Kanahus Manuel of the Secwepemc Women’s Warrior Society got the idea after spending three months on the front lines of the Standing Rock protest to oppose the Dakota Access Pipeline.
A group there built a tiny house for her and her four children, inspiring her to extend the action to her own lands.
“I had this idea that through this tiny house movement, we can start creating homes and actually occupying places along the pipeline route to assert our authority and jurisdiction over the land, but also to blockade and stop this Trans Mountain pipeline from coming through our territory,” Manuel told HuffPost Canada in an interview.
Canadian industry has so far had free reign on Secwepemc territory, she said, because of the federal government “forcing us onto Indian reservations.”
The goal is for First Nation peoples to actually live in the tiny houses, which will help alleviate the Indigenous housing crisis and unemployment issues.
“We want to be able to monitor our territory. We want to be able to re-establish our village life, and to continue to collect and harvest our medicine and establish our hunting camps — things that we always had on our territory,” she said.
Unlike in other provinces that have established land treaties, many First Nations in B.C. do not have similar agreements with the provincial government. Most of the land is therefore unceded, meaning it was not given over to the Canadian government.
According to the BC Treaty Commission, the Constitution Act of 1982 affirmed that Aboriginal title — the Aboriginal right to a land or territory — exists whether or not there is an established treaty.
But Manuel said the group knows that no matter what they do, “Canada is going to come down hard” on them.
“The way that the government will deal with Indigenous land defenders is to criminalize them and arrest them and throw them in a Canadian prison,” she said.
Though other groups have launched legal action to oppose projects on Indigenous lands, Manuel said a diversity of tactics is needed.
“Direct action is one of (the tactics) that really needs to be deployed right now,” she said.
The group is trying to send a “clear message” that investors should divest their money from the Trans Mountain pipeline.
“Their investment is only going to become more risky and uncertain as the direct action and legal challenges escalate,” she said.
The group has already received support from Greenpeace, which helped pay for some of the lumber for the first house.
… hopefully they’ll be symbols of hope and resistance.Mike Hudema, Greenpeace
Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner Mike Hudema said he thinks the houses symbolize “solutions that address real problems.”
“Eventually these houses are going to be outfitted with solar panels, and so they’ll be producing the type of energy the world needs to see and hopefully they’ll be symbols of hope and resistance,” he told HuffPost Canada.
Donations also helped pay for a trailer to transport the first house from its construction location to the final destination, Manuel said.
‘Safety is our first priority’
The exact location of the houses and their residents will be kept secret for safety reasons, she added.
Trans Mountain said in a statement that it supports the right of demonstrators to peacefully express their views.
“When it comes to our operating and construction sites, safety is our first priority — safety of our workers, communities and everyone near our worksites. And to that end, we will make every effort to ensure we can carry out our work safely,” it said.
With a file from The Canadian Press