Kwantlen – Pipelines and Sovereignty: By Brandon Gabriel
My name is Brandon Gabriel. My education was in Cultural Anthropology and Visual Arts. I studied at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and Emily Carr University of Art and Design (BFA 2006). I have worked on many community art, cultural, historical, administrative, and business projects in a number of different capacities with a multitude of organizations since that time. Currently I am focusing all of my energies on tackling the oil pipeline issues currently at our doorstep in unceded Kwantlen First Nation territories.
Our main village is located in Fort Langley, which is the official and symbolic first capital of British Columbia. The proclamation of BC was signed here by Governor James Douglas on November 19th 1858. The Kwantlen Nation was never present at that event, we did not give permission for this intrusion, and we continue to assert that position to this day.
My journey as a social justice activist began more than three years ago (2012) while on a canoe journey with friends on the waters of Chilko Lake, on the lands of the Tsilhqot’in Nation, which ironically won the now pivotal Supreme Court decision for rights and title for their ancestral lands. It was there, that my anger towards tiers of bureaucratic government apparatuses and resource extractive industries peaked, and that anger resulted in a series of actions, with fellow concerned First Nations communities and Canadian citizens.
Fracking, tar sands, commercial overfishing, farmed salmon, trophy hunting, clear cut logging, strip mining, shady environmental lawmaking, industry run oversight, and media propaganda all fall on the laps of our top offices of the Province of British Columbia and in Ottawa. Not one of these ecologically catastrophic entities is separate from one another.
In June of 2014, world renowned adventurers, expeditionists, and long time friends Chris and Barbara Cooper, and an international crew of paddlers from South Africa, England, Scotland, the US, and across Canada departed the shores of Fort Langley and made our way north to Prince Rupert by way of canoe to bring awareness, show support, and document the opposition to the Northern Gateway Oil Pipeline project which corporate media was completely ignoring in communities all the way up and down the coast.
I learned a lot on that journey. I learned about the power of corporate propaganda, I learned about the power of silencing, and the power of coercion bestowed on communities that are desperate for money and jobs.
I also learned about the power of resilience, the power of unity, and the power that people wield in spite of those nefarious external forces that are omnipresent in our communities.
After traversing the waters for 1200 kilometres of our rugged coast line, meeting over 10,000 of this province’s citizens and Indigenous peoples, and taking into account the damages already wrought by these reckless industries, my resolve and anger only increased and I found a sense of urgency to deal with these matters directly.
Kinder-Morgan, North America’s largest oil company and the 4th largest oil company in the world had begun test drilling on Burnaby Mountain in Vancouver in November of 2014, without consent from the unceded lands of the Squamish and Tsleil-Watuuth Nations whose territories overlapped the test drilling sites. Occupation of lands by protesters began in order to bring attention to the ordeal. Court injunctions were served by police, and later dropped by the courts due to ill conceived legalese on the part of Kinder-Morgan.
I was one of those protesters, and I am grateful for being part of that effort. It allowed me to call to action new allies who would later come to the side of my community, the Kwantlen First Nation, in February 2015.
Kinder-Morgan, through secretive permission obtained under the auspices of the Township of Langley and private land owners began to test drill bore holes in sensitive ecological habitat in the Salmon River watershed. It is home to three species that are on the Endangered Species list. The Salish Sucker, the Oregon Spotted Frog, and the Nooksack Dace, all call the Salmon River its home. Kinder-Morgan arrived on the scene, chopped down all the environmental signage indicating the sensitivity of the habitat and began working. The environmental stewardship organization responsible for the upkeep of the waterway posted video and images on social media, and we sprung into action and set up a protest site on Glover Road and Rawlison Crescent in Fort Langley within 48 hours.
Over 100 people showed up to that protest, despite media assertions that only 40 people showed up, and we invited community organizations to join in our opposition to the Kinder-Morgan pipeline being proposed in our unceded territories, and our response was really positive.
Through that event we partnered with the PIPE UP Network, Kwantlen Polytechnic University Student Union Society Association, Kwantlen Polytechnic University Public Interest Research Group, Langley Teachers Association, Tsliel-Watuuth Lands Sacred Trust, Tanker Free BC, Raincoast Conservancy Initiative, Salmon Are Sacred, Lynne Quarmby from SFU, the Musqueam Nation, the Tsliel-Watuuth Nation, and many more groups opposed to the Kinder-Morgan Project.
We hosted a solidarity march and rally on April 11th from the Kwantlen Nation Sports Park and marched across the Jacob Haldi Bridge over the Bedford Channel on the Fraser River, and through the business district of Fort Langley to the Fort Langley Community Hall. Over 400 people participated and it also marked the first time that any such political opposition event was ever held in Fort Langley, and marked the first time that my community, the Kwantlen Nation, had ever marched to assert the rights of our own unceded territories, for our salmon fisheries, for our livelihoods, and for our future generations.
It was an historic day by any measure, and we sent a message loud and clear that we want the Township of Langley, the Premier of BC, the Prime Minister of Canada, and the rest of the country to listen to us- all of us. Settler-Colonial and Indigenous people alike do not want these pipelines, and we will continue to organize and hold events that demarcate that resistance and opposition.