You could say construction has started along Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline path—it’s just not the oil company doing the building. Not yet, anyway.
Instead of a controversial 1,150 kilometre pipeline, a crew of Indigenous land defenders and their allies have been putting the finishing touches on a seven-by-twelve foot house near Kamloops, BC. They say it’s the first of ten going up along the 518-kilometre stretch where the Trans Mountain expansion crosses the Secwepemc Nation’s unceded territory. A Secwepemc assembly earlier this summer declared its opposition to the pipeline.
If all goes according to plan, construction leader Kanahus Manuel says the micro-houses will block the project from ever getting built.
The Texas oil giant confirmed last week it still plans to break ground on the Trans Mountain expansion project this month. The company will apparently now have to tear down environmentally-friendly housing on Indigenous land if it’s going to successfully ship 900,000 barrels of Alberta bitumen a day across to British Columbia’s southern coast.
VICE caught up with Manuel by phone to learn more about the direct action and its Standing Rock origin story.
VICE: Can you tell me how and why you got into building these tiny homes?
Kanahus Manuel: This idea began when I was down at Standing Rock. Some people from Portland built a tiny house for me and my freedom babies. They built the whole thing in just two-and-a-half days, with solar panels and everything so we could power six laptops. When I came home, I got some other guys from the camp to take it apart and move it to a reserve where they were resisting Keystone XL.
This is where the idea came about. The woman from Portland wasn’t able to help, but she shared the original concept drawing, and I got the supply list ready. We asked for volunteers, for those interested in building tiny houses to stop the pipeline. All these different people sponsored the lumber and supplies and the trailer.
And why tiny houses? Why not something more intimidating?
We’re behind everything that comes along with the tiny house movement—downsizing, living simply, beautifying the outside living area, and low energy consumption. It’s also a physical object that’s going to physically blockade construction. As Indigenous people we’ve always put our bodies on the front lines, but this way we want to show that our land is our home. We’re putting tiny houses out there to scream that message to the world: that pushing a pipeline through is tearing through our home.
We’ve seen residential camps like Unist’ot’en physically block pipeline routes in BC before. Is this an evolution of that action?
We’ve been inspired by all past resistance to development. Back in 2001 we had our beautiful house bulldozed down for being in the path of Sun Peaks Ski resort. We’ve seen homes standing in the way of development destroyed before—often with the help of Canadian courts and governments.
We don’t want to see that again. We want to create momentum so that citizens of Canada will stand beside Indigenous people because we’re protecting clean air, water and land. We’ve built this first one, and now it’s getting painted. We’re going to have a mural tell the story of why we choose to resist. We really want to be out on our land. We’re sick of being pushed into 0.2 percent of it. The government needs to reconsider the outdated and racist land policies that assumed this country was empty.
This project already has approval from Justin Trudeau, but BC’s government has now pledged to do everything it can to stop it. Does that change your game plan?
Obviously we knew Trudeau would approve this pipeline. It’s a very important part of Canada’s national infrastructure. It’s a major economic move for Canada. But it’s also a carbon bomb that will create so much devastation. I think they’re scrambling right now to take control of our land, to show investors that investments are still certain. The more that we gain certainty over our title, land and rights, the more uncertainty grows for them. And the opposite is true—the more certainty they have on our land, the more uncertainty we have for our future and safety.
To me it doesn’t matter who may be in power in BC. It doesn’t matter because the underlying power of the courts still goes against Indigenous rights to land and title. You’re confined to their laws, to their definition of what consent is. We’re going out there on the pipeline route not just to block projects, but to monitor these areas and live on our territory because that’s the only way we can challenge corporations after all legal remedies have been exhausted.
That’s where we’re at right now. We have to take direct action. They want to triple the capacity with this new pipeline, which will increase tanker traffic around Vancouver seven times. Just one of those tankers, if you put it straight up and down, it’s going to be bigger than the tallest building in Vancouver. Through the skinniest inlet there will only be a metre and a half clearance on each side. So it’s really risky business. We’re playing Russian roulette with our lives. If not our lives, than our children’s lives.