By Andru McCracken
About a fifth of the population showed up to a meeting in Blue River on June 24th, and it was set apart from other meetings in the community’s 108 year history – not only were attendants wearing masks, due to the threat of COVID-19, a security team was present at the doors.
The Chief of the Simpcw First Nation Shelly Loring alleged that the Tiny House Warriors have threatened her community members with violence and that’s why they brought a security detail.
About 50 people showed up to a community meeting in Blue River. /ANDRU MCCRACKEN
Steve Quinn, the Thompson Nicola Regional District Representative for Blue River chaired the meeting which included representatives from the RCMP, the Simpcw First Nation and residents.
The meeting was called in response to the now two-year occupation by the Tiny House Warriors of the road leading to Murtle Lake. The warriors were not invited to the meeting.
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. Residents allege that they’ve harassed locals, calling children rapists, yelled at residents to ‘Get the f&(% off my land.’ They do so within the territory of the Simpcw First Nation who support the pipeline. Kanahus Manuel maintains the Simpcw don’t have the authority to give consent.
Residents say they are fed up with the occupation. Community member Lee Onslow said that the presence of the warriors is affecting morale and the economy.
“The citizens of Blue River are fearful that the presence of the Tiny House Warriors will have a negative economic impact on the town. By allowing these protesters to freely yell out hate speech and to sway their social media followers around the globe and within the Canadian borders into the belief that we, the citizens of Blue River, are a bunch of Back Woods Hill Billy, oil loving, land polluting, white supremacist, KKK supporting, White Honkey rapist losers – which we are not,” Onslow read from a written statement..
During an introductory round, Simpcw Councillor George Lampreau said that the rule of law should be enforced.
“We know what you are going through, we have the same issues and have the same concerns. We believe in the right to protest, but this is how we choose to do our business – positive open discussion,” said Lampreau.
After introductions, residents showed a compilation of Tiny House Warrior tactics.
Loring was unequivocal.
“We don’t support confrontational racism,” said Loring and later. “We have zero tolerance for violence.”
Loring alleges Simpcw workers have experienced harm from the Tiny House Warriors.
“Our people have been spat on. They have been followed… to the extent of being followed to their workplace riding on a ferry,” said Loring.
Not the same
Loring said the Tiny House Warriors do not represent the Simpcw.
“We do not align. There are a handful of Secwepemc in that camp. A lot of those people are not from Secwepemc territory,” she said. “We do not support that approach or the violent messaging.”
“Everyone has a right to protest in a democratic society, but not in that manner.”
Loring called the protestors squatters.
“I can trace my lineage back eight generations. I come from the hereditary chief line. I am grassroots. Who does she think she is?” referring to their leader Kanahus Manuel.
Frustration with authorities
Loring expressed her frustration with the inaction of the RCMP.
“They are chicken shit, scared, sitting on their hands. It’s time to make the call,” she said.
Soon after making the statement she cut Clearwater RCMP officers some slack and clarified that she understands local police are being directed by powers above them.
Loring said Premier John Horgan is against the pipeline and it explains his government’s unwillingness to act and that Minister of the Environment George Heyman helped set the stage for the protests and that it’s the Province’s job to control the protests or end them.
Action from the Simpcw
Chief Loring said the Simpcw would raise their voices on behalf of Blue River to the Province and RCMP and demand that action be taken against the warriors.
“We are going to make our best effort. Maybe the citizens here right now, you feel helpless. You don’t feel like you have a voice. Well, you know what? We do,” she said.
“This will be the start,” said Loring.
The community hall erupted into applause.
“I understand there is frustration with us,” said Sergeant Grant Simpson. “We take your complaints seriously, we respond to each and every one.”
He added a proviso, requesting that those who call with complaints about the protestors ask for a file number for each separate complaint. More than one resident expressed frustration that getting a ‘file number’ has only recently been brought up.
Simpson said that while rules are being broken, it’s not as simple as arresting the protestors.
“To rush in and arrest people isn’t the answer. We can only hold them for 24 hours,” said Simpson.
Local tourism operator Russell Critchlow asked the police if local people needed to engage in a protest to be heard, and gave an example of blocking the railway or the highway.
“After two years of being so patient and so timid, facing serious personal abuse, you say your hands are tied. Do we go block the railway?”
At this point, moderator and regional district rep Quinn, banged the table.
“You are starting to cross over the line here,” said Quinn.
Critchlow replied the community is just trying to figure out what they need to do to get the RCMP to uphold the law.
A woman in the audience asked if RCMP agreed that laws were being broken.
“Absolutely,” said Simpson. “How could I not?”
Critchlow asked how long a group of Extinction Rebellion protestors were allowed to stay on Premier John Horgan’s front lawn.
“Two hours,” replied a man from the crowd.
Critchlow said the Tiny House Warriors were allowed to stay in Clearwater for 2 weeks.
“That’s why we’re upset,” he said. “[It’s been] two years.”
Simpson said that the community should be commended on their patience.
Threats of violence
Resident Brittney McNabb said she hears potential for violence as a server at a local restaurant when serving snowmobilers in the winter time.
“I hear people wanting to kill them, bring smallpox – take out the natives,” she said. “With so many injustices that have happened with First Nations, people incite racism.”
A problem for Victoria
Councillor Tina Donald said that decision makers have likely never been to Blue River.
“They need to know who we are,” she said.
Donald said she doesn’t travel through the area alone without first reporting to the police because she feels she has been targeted by the group.
Don Turtiak said the community rarely calls the police because of the lengthy wait and that they’ve learned to deal with problems on their own. He wonders if the community should flood the RCMP with calls.
Critchlow wondered if the RCMP could deploy a 24-hour patrol.
“We know you can’t afford it forever, but until the situation is resolved?”
Charmaine Schenstead said the community should organize and get their story heard.
“We need somebody who’s an investigative journalist […] to tell the story,” said Schenstead.
Simpcw Councillor Martha Matthew expressed her support and connection with Blue River.
“We are here and supportive of the communities up here,” she said. “We have many friends up and down the valley, we have relationships.”
She said it would be good for Blue River to highlight its story.
At 9 pm Quinn wrapped up the meeting and said that he would continue to write letters and ask local municipalities for support.
Originally posted July 7, 2020 EDITED July 27, 2020 for accuracy and fairness.