Last Friday Elizabeth May blockaded the entrance of the Kinder Morgan Burnaby tank farm in defiance of a court injunction ordering all people to remain 5 meters outside of the Kinder Morgan boundary. This “Member of the Order of Canada” had never been arrested before. I can’t help but express my gratitude to her for her bold stand on behalf of the Coast Salish people and the rights of future generations everywhere.
Although Ms. May was arrested, it is quite plain to anyone observing on the ground that it is Kinder Morgan that is working outside their boundaries and the spirit of legality. They have substantially cut down forest that is part of a bird sanctuary on unceded Tsleil-Waututh land; land that is also owned by the City of Burnaby. It is the overruling of Burnaby’s bylaws by the flawed NEB, that casts any veil of legitimacy.
There is a lawsuit involving Kinder Morgan vs. Burnaby, Vancouver, Victoria innumerable First Nations groups and the Province of BC as to whether pipeline construction may proceed. The court ordered Kinder Morgan to do no construction on public lands until they made a final ruling. Kinder Morgan could begin tunneling into Burnaby Mountain within their tank farm, but to do that, they needed to log some of the adjacent bird sanctuary. Somehow they received permission for a “Work Zone” that arguably is beyond their property line. We will never know what goes on in the minds of the NEB, so it cannot be said for sure, but it appears that the only available excuse to defy the court ruling is, that logging technically does not necessarily constitute construction or direct work on the pipeline per se.
On the Friday of her arrest Elisabeth May said, “I await the court ruling on the legitimacy of the permit issued to Kinder Morgan. Unfortunately, the federal government and the Texas corporation are not awaiting the ruling of the Federal Court. Kinder Morgan is committed to acts constituting irreparable harm ‒ to the environment and to indigenous rights.
“I will continue to stand in solidarity with the First Nations on whose land these acts of vandalism are now being committed. Non-violent civil disobedience is the moral obligation of the climate-aware, responsible citizen.”
Kinder Morgan has violated NEB regulations by purchasing unapproved, uncertified pipe before the NEB gave them the quality specifications. They also installed Salmon spawning deterrents in river beds they must cross, which even the NEB had to agree, were violating the construction approval. Although, they did not ask Kinder Morgan to remove them.
Given their previous track record and the manipulation of the regulatory process on Burnaby Mountain, it is easy to understand the enormous frustration of those people who are camped on the front lines 24-7.
Here’s what I experienced.
On the Friday night I returned to Burnaby Mountain, the festive mood of the enormous rally on the first Saturday had subsided. There was work to do. I was generously welcomed at Camp Cloud, given a cot and a sleeping bag in a damp tent. The temperatures up the mountain often hovered around freezing once the sun went down. Shivers eventually got to me and I spent my first night huddled by the Sacred Fire occasionally rising from my cold plastic lawn chair to thaw my bottom till the sun returned. As I stood with damp feet, roasting my eyeballs over the Sacred Fire and waiting for dawn to return for the first official blockade day, I marveled at the endurance and resolve of the other Water Protectors who had spent the winter, one hundred days of occupation and watch, across the street from the main gate.
This first Saturday of the blockade, like many to follow, started with training on peaceful blockading, de-escalation scenarios and legal information. Once seated at the blockade volunteers brought granola bars, fruit and water; my first food since afternoon of the day before.
Upon arrest, my paper work was processed twenty yards from the gate. Although they have been placed in the dubious position of being on the wrong side of history, the Burnaby RCMP were courteous and tried to be kind. I signed a Promise to Appear and an agreement to respect the Five meter injunction zone; had my picture taken and in half an hour, was released. Because my charge was Civil Contempt, finger prints were not necessary. I remained at the site to support those who were still on the blockade… from outside the injunction zone.
Before nightfall, I went back to the tent and built a fire in the small air tight within. Sitting by the Sacred Fire, I listened to stories of struggles now and past, of failure and triumph, of the land, the water and of ancestors; the ties that bind. I slept peacefully and with a light heart, warm and dry. Only my boots were wet.
Sunday morning the rain pounded relentlessly and by noon it had eased enough to scout the perimeter which was really just an excuse to go bush whacking. There’s hiking and then there’s bush whacking. The latter employs a lot of ducking and climbing. Upon returning I stopped briefly at Camp Cloud, I then wandered over to the Coast Salish watch house about five hundred meters down the park service road. After a brief visit, I walked down to the soccer field where the enormous rally happened the weekend before. There are a couple gazebos set up and a trailer where Will George, the grandson of Chief Dan George was keeping watch.
At a respectful distance, I passed by a small group of First Nations people when the Chief of the Tsleil-Waututh invited me over to join their circle for smudge. There were songs and drumming and after passing the pipe, I listened as the Chief told of the end of one way and the beginning of another. His words resonated within me as the end of fossil fuel dominance and the beginning of a less monopolistic, sustainable energy system; the end of inequality and racial dominance, where people regardless of race are treated equally – just like on the medicine wheel. The gathering ended, I went back to Camp Cloud and rested in comfort. Only my boots were wet.
My second day on the blockade was much like the first. There was some concern amongst the NGO’s about what would happen to me the second time out. This was new ground for the police and the NGO’s. Because I felt it was my duty to do the most I could to help in my short time left, and sooner or later someone had to test the waters, I strapped myself to the gate. The arrest and processing went the same as before. It was still Civil Contempt but this time the no go zone I was asked to sign (or spend the night in a holding cell and see a judge next day) was a distance roughly 350 meters away from the tank farm and on the map, included access roads. I had to leave.
I was allowed to gather my camping gear and say good bye to my new found friends and was personably escorted on foot out to my new boundary. The Police and I spoke with gusto about how even today, there are electric cars that have a 500 mile range and can leave the current cop car in the dust both in acceleration and handling.
Back in Vancouver, at the very end of Main Street, there is a park with a beach on Burrard Inlet. Taking water there for the Kelowna “Defend The Water” rally, I gave thanks for the beauty of this place the same way we had honoured the pipe, and headed back for my bus ride home.
This pipeline Kinder Morgan wants to build is a profound wrongness on so many levels. It is evil from tip to tail and I hope with all my heart that the Prime Minister understands this… soon. I worry for our children’s sake, for the protectors up on the mountain and those who live below the soon to be overcrowded tank farm; in the shadow of unimaginable catastrophe.
So far Kinder Morgan isn’t stopping, but neither are those who oppose this pipeline. And although I’m now home with all the apparent comforts, the battle still continues.
I think my gratitude and respect for all those who helped and supported me up Burnaby Mountain will follow me all of my days, and I am deeply grateful for the chance to try to be the person I would like to be, and for a few days, to let my heart run free.