A Secwepemc law called X7ensq’t says that if you disrespect the land and don’t take care of it properly, the land and the sky will turn on you.
Mike McKenzie, a Secwepemc knowledge keeper, described it as a significant legislation. He expressed his curiosity about the extent to which people are willing to disregard it.
McKenzie discussed the recent construction resumption by Trans Mountain Corp. near Kamloops, B.C. The change in the pipeline route was authorized by a federal regulator.
McKenzie, who has consistently expressed criticism towards the pipeline expansion, believes that the site’s destruction represents an ongoing cultural genocide.
“Without that place, we lose a big part of ourselves,” said McKenzie, who noted the Secwepemc creation story takes place in Pipsell, and their laws and customs are born from that land.
“This is our Vatican. This is our Notre Dame. This is a place that gives our people an identity and kept our people grounded since time immemorial.”
‘Profound spiritual and cultural significance’
In late September, the application to change the route of Trans Mountain Corp.’s pipeline was approved by the Canada Energy Regulator. This decision has the potential to prevent a further nine-month delay for the government-owned pipeline project.
The ruling was issued by the regulator only a week after listening to arguments from Trans Mountain and Stk’emlupsemc te Secwepemc Nation, who were against the alteration of the route.
The Nation expressed that the area close to Jacko Lake is of great importance in terms of spirituality and culture. Although they were in favor of the project as a whole, they did not endorse the deviation application.
The Nation agreed to the construction with the condition that the company would limit disruptions on the surface.
Stk’emlupsemc te Secwepemc Nation expressed in their written response to the regulator that altering the construction approach would result in severe and irreversible damage to their cultural heritage.
It added that it did not provide free, prior and informed consent for the route deviation, as prescribed under the United Nation Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
It had told the federal regulator in 2018, when the Trans Mountain expansion project was still in the approval process, that Pipsell is a “cultural keystone place and sacred site.”
The reason for the route change by Trans Mountain Corp. was due to encountering engineering challenges in the area, specifically associated with tunnel construction.
The regulator ultimately authorized the pipeline to follow a different path than initially intended for a segment measuring 1.3 kilometers. Additionally, the company has the flexibility to alter its construction approach for that particular section.
On Wednesday, the company verified that it has recommenced operations at the Pipsell location.
The statement acknowledges that the area holds great spiritual and cultural value and promises to treat it with utmost respect and reverence.
The statement emphasized the commitment to avoid and preserve existing archeological and traditional land use sites during the construction process, ensuring they remain untouched.
“We highly appreciate our collaboration with the (Stk’emlupsemc te Secwepemc) and will persist in extending invitations to their representatives for site visits and to discuss backup strategies and measures.”
The company expressed its dedication to fostering “significant involvement and productive connections” with Indigenous communities located along the pipeline route. It highlighted that there are currently 69 agreements established with communities situated along the designated path, including Stk’emlupsemc te Secwepemc.
However, McKenzie, frequently expressing his emotions with tears, expressed his profound sadness upon learning about the resumption of construction.
McKenzie stated that the project contradicts the concept of reconciliation and undermines Canada’s reputation as a leading example of improved relationships.
McKenzie stated that we demonstrated our ability to reconcile and collaborate by focusing on a positive cause.
However, he stated that the recent decision contradicts that notion, especially since the community did not give consent.
“The fact that they’re going to desecrate a sacred site, after all the work that we’ve done, tells me that they’re not serious about reconciliation at all.”
During an interview on Friday, Minister Gary Anandasangaree of the federal Crown-Indigenous Relations stated that he does not wish to evade responsibility but clarified that the decision was beyond his authority. He highlighted that government departments and agencies must adhere to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
I can definitely affirm that, as the federal government, we are strongly dedicated to continuous consultation.
This is not the initial occasion where Jacko Lake, also known as Pipsell, has been suggested as a potential location for development.
In the year 2017, Stk’emlupsemc te Secwepemc Nation expressed their opposition to the development of the Ajax Mine Project in their territory, stating that they had not granted their consent in a manner that was free, prior, and informed.
In a document submitted by the Nation in March 2017 during the approval process for the Ajax project, it states that the oral histories linked to Pipsell are deeply intertwined with our Secwepemc laws. These laws govern the interconnected and responsible connections between humans and the environment.
“We assert the right to maintain and exercise our traditional and contemporary cultural practices, and carry on our customs and spiritual activities in the distinct locations marked by our ancestors.”
The project was ultimately not approved by the federal government.
McKenzie expressed that the site still holds great importance for his community, as well as for him personally, as it was where he conducted his vision quest.
In basic terms, a vision quest involves a spiritual expedition found in certain Indigenous societies, where individuals seek and receive wisdom, direction, and lessons from spirits.
Because the hearing for the decision to change the Trans Mountain route took place in Calgary, McKenzie stated that it was challenging for community members to fully convey the significance of the site since they would need to travel over 700 kilometers to participate.
The Trans Mountain pipeline is the sole pipeline in Canada that carries oil from Alberta to the West Coast. The ongoing expansion will increase the pipeline’s capacity from 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000.
In 2018, the federal government purchased the pipeline for $4.5 billion. The previous owner, Kinder Morgan Canada Inc., was considering abandoning the expansion project due to opposition from environmentalists and regulatory challenges.
It has already faced numerous difficulties and setbacks due to construction issues.
The estimated cost of the project has consistently increased over time: initially to $12.6 billion, then to $21.4 billion, and most recently to $30.9 billion, as of the March capital cost estimate.
McKenzie expressed that if the current situation is not a significant turning point for this company, she is unsure what else could be.