By Fran Yanor, The Rocky Mountain Goat, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation Minister Scott Fraser will meet with the Chiefs representing the Simpcw and Tk’emlups Nations ‘as soon as possible’ to discuss the Indigenous activists occupying crown land within Simpcw territory, Fraser told the provincial legislature this week. On July 15, Simpcw Chief Shelly Loring sent a letter to Premier John Horgan requesting a meeting regarding the Tiny House Warriors.
The Tiny House Encampment
The Tiny House encampment is on unceded Simpcw land, within the larger Secwepemc territory. The Tk’emlups and Simpcw are two of 17 bands located in the Secwepemc Nation.
The letter from Loring followed a community meeting held in Blue River in June in which town residents and Simpcw members gathered together to discuss solutions to what they said was repeated harassment by the Tiny House activists during their two-year occupation of land adjacent to the Blue River townsite.
The activists have built several small wooden structures in the vicinity of the proposed $12.6 billion Trans Mountain pipeline extension route with the intention of blocking its construction.
Simpcw & Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc Consented
Both the Simpcw and Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc First Nations have given consent to Trans Mountain to construct and operate the pipeline in their respective territories.
“(The government) needs to engage in a meaningful way with the community, with the protesters, and start trying to find a way forward,” said Kamloops-North Thompson MLA Peter Milobar in an interview last week. “So that this can be de-escalated.”
Responding to a question from Milobar during Question Period on Monday, Fraser said he will meet with the chiefs “to determine if there are maybe ways that we can work together to address their concerns.”
The Tiny House activists have said one of the many reasons they are protesting on the unceded land is to assert Secwepemc Law and jurisdiction.
In a joint statement earlier this month, Loring and Tk’emlups Chief Rosanne Casimir said the activists are violating Secwepemc Laws and Customs and called for the Tiny House Warriors to stand down and leave Simpcw territory.
“The occupation and often disrespectful conduct of the Tiny House Warriors constitutes an intrusion into Simpcwul’ecw and a threat to our people, and the public,” wrote Loring and Casimir.
“What really I find so frustrating is that the Regional Districts don’t have any legislative or statutory requirements to resolve that on crown land,” Thompson Headwaters Area B Director Stephen Quinn said in an interview last week.
At Quinn’s urging, the Thomson-Nicola Regional District board will send a letter to the Premier asking for a meeting to discuss the longstanding protest.
“My sole focus on this is to get this resolved before it turns violent,” said Quinn.
Harassment On Social Media
During the public meeting in Blue River in June, Loring said Simpcw members had been variously harassed and stalked by Tiny House activists.
“We don’t support confrontational racism,” the Chief said at the time, calling on Simpcw members and Blue River residents to ‘walk together’ to find a resolution to the situation.
Numerous Blue River residents have said they’ve been harassed by activists, and have filed complaints with the police, including Quinn who had his photo posted on social media with accusations of being a “white supremacist colonialist or something like that,” Quinn said.
“You either let it brush off your back or spend all day challenging it on Facebook”, said Quinn. “I’ve got much better things to do with my time at my age.”
Both Casimir and Loring were targeted by the Tiny House group on social media following their public request for the activists to leave Simpcw territory.
The Tiny House activists have also complained of harassment, relating to an incident in which several unidentified people allegedly knocked over the group’s signage blockade, and drove a vehicle into a tiny house. Photos of the individuals have circulated on social media and a police investigation is ongoing but the individuals have not been identified as members of the Blue River community of about 250 people.
“Nobody here knows who they are,” Quinn said. “Never seen them before.”
Across the street from the Tiny House encampment, guests of the Blue River Campground have had vulgarities shouted at them while they’re camping, said Blue River Campground employee Sheyna McNabb.
Many times, activists have used a megaphone with a siren to drive campers away, McNabb said, and several guests have left early due to the protesters’ actions. Video footage provided by campground employees reflected McNabb’s description.
‘It’s Their Behaviour’
If the activists had just set up the protests, and not harassed residents, no one would be complaining, said Quinn. “It’s their behaviour that’s kicked people off.” Some towns people are not in favour of the pipeline, he added.
“We recognize the frustration that people are feeling and how distressing some of the interactions have been,” a Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation spokesperson wrote in an email this week. “While the provincial government recognizes the public’s right to engage in peaceful protests and lawful assembly, unlawful actions like threats or harassment are not to be tolerated.”
Trans Mountain Pipeline
The pipeline twinning project will run from near Edmonton to Burnaby, tripling carrying capacity to 890,000 barrels a day, creating 5,000 jobs by mid-2021, and will include work to the existing Blue River pump station, according to the Trans Mountain website.
“I really would like to get this resolved,” said Quinn. “So we can go back to being peaceful.”