10 things you always wanted to ask an Indigenous land defender

15 SET 2017
15 de Setembro de 2017


Kanahus Manuel is an Indigenous land defender. The Tiny House Warriors are a Indigenous Secwepemc people building tiny houses in the path of the massive Kinder Morgan tar sands oil pipeline’s planned route through their territory.

The sun is shining on the Secwepemc First Nation territory in British Columbia, Canada. Grizzly bears and deers run freely in the region. The rivers that cross this pristine land are home to salmon?—?a crucial source of food to the Indigenous communities that call this region home. But this beautiful land and its inhabitants are under threat.

Since December 2016, Kinder Morgan, one of the largest energy infrastructure companies in North America, has been pushing for the Trans Mountain pipeline?—?a controversial dirty oil pipeline that carries crude and refined oil from Alberta’s tar sands to the west coast of British Columbia, Canada?—?to be constructed. If they succeed, this pipeline will severely impact Secwepemc’s territory, posing ongoing threats to their land, water, rights, livelihood, and climate. Kanahus Manuel, an Indigenous leader who has lived her entire life in the region, is spearheading her community’s fight to protect it.

  1. The Secwepemc Nation has an important connection to their land. What does home mean to you?

As native people, we don’t care just about ourselves, we care about every living being on this earth. When I take my shoes and my socks off and put my bare feet on the earth, I am connected to the blood and the bones of our ancestors that are in this soil and in this earth?—?where we walk, resist and struggle.

But as we speak, there is a train shipping raw resources from our land to the global markets, and it hurts my heart to know that. It’s like they’re hurting my children.

When you see our women crying because of a spill, they are crying for the salmon, they are crying for the deers, for the grizzly bears, for everything that has been impacted by the disaster.

2. You are a strong Indigenous woman defending the rights of First Nations in Canada. How did you get into this position of leadership?

I was born into it. My grandfather was a national and international leader for all Indigenous Peoples. He was the co-founder of the World Council of Indigenous Peoples and he was one of the first national chiefs. When I was 5 years old, the first memory I have of fighting for Indigenous rights is when my parents took me and my twin sister on a train to Ottawa to fight for our rights. This is an intergenerational struggle. It didn’t stop with my grandfather and it won’t stop with me. It’s going to continue until we have all of our rights recognised.

Snutetkwe Manuel and her daughter Wasayka, 2.

3. What are the risks of being part of this group of Indigenous women on the frontline, fighting for your community?

As Indigenous women, freedom fighters and land defenders, we’re in a very vulnerable situation. We become a target and feel unsafe because we have to face pipeline construction work camps with men. This is the reality for Indigenous women when they stand up to fight. The government and corporations don’t want us to have a voice against the oil, gas and mining industries. We’re threatening a very greedy industry making people very wealthy. But we have no other choice.

4. You’ve been to Standing Rock to fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline. How can you compare these two movements?

It was very inspirational and empowering to see this massive conversion against the Dakota Access Pipeline. It was energizing to see how much of a youth movement it is. There are so many young people standing up and getting their voices heard and resisting. And it’s the same here with us. It’s inspiring to see children helping the way they can, painting banners, doing art work. This is the future and that’s what is going to make the rest of the world proud.

5. What are the threats the tar sands pipeline poses to your community?

Our land is beautiful and pristine, and the water the pipeline crosses is pure and clear. There are five rivers in British Columbia that are formed in our territory by the glaciers, and we already see the impacts of climate change.

The glaciers are disappearing. Once they put that infrastructure in and start pumping that dirty oil, it’s going to destroy our land.

Salmon runs in our rivers, and if you impact the life of the salmon, you are impacting our livelihood. Every Indigenous community in the region depends on the salmon. This is in our DNA. As mothers and women we don’t know how our children are going to be able to sustain themselves in the future when it’s already hard for our generation to have our traditional diet. It’s very important for us to stand up for every Indigenous Person and every living being that cannot speak for itself.

The South Thompson River is adjacent to the Tiny House Warriors build camp, near Kamloops, British Columbia.

6. September 13th marks the 10th anniversary of UN’S Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIP). How do you see Canada reflecting this?

Canada has this image of a country that cares about Indigenous People and endorses UNDRIP, but the government is not implementing it. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continuously violates the rights of Indigenous Peoples and never addresses land sovereignty issues because corporations benefit from land destruction. Canada’s economy is based off of our land, and native people are forced to live in 0.2% of it.

When Kinder Morgan says it has First Nations approval, that’s not true. Our laws state that not one person, not 10 or 20 people can make a decision for our territory.

The decision-making process comes from every single man, woman and child and that’s what is called collective consent. Thousands of people have not given their consent but the government and the corporations have ignored us.

7. The building of the tiny houses became the center of this fight against the Kinder Morgan pipeline. What do the tiny houses mean and why are you building them along the tar sands pipeline path?

One thing that inspired me at Standing Rock was to see these tiny houses being built in two or three days and it showed how we can creatively resist against the Trans Mountain pipeline. The message is about minimizing our impact on the earth. We don’t need a big house, we don’t need fossil fuels, we can have solar energy! We’re painting salmon on the roof of the tiny houses to represent our livelihood and why we’re resisting. They need to recognize that this land is our home.

The tiny houses are a symbol of the home they are fighting to protect, creating hope and community in the face of destruction.

8. Turtle Island is the Indigenous name for North America. Why is the region being considered a hotspot for Indigenous-led resistance?

Our brothers and sisters have been mobilising for a long time in Turtle Island. Tens of thousands of Indigenous Peoples get together to talk about important issues and take action against the government. It’s like a sleeping giant is waking up and this energy is bringing more people together and building up momentum. The world is taking notice and we need everyone on our side if we want to change this.

9. When you think about the struggles Indigenous Peoples face, they are all linked to colonisation. What can allies do to re-educate themselves and start decolonising their minds?

We, as Indigenous Peoples, never chose this. We’ve been forced into this. Canada is a country turning 150 years old this year. But we’re Indigenous, we’re Secwepemc people. We’ve been here for so much longer than that. We’re not meant to be in a reservation, we’re meant to be on our territory. That’s why this is such a strong women’s movement. As mothers we know our job is to protect our children and make sure they have a future. We’re also part of biodiversity, that’s why we need to hold on to our culture, because it’s all disappearing. Our language is disappearing.

Something very simple everyone can start doing to decolonise their minds is to get educated about the impacts they are making in the world. If you think about the food you eat, and the distribution, the transportation of food to big chains of supermarkets, all that is not sustainable. It’s all linked together. Support their local communities, their Indigenous communities by shopping local for their food.

Women involved in the tiny house build stand on the finished platform that will serve as the floor for the first tiny house.

10. Some people can travel to the resistance camps, and some people cannot. What can supporters around the world do right now to help your cause?

We’re starting with one tiny house but we need more experienced builders to come and offer their skills. We need scientists, mathematicians, economists. We need artists around the globe to start putting images out there to change the way people think and create this vision of what is possible for our world.

This is not just an Indigenous rights movement. It’s a movement for all humanity. We can’t let a few people in this world control the way the world is run. We the people have the ability and the skills and the knowledge to create a big massive global revolution. We have the power together, but it’s gonna take all of us and all of our skills to make this possible.

Follow the Tiny House Warriors Facebook page to keep track of their fight. You can also support them via crowdfunding and donations, and tell TD Bank to stop funding tar sands pipelines.

Diego Gonzaga is a content editor for Greenpeace US.

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