Blue River, April 1, 2020
OUR LIVES AND OUR LANDS are already in danger from the construction of the Trans Mountain pipeline through our territory.
But today we face the additional risk of a deadly virus that could be carried by construction workers who live in a densely populated man camp near our homes.
We, the Secwepemc, have never ceded, surrendered, or given up our sovereign title and rights over the land, waters and resources within Secwepemcul’ecw.
We have never provided and will never provide our collective free, prior and informed consent – the minimal international standard – to Canada’s Trans Mountain Pipeline Project or the Trans Mountain Man Camps.
Yet a 1000-worker Blue River Campsite in plotted to be built on 16 hectares of our lands for the construction of this pipeline. In defence, we have built the Tiny House Warrior camp: six small homes to stop the construction of this pipeline and the workforce sent to build it. Construction has begun at two other Trans Mountain Man Camp sites in Clearwater and Valemount both within Secwepemc Territory and without Secwepemc consent.
As Indigenous communities go into voluntary lockdowns throughout the country to contain the spread of Covid-19, the contagion continues to travel through and near our community by natural resource industries that have irresponsibly deemed essential services by British Columbia (BC). We demand these sites be shut down immediately because they are in direct contravention of the ruling by the public health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry that construction companies must comply with the 50-person limit on shared spaces
We know this move by BC to recognize resource extraction work at “essential services” is a cynical attempt to take advantage of our impaired mobility to push the extractive industries onto our land. And this at a time when these industries have been condemned and ordered shut down by human rights organizations in Geneva and around the world.
By pushing them through our territories during a deadly pandemic, the resource company invasion is not only an ongoing violation of our jurisdiction, the contagious man camps they had set up on our land could be a death sentence for our people.
BC Hydro has at least 18 people in quarantine at its Site C dam site. Reports indicate that its 1,700-person workforce remains in place but that the number of people staying at the man camp will be reduced. But the number of men at the camp still will likely still sit at around 1,000 people at a time when groups larger than 5 cannot legally congregate elsewhere in the province.
These camps continue to be expanded against the will of the workers themselves. The BC Building Trades called for all remote camps to be tooled down only to the bare essentials, prioritizing the health and safety of workers.
We have been calling for the shutdown of these camps for years, for the already risky prospect of danger to women and girls posed by massive camps of men working long hours, often doing hard drugs, and looking for release.
Man camps provide temporary employee housing to thousands of mostly non-Indigenous male workers – who are legally disallowed from bringing their families – in the resource sector. This is a consistent pattern of the settler state over the past century. Hudson’s Bay Company prohibited European women from accompanying, and flooded Indigenous lands with non-Indigenous men who kidnapped, sexually exploited, enslaved and sold Indigenous women.
Today, wherever man camps are set up, we face exponential increases in sexual violence. As development results in the destruction of our land base and our food sovereignty, it also drives up food and housing prices. This further intensifies our economic insecurity and we are forced into even more vulnerable conditions.
In December 2019, the United Nations Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination sent a cease and desist order to Canada from the committee.
The committee, specifically, expressed concern, “by the refusal to consider free, prior and informed consent as a requirement for any measure, such as large-scale development projects, that may cause irreparable harm to indigenous peoples rights, culture, lands, territories and way of life.”
Added to this scourge today is the real danger these camps impose on us from the spread of the coronavirus pandemic into our communities, which poses the greatest threat to our Elders. We demand that British Columbia listen to human rights organizations, to its own public health experts and the workers themselves to cease and desist all resource extraction work during this deadly pandemic.
We have lived on our land of 180,000 square km of unceded territory since time immemorial. We collectively hold title and governance regarding Secwepemcul’ecw and the collective consent of the Secwepemc is required for any access to our lands, waters and resources. We are committed to upholding our collective jurisdiction to look after the land, the language, and the culture of our people, as well as the safety and wellbeing of our women and our Elders. We will not stand for this new assault on our lands and peoples!
Investors take note, the Trans Mountain Pipeline project and any other corporate colonial project that seeks to go through and destroy our 180,000 square km of unceded territory will be refused passage through our territory. We stand resolutely together against any and all threats to our lands, the wildlife and the waterways.
We, the Secwepemc, have never ceded, surrendered, or given up our sovereign title and rights over the land, waters and resources within Secwepemcul’ecw. We have lived on our land since time immemorial and have never been conquered by war. We collectively hold title and governance regarding Secwepemcul’ecw and the collective consent of the Secwepemc is required for any access to our lands, waters and resources.