Andru McCracken, EDITOR,
The Tiny House Warriors had no idea why locals had gathered near them last Sunday on the road to Murtle Lake. As Kanahus Manuel filmed the residents, more than 60 metres away, she guessed why they were there and what they were doing.
“I think they are making up lies,” she said in a video watched live by 10,000 viewers. “All the little white people there and they are trying to make an arrest, because why are all those white people congregating here.”
If only the residents and the Warriors would have an actual conversation with each other.
The Tiny House Warriors are working to stop the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion through the traditional territory of the Simpcw First Nation who support the pipeline.
While residents congregated gauging whether it was possible to engage the Warriors in a rational peaceful way and recounted awful exchanges of the protestors to me, the Warriors saw a white supremicist lynch mob regardless of the fact that many of the faces were Indigenous and none of them were angry or violent.
A friend of mine who lives in the equally rural Wells, BC, and who I consider a good head, saw the gathering through Kanahus Manuel’s lens. His comment was: “Scary!”
That the residents were there in peace, concerned for a local business’ well-being, didn’t come through his screen.
It’s too bad he didn’t know about Caroline McNabb’s attempt to meet Kanahus halfway.
In interviews with supportive press (a condition of access), the Warriors come off as calm and grounded. People you can talk to.
That is not the lived experience of Blue River. Residents feel belittled and intimidated regardless of their background and ethnicity.
When I visited Blue River on Thursday, May 21 to talk to residents about their experience with the Warriors, many residents gave witness to their interactions with the group. A resident alleges his nine year old son was called a rapist as they ran the Terry Fox run with a school group, others allege they were told to go back to Europe.
An approach with purpose?
Being asked to leave the country you are born into strikes me as unfair, but is it so radical that it could help expose Canada’s systemic racism? Could it expose the racism that infects everything we do as Canadians, the store clerks tailing Indigenous shoppers, the cops readying their guns for trouble? By redirecting racism levelled at indigenous people at settlers, could there be potential to strike up a meaningful conversation about the impact of colonialism? It’s possible, but the Tiny House Warriors have refused conversation with the rural people, Indigenous and otherwise, who reside in Blue River.
It’s okay. It’s not the protesters’ job to fix racism.
Reconciliation is not their work. That’s okay.
Protesting the pipeline? Also okay.
Not talking to rural folk. Mean, but fine.
Kanahus Manuel isn’t Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr. That’s okay.
She and many of her supporters are angry and disgusted about Missing and Murdered Indigenous Woman and Girls – a concern shared by many in Blue River. It’s A-okay.
But insulting and intimidating locals is not okay. Using racism to hurt people, on camera, is not okay, despite what ten thousand online viewers say daily.
The two-year occupation has proven to be hard to endure for residents. I sympathize, especially for those residents who are interested in reconciliation or who are Indigenous themselves, who struggle with the same issues championed by the Warriors… at the hands of the Warriors.
Fear and hope
If the pipeline construction proceeds (and every indication seems to say so) tensions will increase. The threat of violence is real. Many residents of Blue River have committed themselves to a pacifist approach. Has everyone? Will racists watching from further afield fly to the conflict to intervene, like the attackers of April 19? Or will it be one in 27,000 viewers who decides to make their way to Blue River armed and ready to mete out justice to a ‘lynch mob of white supremacists?’
We hope not.
Could it be that it is time for the community and the Warriors to meet and talk? Something like Caroline McNabb proposed, half way on the road with good distance, but not so much that they can’t hear each other? There are elders, facilitators, wise people who could help develop a protocol for talking to each other and sharing concerns. But without a way of finding common ground, what is going to happen?
Kanahus made some bad guesses about the supposed ‘lynch mob,’ but I’m making some bad guesses too. I can’t get an interview with Kanahus Manuel or any of her warriors, not even via the many concerned supporters who have called me. I have tried repeatedly to contact Kanahus Manuel.
It makes sense that a radical indigenous environmental group operating within a deeply troubled and racist culture would choose to speak only with uncritical reporters, but the Tiny House Warriors are operating in a community. It’s time to speak to the community newspaper.
There are a lot of good people paying close attention to this dispute. They must know that lives could be on the line. Can we recruit these people from their screens into real life, helping do this really important timely work? What we need is mediation and maybe even some reconciliation.
Originally published May 31, 2020, edited for clarity and fairness July 27, 2020.