I’ve been spending a lot of time up on Burnaby Mountain, just outside Vancouver, where 89 people have been arrested as part of the growing grassroots opposition to a tar sands pipeline. It is inspiring to see the Coast Salish peoples [update: 103 arrests as of the afternoon of Nov 26], Burnaby residents and people from across BC rise up and take a stand in defiance of a broken system that puts oil company profits over the health of our communities and Mother Earth.
Protesters gathered in the Burnaby Mountain Conservation Area on Monday, November 17. Image Credit: Anderson Wang
Currently the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline carries 300, 000 barrels of tar sands oil per day from Alberta to the west coast. If the expansion and twinning of this pipeline is permitted we will see this almost triple in capacity to 890, 000 bpd. Being here from Alberta, I am gravely aware that what happens here will have an immense impact not only my family in the tar sands, but many other communities across northern Alberta.
I have been a part of a Greenpeace team that has been providing legal & media support, supplies, training in peaceful civil disobedience, and also ourselves to bear witness to what is happening. We are working in solidarity with grassroots community members who are – in this moment and in this place - leading a vital part of the national and global struggle for a better future. I am deeply grateful for the courageous stand of the Caretakers who have been camped out on Burnaby Mountain for months, and now others who have come to stand in the way of Kinder Morgan in its attempt to bulldoze through a sacred mountain and conservation area.
It is important to recognize that the leadership of the struggle to keep the tar sands in the ground is coming from First Nations, who are asserting their constitutional rights and cultural obligation to care for and protect the land, as it cares for and protects us. So it has been particularly inspiring for me, as I have moved back and forth between Alberta and BC over the last few years, to see the growing personal and political connections between directly-affected Indigenous communities in northern Alberta and those in BC who are fighting the pipelines that would enable further expansion of the tar sands.
This struggle is beautiful to behold, for I know the ugly side of the tar sands all too well. I am from the Lubicon Cree community of Little Buffalo, which is not only surrounded by tar sands extraction operations but also knows what damage a pipeline spill can cause. It wasn’t always that way – there was a time when we could live off of the land and practice our traditional ways. Memories from my childhood of how pristine, clean and breathtakingly stunning the land was, propels me to continue to work to protect it for future generations.
When I think of violence, I think of the violence and destruction that the tar sands have brought to my home community and the ecosystems on which we depend. I also think of the links between violence against Mother Earth and violence against women and how inextricably linked the two are.
Which is why it is disappointing to see much of the media coverage has focused on dramatic confrontations between police and “protesters” and not focusing on the real reasons why people are choosing to get arrested which is for protection of the land, communities and our climate.
Every day since last week people from all ages and walks of life have chosen to get arrested because they know that this government is held captive by the fossil fuel industry. Some of the violence that I have seen on Burnaby Mountain shocked me (although it cannot compare to a militarized take down of community members we saw last year in Elsipogtog or the tragedy in Ferguson), but I know that our fight is not simply against the police, but with the politicians and oil executives who sent them.
And as I talk to people on Burnaby Mountain, and hear why they are there, it gives me hope that we can – and will – stop the tar sands at the source.
Join the Burnaby Mountain caretakers everyday at 10:30 am. Details here: http://www.cometothemountain.ca/ You can also join the frontlines beat pipelines event this Saturday here: https://www.facebook.com/events/304926929699424/ and an international day of action on Sunday: https://www.facebook.com/events/312795312244038/