Secwepemc set up new camp in hopes of halting TMX construction, leads to five arrests

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Camp and ceremonial fire on Secwepemculecw intended to stop TMX from drilling under Thompson River

Sewcwepemc camp
Photo provided.

In what is referred to as Kamloops, B.C. (on Secwepemculecw), workers recently began preparing to drill underneath the Thompson River as part of the Trans Mountain (TMX) pipeline expansion (TMX). In response, a group of Secwepemc people started occupying the land full time and set up a small camp and ceremonial fire on the opposite side of the river from TMX construction. The Secwepemc camp is concerned with the project because it lacked consultation, increases pollution, and will disrupt salmon populations.

The TMX project was approved by the federal government in 2016, but due to resistance to the project the original owner, Kinder Morgan, decided to suspend construction. In response, the federal government purchased the project and continues to push it through despite opposition.

Anushka Azadi was at the Kamloops camp since the beginning of the occupation. She said that the Secwepemc set up this camp after gaining consent from the elders and women in the community.

“It’s something that we’ve been wanting to do for some time, and we just sort of needed the impetus and the go ahead from our Aunties to say ‘yeah, I think you guys should be here.’ So, it’s just a matter of gathering energy and consent from our own nation to do what we’re doing,” said Azadi.

The consent came at the right time, because TMX was getting very close to drilling under the river.

sewcwepemc camp land defenders
Photo provided.

“We’re doing it right now too because it’s basically crunch time now,” said Azadi. “I’m looking at the construction site right now just on the other side of the river here, and they’re just getting ready to drill under the river and no one else is doing anything to stop it. So, it’s go time for us.”

On Oct. 9, she says multiple TMX workers were witnessed surveying the site for construction, even though the Secwepemc had gathered and demanded a stop to construction. As a result, the camp was moved directly in the way of the proposed drill line.

The campers are planning on staying until TMX stops construction on unceded Secwepemc lands. As of Oct. 11, the camp was moved to a different location due to a chemical leak into the Thompson. 

By Oct. 15, the RCMP begun arresting people at the camp. Hereditary Chief Segwses, Loralie Dick, April Thomas, Billie Pierre and Romilly Cavanaugh were among those arrested after the RCMP received a call from TMX security staff.

The camp is not the first set up by the Secwepemc in opposition to TMX. Just outside of Blue River, B.C., the Secwepemc have maintained a camp since July 2018. In Blue River, there are similar plans to drill underneath the northern Thompson. from August to November 2020. This will be done by using horizontal directional drilling, which involves drilling under the river to allow the pipeline to cross. The work also requires digging large trenches on either side of the river to be low enough to drill the crossing.

secwepemc camp
Photo provided.

Resistance from the Secwepemc did not start with the setting up of the camp, though. In early September, a Secwepemc woman chained herself to the gates of the TMX worksite in Kamloops and was quickly arrested by the RCMP. She was arrested based on a 2018 Supreme Court injunction that prevents land defenders from blocking access to TMX sites. Azadi explained that there were also patrols around the territory for weeks before the camp was set up.

When asked how the camp plans to deal with TMX workers not respecting Secwepemc demands, Azadi explained that strategies are in the works, all while making sure to listen to elders and women in the decision making.

“There are lots of things that are in motion right now and still within the women’s council and elders’ council,” she said. “We’re taking next steps to know what we’re going to do once, once we understand: are they stopping, or are they not stopping.”

On Oct. 10, the Secwepemc issued a cease and desist order to the TMX workers in Kamloops. They issued the order because the nation has never given their consent for this expansion project. A video on the camp’s Facebook page shows an interaction between land defenders and an unknown person claiming to be a representative of TMX security.

Despite tensions with TMX, the response to the camp from the community has mostly been positive. Azadi shared a story of one interaction between camp members and a young boy who recognized the work they are doing for the salmon.

“We had a little boy. Come, you know, running across the ridge. We’re camped out in the bed but he was running across the top of the river and, and he was just so happy to see us he yelled down and said, ‘Hey, are you guys the ones saving the salmon?’ And we said, ‘Yeah, we are.’ And he said, ‘Oh, you got any salmon down there now?’ ‘No,’ we said, ‘no but we will later.’”

Azadi said the Secwepemc were trying to hold camp in a peaceful, positive way and were trying to avoid any sort of confrontation between them and the industry in the area. Of those arrested, one was released without charges. The other four will be in court in January for allegedly violating the 2018 injunction.