This September, Kinder Morgan is set to expand its Trans Mountain pipeline in Canada, adding capacity to transport 890,000 barrels of oil a day from the oil fields of Alberta to the port of Vancouver in British Columbia.
The expansion route cuts directly through more than a dozen First Nation territories, garnering a mix of support and opposition along the route. With so many indigenous communities affected by the expansion, activists say it has the potential to be “Standing Rock North.”
You can read about the complex historical and cultural issues surrounding challenges to the pipeline in our new investigation.
During the course of our reporting, we partnered with the Vancouver-based Discourse Media last month for a “listening tour” of three cities along the pipeline route. We traveled to the British Columbia cities of Vancouver, Merritt, Kamloops and surrounding areas with Discourse reporter Trevor Jang, talking with locals and First Nations members to learn more about where various communities stand on the expansion project, and how they see it affecting their lives.
From an anti-pipeline craft-beer fundraiser in Vancouver, to a hunting and ammunition store in Merritt, to the potential site of a First Nation-led occupation camp in Kamloops, we heard from people on all sides of the issue, snapping portraits of those we encountered and posting a series of vignettes on our Instagram feed.
Here are some of the insights we gained from the people in the path of the pipeline.
Cedar George-Parker, 20, is adamant about putting a stop to Kinder Morgan’s expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline. A member of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, he has become an outspoken activist in Vancouver against the project.
“I’ll do whatever it takes to stop this, and a lot of young people my age are going to do what it takes to stop this,” George-Parker told us during a roundtable discussion at the Tsleil-Waututh reservation.
He’s also a part of the International Indigenous Youth Council, a youth-oriented movement that emerged from the protests at Standing Rock. As our partners at Inside Energy report in this week’s episode, the movement at Standing Rock helped inspire a generation of young activists.
“We’re all coming together for a cause bigger than ourselves,” George-Parker said. “We are terrified, but that fear is going to motivate us to stop this.”
About 375 people gathered at Performance Works in Vancouver on Sunday, April 9, for a “Pints Not Pipelines” fundraiser to support the Tsleil-Waututh legal fight. It was more party than protest, with attendees dancing to ’80s hits, beer in hand. Several games of Twister broke out on the dance floor.
Nayeli Jimenez was one of the organizers for the event through a campaign called Pull Together, a partnership between Respecting Aboriginal Values and Environmental Needs (RAVEN), Sierra Club BC and the Force of Nature Alliance. Flush with kegs donated by local breweries, the event raised $17,000.
Jimenez sees creative events like this as a way to draw in people that you wouldn’t normally see at a protest. She said a key goal is to show that the environmental movement is really about human rights issues for the First Nations bands.
Mary Lovell, another fundraiser organizer, told us that the court fight is one vital piece of a multi-pronged attack: “The combination between popular opposition and lawsuits and direct action is a really poignant combination, and you can’t have one without the other. I think they’re all part of a very complex way of stopping projects.”
Under the watchful eyes of the mounted deer heads in Merritt’s Adelphi Hotel pub, we ran into Larry Garcia, who’d just finished his shift at Upper Nicola Post and Rail. Garcia said work has been scarce since a lumber mill closed in December, so the Trans Mountain expansion would bring some much-needed jobs to town.
“If they can guarantee that they’re never gonna get a leak, then great, go for it,” he said. “If they’re going to have so many jobs out there, that’s the most important thing. People have got to work to survive in this world, that’s the way I look at it.”
The Trans Mountain Pipeline makes one of its major river crossings in the city of Kamloops, high in the mountains of interior British Columbia. We met Kanahus Manuel on the south bank of the Thompson River, where the pipeline passes beneath a wide beach.
As her daughter played in the sand, Manuel described the villages she hopes to help build on the pipeline route – a show of resistance to the pipeline expansion and of the Secwepemc people’s communal right to occupy this land.
“People have to understand that we’re 100 percent for human rights,” Manuel said. “We’re for people having clean water, for people having safe places to live in this world. So we’re not trying to kick people out. We’re trying to say, ‘Come on, let’s work together, and how can we co-exist here?’ Defending and protecting the land and the environment so we can all have it. Because right now none of us will if we don’t stand up.”
During the winter, Kamloops operates an indoor farmers’ market inside the local arena downtown, home to the Kamloops Blazers ice hockey team. The vendors station themselves around the perimeter overlooking the ice.
Greg Crowe was the first face we encountered at the market, jumping from his stool to offer us samples of his homemade beef jerky. Originally from Kamloops, he says he’s all for the pipeline expansion. Oil must be transported to get to market, and pipelines are the safest way to do it, he said.
“I’ve got two boys who’ll be coming into the workforce soon, so maybe they can get a job working on the pipeline,” Crowe said.
Hunter Lampreau is a first-year student at Kamloops’ Thompson Rivers University and a member of the Simpcw First Nation, which has territory about an hour north of Kamloops, just outside of Barrière. The son of a Simpcw councilman, Lampreau says his First Nation negotiated with Kinder Morgan last year to address the community’s environmental concerns about the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
Lampreau doesn’t think the expansion project is as big a deal as some people are making it. “It’s going through anyway,” he said, and rather than fighting it, he thinks the better approach is to work with Kinder Morgan to soften the local impact as much as possible.
“We’re a band of 700; we can’t fight a company like Kinder Morgan,” Lampreau said.
The Simpcw signed a mutual benefits agreement with Kinder Morgan last May, after putting the agreement to a vote. Lampreau says turnout was low, with less than half the band participating.
Dr. Charles Hays is an assistant professor of journalism at Thompson Rivers University, a school perched on a mountain that overlooks the valley of its namesake. He also lives on an orchard just north of Kamloops that lies directly in the path of the Trans Mountain expansion.
He says Kinder Morgan’s land agent communicates with him about the process, and the company is offering to pay to move part of his orchard out of the pipeline’s path and to repair any damage caused by the construction. But Hays says it’s a tricky process to relocate his trees – cherries, saskatoon berries, apricots, walnuts, peaches and more – which isn’t as simple as moving them from one place to another.
Hays is a vocal opponent of the whole pipeline expansion. He says few people are challenging the company’s claim that the pipeline will bring more jobs, and doubts those jobs will last long. He’s especially focused on the long term, and whether or not there’s an economic need for such a vast increase in pipeline capacity.
Hays and his wife even discussed selling their orchard and moving into town, but decided that they would stick it out and keep doing what they do despite the pipeline. He credits staying put as its own form of resistance.
“Maybe I’m going to lose the battle, but I’m not losing the war,” he said.