I spent three days travelling through Secwepemc territory with reporters Amber Bernard and Laurie Hamelin of APTN News. The pipeline crosses 518km of Secwepemc territory which consists of 17 diverse communities with all kinds of positions on the project. To find out more, I was asking people for their thoughts on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion at pit stops – from Tk’emlups, to Neskonlith, to High Bar First Nations. Many people I spoke with did not say much, or did not want to speak on record. But I still learned a lot from those I spoke with. Here are my five takeaways:
1. People are pragmatic
Most of the people that opened up to me about the pipeline recognize it’s a tough decision. Nearly all of them mentioned concerns about the environment, from climate change to spills. But they also saw the need for economic growth in the community. They saw both sides and recognized it’s tough to balance both.
2. Some have other things to worry about
Many of the communities we passed through, such as Bonaparte and Ashcroft First Nations, were devastated by wildfires last summer. Many also faced major floods this spring. A few people I spoke with said they don’t follow politics much. Without a safe healthy home to live in, I can see how the fate of a future pipeline – and its politics – is not of top concern. A former health director in one community told me they’ve been overwhelmed with need with limited community-based support. Even among those that didn’t lose their homes completely, wildfires and floods bring on things like rat infestations. Heavy smoke cloaks buildings in soot. The high percentage of older community members in places like Bonaparte First Nation means many can’t clean their homes properly. Without being able to scrub our the ceiling ducts, for instance, or remove rats, some members are still living in environments that further compromise their health.
3. Many communities need jobs
Many community members we met have relocated to Kamloops to find work. Even though they want to stay connected with their families, land and traditions, it’s hard to stay at home. In Clinton, B.C., the closest community to High Bar First Nation’s band office, forestry used to be a major source of employment, but there aren’t as many jobs now. Job opportunities are often cited by communities as one of the reasons why they support resource development projects.
4. People want to see First Nations make decisions for themselves
I heard a resounding desire to see First Nations make decisions on their land, for themselves – be it the right to protect future generations from spills, or the right to tax the pipeline well into its future operations.
5. While leaders refuse to comment, community members had lots to say
Many community members I spoke with had plenty to say about the pipeline, even if they weren’t involved in the decision. Meanwhile, the majority of leaders I called (and I called more than 50) did not call me back or refused to comment.
These insights are in no way meant to generalize a diverse region. They’re simply observations based on short discussions with community members throughout the trip. Something I’ve missed? Let me know, here: