The calm before the resistance -- Ceremony week for Kinder Morgan protesters

Squamish Nation member Clarissa Antone at Camp Cloud at the Kinder Morgan protest site. Photo: Megan Devlin

Anti-pipeline protesters in Burnaby, B.C., have spent this past week in ceremonies, teachings and resting before engaging in a fresh onslaught of action in opposition to Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

On Tuesday, March 27, Kat Roivas sat with two other women around a sacred fire under a gazebo after a pipe ceremony steps from a Coast Salish-style watch house looking over the oil company’s worksite.

It was a drizzly day and others at the camp were busy laying woodchips to prevent the tents and RVs from sinking into the mud. One man handed out salmon jerky.

 After a busy week of protests that resulted in 173 arrests from March 17 to 25, Roivas said it’s important to take time for ceremony because it reminds her why she’s camped out trying to stop the pipeline expansion in the first place.

 “[Ceremony] helps to build the spirit and renew your commitment,” Roivas, who is Chipewayn, said. “Because we're doing it for future generations that have yet to be born. Because we want them to have clean water and fresh air.”

Kinder Morgan, a Texas-based energy infrastructure company, received federal approval in 2016 to twin its existing pipeline that transports diluted bitumen from Alberta to port in B.C. The $7.4 billion project will triple the existing pipeline’s capacity and increase tanker traffic in the Burrard Inlet from five ships a month to 34.

The possibility of a spill wreaking environmental havoc on Vancouver’s picturesque coastline, however, has environmentalists and Indigenous leaders incensed. Protesters have camped out in front of the Burnaby facility, trying to delay construction by blocking its entrance.     

Roivas said she was arrested twice last week — once when she purposefully breached a court injunction that stated demonstrators may not impede work or block access to the Trans Mountain facilities, and again while she was smudging too close to a Kinder Morgan truck.  

“They moved the injunction zone around the truck and I got caught up in that,” she said.

Elsie Dean, a 92-year-old Burnaby resident who traversed the waterlogged trail to the camp with hiking poles, said the arrests last week are a necessary part of residents standing their ground.  

Belle Gee, the third woman around the fire, said it was the environmental risk of a spill that brought her to the watch house.

“It’s not if they’re going to leak, it’s when,” she said.

Meanwhile, five minutes away at Camp Cloud outside the gates, Squamish Nation members Clarissa Antone and Sut-Lut Antone reminded protesters to stay non-violent after a Burnaby RCMP officer was injured on Sunday.

“We the Squamish are very peaceful people,” she said. “We don't want any violence whatsoever.”

A totem pole now stands looking over the Kinder Morgan site. It was carved in 2014 by Clarissa’s brother Mike Antone. She said it made her sad to see an altercation on the same day the pole was erected.

Besides fuelling protests, the pipeline expansion project has sparked a trade dispute between B.C. and Alberta over wine and is also the subject of a government court challenge.  

The B.C. government is trying to challenge the National Energy Board ruling that allows Kinder Morgan to bypass Burnaby’s municipal bylaws. The Federal Court of Appeal dismissed that challenge on March 23. On March 27, Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said he will take the case to the Supreme Court.

A document on Kinder Morgan’s website says the benefits of the pipeline expansion include job creation during construction and more money for governments from taxes and royalties levied on the project. 

The protesters camped out in Burnaby, however, insist the environmental risk is too great.

Photo credit: Megan Devlin

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