By Andru McCracken
On Sunday, May 25 at approximately 8:45 am the Tiny House Warriors began asking campers to leave Blue River Campground due to their concerns about COVID-19.
The Tiny House Warriors used a megaphone to broadcast their message. Campground manager Mike Nesterski, said a number of campers who had been booked to stay there chose to go to a “more peaceful area.”
Nesterski recorded the campers pulling out, while the Tiny House Warriors’ Kanahus Manuel spoke.
“This is our safe quarantine zone,” said Kanahus while another protestor blasted an air horn.
“This is Secwepemc title and rights, we have a right to our safe quarantine. Don’t put COVID campers next to our home.”
The protest camp’s nearest structure is about 20m from the closest campsite.
The Tiny House Warriors are working to stop the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion by placing and living in Tiny Houses at strategic locations along the pipeline corridor. They do so on the traditional territory of the Simpcw First Nation who support the pipeline.
Kanahus warned the campground that they would broadcast video of the campers who violated their safe zone.
At 1:45pm Michele Humphrey, a local business owner, asked residents to “come show your non-confrontational support” for the Blue River Campground.
When the Goat newspaper arrived, there were about 10 to 15 community members milling around on the Murtle Lake access road more than 60 metres away from Tiny House Warriors.
While on location, the Goat did not witness harassment of the Warriors. The counter-protesters chatted in family groups about the two-year occupation of the Tiny House Warriors. The
Tiny House Warriors took it as an imminent threat.
A hate crime?
In a video posted at about 2pm, Kanahus characterized the gathering in support of the Blue River Campground as a hate crime. They sent out word to human rights organizations via Facebook.
“…the RCMP have come here, the Canadian civilians have been harassing us, parked there during a quarantine.”
In the video, residents are seen standing about 60m away.
“I don’t feel safe because these people are congregating on my land in front of my home. I don’t feel safe that the RCMP are here at my home. These white people came here to taunt me to harass me to intimidate me by parking six to seven vehicles full of people here to harass indigenous women and girls … during the global pandemic of COVID-19,” said Kanahus.
“Businesses should not be open for business. This is a violation of our indigenous rights.”
The video had a broad reception. As of Monday it had 27,000 views.
In an April 1st post on their website, the Tiny House Warriors condemned the edict that natural resource extraction is an “essential service” during the pandemic.
“We know this move by BC to recognize resource extraction work as ‘essential services’ is a cynical attempt to take advantage of our impaired mobility to push the extractive industries onto our land. And this at a time when these industries have been condemned and ordered shut down by human rights organizations in Geneva and around the world. By pushing them through our territories during a deadly pandemic, the resource company invasion is not only an ongoing violation of our jurisdiction, the contagious man camps they had set up on our land could be a death sentence for our people.”
On Sunday, the Warriors’ concerns went beyond concerns for COVID-19.
At 3:30 pm fellow protester Mayuk Manuel posted a photo of the residents, with the following message.
“White supremacists congregate like a lynch mob at Tiny House Warriors. Over 20 White Supremacists yelling racist slurs rallied outside of Tiny House Warriors village… laughing and mocking the murdered & missing Indigenous women,” she said.
There were many supportive comments on the Facebook feed.
“Why can’t they just leave you guys alone,” posted one.
Another asked, “Where are the people threatening you?”
Kanahus narrated the scene: “I think they are making up lies, all the little white people there and they are trying to make an arrest, because why are all those white people congregating here.”
Before signing off a 20-minute video, Kanahus issued a code red to all Tiny House Warriors supporters in Kamloops and Clearwater.
The Tiny House Warriors encampment came under attack on April 19, 2020 when three men and a woman drove recreational vehicles over signs and stole Kanahus’ truck and drove it into one of the tiny houses and then into a power pole. A short documentary was made about the incident here: https:\\tinyurl.com/bluetinywarriors
Supporting the campground
Blue River locals say the attackers April 19th were not local, and the strategy of most locals towards the Warriors has been to stay away.
But on Sunday, many residents showed up to support the Blue River Campground, regardless of whether they agree or disagree with the Warriors’ mission.
Caroline McNabb is an Indigenous person who has lived in Blue River since she was five years old. It would be an understatement to say that racism has shaped her and her daughters’ lives.
McNabb asked Kanahus Manuel to meet halfway between her camp and the counter protest to have a discussion.
“She looked at me, she says ‘She thinks she’s white but she’s not. She thinks she’s native but she’s not, she’s just a fat bitch, don’t talk to her, she doesn’t deserve your time,’” McNabb said.
McNabb, who is a medic in the oil industry, said she understands some of Kanahus’s goals, but said her message is overshadowed by hatred.
“She is instigating hatred,” she said.
The Goat received an online message from a Blue River mother who wanted to remain anonymous.
She shares some common ground with the warriors, care for the environment, concerns about the legacy of colonialism and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. Her experience of the warriors has been negative.
“They judge people before learning anything about them. They scream hateful and racist remarks to anyone who gets within earshot, including their small children, most of whom are quietly minding their business and completely caught off guard,” she wrote.
“They will call you a white supremacist, let all their followers know that you’re the problem, that you’re greedy, a racist and a rapist. All of which are clearly untrue. But they will spread that hate far and wide and their followers will believe them. Instead of helping to heal the wounds of the past, they cut them even deeper, trying to create an even bigger divide. So I keep my distance. No sense in poking the bear, so to speak.”
Michele Humphrey has been an outspoken critic of the Tiny House Warriors. In her statement to the Goat she was reserved.
She said the Tiny House Warriors have a right to peaceful protest.
“It is not their right to be rude and disobey rules and laws,” she said.
Humphrey said guests staying at her place, Bone Creek Resort, reported that the Tiny House Warriors were charging a toll for passing motorists enroute to Murtle Lake.
“We had to give tourists maps so they would avoid them,” she said.
“We phoned every government agency we could think of and they tell us their hands are tied and there is nothing they can do about it.”
“Blue River has decided they are going to be pacifists. I can totally understand that. A lot of us wanted to throw them out as soon as they came to town, but it is their right to protest.”
Sheyna McNabb, a status native who works at the Blue River Campground as a groundskeeper, had an encounter with the Kanahus Manuel when she was raking the corner of campground property closest to the protest encampment.
“I’m an Indigenous woman who just got over an addiction living in downtown Vancouver for six years. I was on the streets. I know about being harmed by men,” she said. “She put me on instagram calling me #barbecuebecky, there was tons of people putting me down basically saying that I’m not native.”
“Would I have to commit suicide for this to become an issue?” she said.
(#barbequebecky is a hashtag reserved for white people who call the police on people of colour who are minding their own business)
Mike Nesterski couldn’t be any closer to the conflict. He manages the campground next to the Tiny House Warriors and he has had many encounters, some good, he said, and many bad.
For Nesterski systemic racism against indigenous people isn’t an abstract concept: his daughter’s mother is Indigenous. He believes systemic racism exists and also that some of the measures needed to end it are in place like education about colonization and residential schools.
Nesterski’s father grew up in Austria, and he escaped Hitler by going to Switzerland returning to Austria after the war. When Mike went to school, his friends would tease him about being a
Polish Jew, because of his Polish name and his dark curly hair, he said the humour could happen because the Austrians addressed underlying issues.
“Austria really worked on the issue of what happened in the Second World War. I haven’t seen that in Canada to this degree, to where people accept, ‘Hey, we didn’t treat those natives well, let’s make sure they have a place in society.’”
But like many in Blue River, he’d like the Tiny House Warriors to leave.
In for the long haul
The Tiny House Warriors’ goal is not just to stop the pipeline but insist on the title and control of the land by the Secwepemc people, as articulated on the Warriors’ website:
“We, the Secwepemc, have never ceded, surrendered, or given up our sovereign title and rights over the land, waters and resources within Secwepemcul’ecw. We have lived on our land since time immemorial and have never been conquered by war. We collectively hold title and governance regarding Secwepemcul’ecw and the collective consent of the Secwepemc is required for any access to our lands, waters and resources.”
Alex Neve, Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada wrote a letter to Premier John Horgan and the RCMP asking them to take seriously the safety of the Tiny House Warriors after the April 19th incident.
“The attack is part of a deeply troubling and intensifying pattern … of smear campaigns, online abuse and physical violence against human rights defenders…,” he said.
This week Neve said allegations of abuse and threats from the Tiny House Warriors should receive the same scrutiny.
“If there are credible allegations that anyone involved in disputes or altercations in such situations, including human rights defenders, has committed criminal acts, any such incidents should be investigated and charges laid if borne out by evidence,” wrote Neve.
The leader of the Tiny House Warriors is currently facing a number of charges, none of which have been proven in court. She is also sueing the RCMP.
Kanahus Manuel (also known as Amanda Soper) has been charged with criminal code section 423(1)(a) violence or threats of violence to a person or their intimate partner or children, and 334(b) Theft under $5000 from an incident on September 30, 2019.
There are videos of Tiny House Warrior action on this day: https://tinyurl.com/blueTMXwarriors
There are also charges from an incident on October 19, 2019 which has received widespread media attention.
Kanahus has filed a civil lawsuit against the RCMP for breaking her wrist during her October 19, 2019 arrest.
We reached out to Kanahus Manuel repeatedly via her social media channels but did not hear back by presstime.