When Prime Minister Trudeau’s government approved the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion, the Kwantlen First Nation replied quickly and decisively with protest. Alongside the Tsleil Waututh, Secwepemc, and many other Indigenous nations whose unceded territories the pipeline would cross, the Kwantlen declared that they do not consent to the pipeline and will not allow it to be expanded. Brandon Gabriel is a leading voice in the Kwantlen nation’s struggle against pipelines. The Volcano sat down with him to discuss the implications of the pipeline fight for his people.
Volcano: Why is the Kwantlen nation opposed to Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion?
Gabriel: I think one of the reasons that we took up opposition against KM is that where they are planning on crossing the pipeline infrastructure is directly through our fishing grounds. I remember being as young as 5 years old when my parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles would go fishing on the water in our territory, and they would fish from March right through to November. So for a good portion of the year, children here in Kwantlen would take care of each other while the adults would go fishing. That was a normal cycle of life in our community. Within 15 years, commercial fisheries had overfished the salmon and the ecology of the Fraser River system was being damaged. So we have been fighting even since to preserve and ensure that the river system stays intact. It has to do with our food sovereignty and the well-being of our people. So first and foremost was protecting our food resources.
The second issue is governance. Since the inception of Canada as a dominion, the Indian Act completely controlled our sovereign nations. When the first pipeline was laid through our territory in 1953, it didn’t have the consent of our chief and council. The chief was my great-grandfather Alfred Gabriel and at that time it was Indian agents acting on behalf of the federal government who gave assent for big projects like that. When we heard that they were planning on expanding the existing pipeline, there was already a grievance between our community and the government of Canada and the pipeline company. They are planning on expanding the pipeline’s right of way from 100 ft to 150 yards. So they are taking land that is unceded; it’s an infringement on our rights and title.
Volcano: What did the federal government’s approval of this project reveal about its “new relationship” with Indigenous communities?
Gabriel: When the Trudeau government came to power, I think there was relief within Indigenous communities. We no longer had to deal with Stephen Harper and his government’s blatantly anti-Indigenous policies and its concerted effort to thwart Indigenous rights and title and criminalize our people opposed to resource extractive policies and development. Trudeau’s intentions were less obvious initially, but when he made his announcement on Nov 29th approving the Kinder Morgan pipeline, they became very clear to us: his government is no different than the previous one. It is a continuation of the forced displacement of our sovereignty and our rights.
When Kinder Morgan’s Indigenous Engagement Committee first came to Kwantlen four years ago, they said if you support the pipeline you’ll get all this money under the “community gifting program.” We refused. The Indigenous Re-engagement Committee returned last year putting more money on the table, only this time they added a stipulation that said if you don’t take this money now, then you can’t come to us in the event of an ecological catastrophe. They used fear tactics against our communities to entice them to support the pipelines. And the federal government is condoning these business practices of offering money and using coercive tactics. The whole thing stinks.
Volcano: What inspiration do you draw from the resistance to pipelines at Standing Rock, North Dakota?
Gabriel: Standing Rock is a great example of resistance. The people of Standing Rock and all the people that have joined them in that fight are not wielding weapons of any kind against the violent forces that are acting against them; and that has changed the public perception of these so-called Indigenous radicals. It really makes these oppressive police forces look like they are the extremists.
Alliances among our sister nations along the pipeline route were already in place before the pipelines were built. We’ve been in conflict with the government for so long that these allegiances have always been there, through kinship or governance or commerce or trade or sharing similar values. I think the government underestimates these connections. There are now more reasons for people to gather, more reason for them to celebrate who they are as Indigenous people and ensure that this generation and the next generations will stay connected.