Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
Canada: ‘Some people say it’s going to be indigenous people to stop climate change, but it will take every single person, not just indigenous people’
Kanahus Manuel is an indigenous activist, author, birth keeper and founding member of the environmental indigenous activist group Tiny House Warriors – a protest movement against extractive industries on indigenous territories. She explains to Alicia Kroemer how indigenous communities, particularly women and youth, have been at the forefront of environmental resistance – and the important contribution they are now making to the ght against climate change.
I am Kanahus Manuel. My name means Red Woman in Tanaka. I am from both Secwepemc nation and Tanaka nation – they border each other on the Rocky Mountains on the west coast of British Columbia in Canada. The Secwepemc territory is still to date unceded and unsurrendered. There are 10,000 Secwepemc living there. It is a very rare temperate inland rainforest.
The landscapes, geography and biodiversity make up so much of who we are. Everything we are is from the land. With indigenous communities, it always comes back to the land. We have been able to sustain ourselves for thousands of years. We have place names in our language that are as ancient as the mountains around us. We have a close relationship to and dependence on our land, unbroken since the beginning of time.
Right now, one of the biggest threats to our land and livelihood is industry, as it has always been. Resource extraction, in the form of pipelines, logging and mining, continues to threaten our people. Here in Canada we are currently facing threats of unconsented resource extraction and destructive access into our territories with expansion of roads and pipelines. Today, the Canadian government is trying to build the Kinder Morgan/Trans Mountain Pipeline on Secwepemc territory, and they now own the company, which they bought for C$4.5 billion in 2018 from Kinder Morgan, a Texas-based company.
This Trans Mountain Pipeline threatens thousands of clean glacier creeks, streams and lakes. It is a bitumen pipeline. Bitumen is toxic; it is not conventional oil, you cannot clean it up with conventional oil spill methods – it sinks. This is why we bring attention to it and connect it with some of the big mining disasters we’ve had in the past. We have seen rst-hand that government and corporations do not invest enough into cleaning up environmental disasters from these projects. They never cleaned up the Mount Polley mine disaster that happened in our territory in 2014, they just covered it up. The toxins of that disaster are continuing to spill into one of the deepest glacier-fed lakes in the world, Quesnel Lake.
‘Right now, one of the biggest threats to our land and livelihood is industry, as it has always been. Resource extraction, in the form of pipelines, logging and mining, continues to threaten our people.’- Kanahus Manuel
We look ahead to the next 10,000 years. If our ancestors have been here for 10,000 years and we are still able to drink from the glacier-fed streams today, what do we have to do to ensure 10,000 more years of clean water for future generations? Right now, our glaciers are receding at a rapid rate all around the world. What will it look like when our glaciers are gone? What will that look like for humanity?
In protest against this violence on our land and communities, we have started the Tiny House Warriors movement. The Canadian government has always displaced us from our land, yet we have always been mobile. We have currently set up tiny houses on wheels at Blue River, stopping ‘man camps,’ which bring in hundreds of Trans Mountain Pipeline male construction workers. In addition to the environmental destruction of resource extraction, the presence of ‘man camps’ brings with it an increase in sexual attacks and violence towards indigenous women, contributing to the reports of missing and murdered indigenous women. The increase in violence towards women has occurred near similar camps in northern British Colombia, northern Alberta and North Dakota. This is why we chose to put our tiny houses first on the ground here at this site this past year.
We need people on the ground. The power that indigenous people have is often found in their leaving the reserve. I am telling them to leave that little prison and exercise rights on all territories and stop resource extraction. Some people say it’s going to be indigenous peoples who stop climate change, but it will take every single person, not just indigenous people. It is going to take every single one of us on this planet. To the non-indigenous world, I say to you: this is your government; this is your history of colonialization and oppression. You need to take responsibility and fight back for protection of the lands and water.
‘We are not going to let the old boys’ club and rich people around the world continue to control and destroy the planet. We are the masses that are waking up to climate change, and the urgency is now.’ – Kanahus Manuel
Today we see a movement happening in our indigenous nations, that it is the women who are standing up. An indigenous woman started the Standing Rock Protest. Indigenous women have initiated the healing from the violence of colonialism. It is through this healing that the women found their voice to stand up to our oppressors, against state and extractive industries. The women are beginning to nd their voice and the men are beginning to stand by their side as our indigenous communities heal.
Indigenous youth hold vast potential power – they are the ones who have the warrior spirit. They are young and able bodied, they are able to be out there on the frontlines, they have artistic minds that can be creative in finding new ways to resist. Indigenous youth have such a huge job on their hands and it’s going to take that creativity and youthful spirit to be able to make change. Indigenous youth can change the world. Once they find their voice, there is a ripple effect and we will continue to see more indigenous people coming to the forefront and speaking out against climate change and protecting our Earth. These young people are bringing us into a new era – a new generation of resistance.
Every day, we are striving to become the independent, strong, thriving indigenous nation that we envision. But this is going to take work at each individual level. We are not going to let the old boys’ club and rich people around the world continue to control and destroy the planet. We are the masses that are waking up to climate change, and the urgency is now. I encourage everyone to start thinking and planning for solutions. I call on indigenous communities around the world to pull away from dependence on colonial states. We saw people standing up around the world for Standing Rock, standing up against destructive extractive industries. It’s going to continue. Follow the voices of the indigenous women and youth as they lead us. We are empowered by protest, both indigenous and non- indigenous, to fight for our lands and water to ensure our future survival.
- Above: Members of the Tiny House Warriors campaign at work. Photo supplied by Kanahus Manuel.
- Below: Kanahus Manuel, founding member of environmental indigenous activist group ‘Tiny House Warriors.’ Photo supplied by Kanahus Manuel.