(Water protector Johnny Lee keeps watch atop Camp Cloud’s carver’s cabin Friday evening. Photo: Justin Brake/APTN)
It’s 6 a.m. and land protectors are already gathered around the sacred fire inside Camp Cloud on Burnaby Mountain.
As the City of Burnaby’s 72-hour eviction notice expires, an elder shares a teaching while around 30 water protectors listen intently, some of them sipping their steaming cups of morning coffee.
Moments later George Manuel, son of the late National Indian Brotherhood and Secwepemc Chief George Manuel, shares a song.
On Saturday AM, as 6 a.m. deadline for @CityofBurnaby's eviction notice to #CampCloud passes, George Manuel, son of late National Indian Brotherhood leader George Manuel, leads drum ceremony. Water protectors vow to stand ground against #TransMountain pipeline. #cdnpoli @APTNNews pic.twitter.com/MmifsGw8Bd
— Justin Brake (@JustinBrakeNews) July 21, 2018
Although there’s uncertainty over whether authorities will enforce the city’s eviction notice, water protectors are calm and focused.
Over the past three days, they’ve repeatedly pledged to stand their ground and continue their fight against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.
Several of them are from various Coast Salish nations. Burnaby Mountain itself has been used for thousands of years by the Musqueam, Squamish, Kwikwetlem and Tsleil-Waututh.
Kwitsel Tatel is Stó:lõ, and Camp Cloud’s court monitor.
She tells passersby who stop to speak with her that the Trans Mountain pipeline and Burnaby marine station are on “unceded Coast Salish territory,” and that the City of Burnaby does not have jurisdiction to evict Indigenous people who are standing on lands they never surrendered to Canada.
Burnaby’s eviction notice was delivered at 6 a.m. on Wednesday and cites building and zoning bylaw infractions.
Responding in an open letter on Sunday Camp Cloud published an open letter to the city saying Burnaby “cannot, in good faith, move forward with enforcement of bylaws on Camp Cloud without enforcing the same on Kinder Morgan.
“Your eviction notice ignores the health and environmental concerns of constructing a pipeline with the capacity to transport upwards of 300,000 barrels of crude oil per day.”
While it issued the eviction notice, the City of Burnaby is on record as also opposing the Trans Mountain expansion project.
Support from Burnaby Assistant Fire Chief
On Friday evening water protectors received a tip that the Burnaby Fire Department may arrive in the morning to extinguish the camp’s sacred fire.
When they called the fire department to confirm, Assistant Fire Chief Bryan Kirk told Tatel the firefighters “were instructed by Chief [Joe] Robertson months ago when the camp was first built not to put the fire out.”
Kirk was candid in the conversation, saying he agrees that “water is life,” and that “we all support you guys 100 per cent. Well, I do — I can’t speak for everybody,” he continued.
He said “there’s no way that we would do that,” when asked if the fire department would try to put out the sacred fire.
“Even if I was told to do it I still might not do it,” he said, acknowledging the possibility he could be suspended for speaking out in support of the camp.
“I’m not up there but I’m so supportive of you guys for doing that. Hell, let’s face it, it’s easier to go home at the end of the day than stay in a camp, so you guys are making sacrifices.”
On Friday evening Burnaby Assistant Fire Chief cleared rumour the fire department would try to extinguish #CampCloud sacred fire Saturday AM, told camp court monitor Kwitsel Tatel he supports water protectors in their fight against #TransMountain pipeline. 1/2 @APTNNews pic.twitter.com/6yUAv8fozg
— Justin Brake (@JustinBrakeNews) July 21, 2018
Later in the conversation, Kirk offered to bring the water protectors firewood and said he’s “often thought to myself, there’s no way we could handle [an oil] spill — it would just ruin the coast for our lifetimes and who knows how long. It’s not worth it.”
“Not just an Indigenous issue”
If built the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion will triple the existing pipeline’s carrying capacity and move up to 890,000 barrels of diluted bitumen from the Alberta tar sands to Burnaby, where it would then be shipped to foreign markets.
(Tsastilqualis of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation joined Camp Cloud on Friday. She told APTN that “climate change and the poisoning of our waters [have] to stop, otherwise the future is bleak for our people”)
Indigenous people resisting the pipeline in unceded Coast Salish and Secwepemc territories, environmental and climate action groups, and the Treaty Alliance representing more than 150 First Nations have all said expansion of the tar sands would speed up to the current trajectory toward catastrophic climate change.
“This is not just an Indigenous issue, it’s a world issue and we all have to be concerned,” said Tsastilqualis of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation, who traveled to Burnaby from Victoria Friday to join the water protectors.
“What we’re seeing around us with climate change and the poisoning of our waters — it has to stop, otherwise the future is bleak for our people.”
Indigenous people rising up
Rose Henry, an educator from the Tla’amin Nation, also traveled from Victoria to join Camp Cloud.
Citing Idle No More and Standing Rock, she told APTN News “the awakening is happening,” and that Camp Cloud is “one of the most vital links” in the fight against Trans Mountain.
Meanwhile, on unceded Secwepemc territory, Manuel’s niece Kanahus is leading the Tiny House Warriors resistance after the group of land defenders and water protectors established a small village on the edge of Blue River, B.C., next to a proposed Trans Mountain expansion project accommodations complex expected to house up to 1,000 workers, mostly men, if construction in that region gets underway according to schedule in September.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has vowed to get the pipeline built, but the project faces numerous court challenges, including several from First Nations who say they haven’t given their free, prior and informed consent.
“I want to know where the politicians are. They haven’t come and sat with us,” said Henry, adding she would also like to hear from the five Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief candidates as they arrive in Vancouver for the AFN election this week.
But even if political leaders don’t show up, Henry said people are rising up and leaders will soon be forced to listen to the grassroots people.
“Standing Rock north of the border is happening right now, on this mountain. And we’re ready and we’re willing to take a stand and say enough is enough,” she said.
On Wednesday night Ojibway artist Isaac Murdoch took to Facebook live from the Justice For Our Stolen Children solidarity camp in Toronto to issue a call to action.
“I don’t believe in cede and surrender, I don’t believe that all this land should belong to Canada. So get out there and start making your own camps. Get out there and start taking land back,” he said.
In a subsequent interview with APTN the artist, whose art is featured on banners at Indigenous resistances across the country, encouraged people “to get out there and stand with Camp Cloud because we can’t afford to have oil reach international markets because that’s billions of barrels of oil that’s going to go into the atmosphere, so we need to stop the Trans Mountain pipeline.”
Meeting with City of Burnaby planned for Monday
Camp Cloud spokesperson Elauna Boutwell told APTN the water protectors have a meeting with Burnaby City Manager Lambert Chu at 4:30 p.m. Monday, and that by then water protectors will have a collectively decided message and position they want to bring to the city.
The City of Burnaby could not be reached for comment before publication.
Manuel said he hopes the meeting brings a “peaceful resolution,” calling the City’s issuance of an eviction notice to Indigenous people on their own lands “vindictive”.
He hopes the “proper authorities step in, those parties being the federal government which has the fiduciary duties to uphold to our people and throughout unceded territories, throughout Mother Earth, throughout Turtle Island.”
Ryan Black of Janvier, Alberta is Dene. He traveled to Camp Cloud for “the future”.
“It’s not us that’s going to suffer — it’s our kids and our kids’ kids who are going to look back and say how wasteful we were, how could we let this happen? It’s not going to last forever, this oil. We don’t need all this shit.”