By Fran Yanor / Legislative Reporter and Andru McCracken, Editor
If citizens’ rights are being impinged upon or laws are being broken by the Tiny House Warrior protesters near Blue River, town residents and Simpcw First nation members should rely on the police to address the issue, said Premier John Horgan from the Legislature on Wednesday.
“I can appreciate their frustration,” said Horgan in response to a report that band members and town residents said they were facing continuing harassment from Indigenous activists occupying a section of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion route. “If the Chief and other community members feel that their liberty is being impinged by other people, they should call the cops.”
Last week, Simpcw Chief Shelly Loring and Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Chief Rosanne Casimir together denounced the ‘threatening and aggressive’ behaviour of Indigenous activists and called on them to show respect and leave Simpcw territory. The protesters’ camp is on unceded Simpcw land, located within Secwepemc territory.
“The occupation and often disrespectful conduct of the Tiny House Warriors constitutes an intrusion into Simpcwul’ecw and a threat to our people, and the public,” said Loring and Casimir in a joint statement.
“I cannot tell the cops what to do,” Horgan said. “But if citizens who they are charged with protecting have concerns… law enforcement in my opinion, should respond to that.”
Tiny House Warriors have built and occupied tiny houses on the Trans Mountain pipeline route in the hopes of blocking construction of the $12.6 billion expansion. The group has had repeated run-ins with the local community since it began occupying Simpcw land two years ago and complain on social media about harassment by local townspeople and resource development workers. A posting in May detailed an incident in which several people broke through the Warriors’ road blockade and drove into one of the small houses.
The leader of the Warriors has posted videos where she uses racist slurs.
“We don’t support confrontational racism,” said Loring at a public meeting in Blue River last month.
“The path to peace includes humility, it includes respectful dialogue, it includes sharing of knowledge and information,” the statement from Chiefs Loring and Casimir said.
Both Blue River town residents and Simpcw First Nation members said adults and children have been repeatedly verbally harassed, and in some cases, stalked, by the Tiny House activists.
“Our people have been spat on. They have been followed… to the extent of being followed to their workplace riding on a ferry,” Loring said at the time, noting that most of the activists were not even from Secwepemc territory.
“Everyone has a right to protest in a democratic society, but not in that manner,” said Loring.
The provincial government could step in to stop the protest but hasn’t, said the Chief.
“The title holders on the land should be the ones that make determinations about what takes place on that land,” said Horgan. “Particularly if it is a demonstration that’s highlighting indigenous rights and title.”
The protesters said they are asserting Secwepemc law and jurisdiction to block access to the project.
But Chiefs Loring and Casimir said, “The Tiny House Warriors stand in violation of our Secwepemc Laws and Customs.”
Each of the 17 divisions (including both Simpcw and Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc nations) within the larger Secwepemc territory has the authority and autonomy to manage land and resource use within their respective territories, they said. Both Simpcw and Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc Nations have given their “free, prior and informed consent” to Trans Mountain to construct and operate the pipeline in their respective territories, the chiefs said.
“We respect the positions taken by other Secwepemc on the (pipeline) project,” said Loring and Casimir, “and fully acknowledge that each of us has the responsibility and jurisdiction to make their own decision.”
The pipeline twinning project will run from near Edmonton to Burnaby, tripling carrying capacity to 890,000 barrels a day and creating 5,000 jobs by mid-2021, according to the Trans Mountain website.
“Trans Mountain recognizes and respects Simpcw and the Tk’emlups te Secwepemc role as yecwminmen (caretakers) of their lands,” the chiefs said. “We call upon the Tiny House Warriors to stand down and step off Simpcwul’ecw and to respect our role as yecwminmen.”
At the Blue River meeting, Loring speculated the Premier chose not to intercede because he was against the pipeline. To which Horgan responded: “We have done everything we can to draw attention to our view that Vancouver as an export terminal for diluted bitumen is not the best use of our gateway to the world.”
His job now, he said, given the Supreme Court’s ruling in favour of construction and the federal government’s purchase of the pipeline, was to ensure Trans Mountain lives up to the requirements of their environmental certificates, and the government does everything it can to protect the coast.
“With respect to the corridor, and those that may well be trespassing on it, I’ll leave that to the title holders,” said Horgan.
“If the chief has more issues,” the Premier added. “I’m happy to talk to her about it.”
Fran Yanor / Local Journalism Initiative / Rocky Mountain Goat / [email protected]