(“I am a victim of the tar sands, says Rose Deranger Desjarlais who drove 19 hours from Fort McMurray to join the Camp Cloud. Photo: Lucy Scholey/APTN)
Johnny Lee slams an axe into a piece of tree trunk, as the smell of fire wafts throughout the campsite near the gates of Kinder Morgan’s Burnaby Terminal, what has been ground zero for opposition to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
He’s one of a handful of anti-pipeline activists living at Camp Cloud, a surveillance site built to monitor the trucks rolling up to the construction zone every day. Other volunteers come and go, lending a hand to cook, chop wood or feed the sacred fire that has been burning for about 140 days.
“They call us eco-terrorists for protecting the land and they’re the ones that are destroying it,” said Lee, who travelled from Edmonton for the cause. He said he will stay as long as it takes to stop the pipeline.
It’s less than a week since Trudeau said he would use financial and legislative means to salvage the $7.4-billion Trans Mountain project, despite opposition from the B.C. government, the cities of Burnaby and Vancouver and First Nations.
Since then, Alberta has tabled legislation aimed at reducing oil flows to B.C., sparking fears of spiked gas prices. Saskatchewan is now threatening to do the same.
But some say the ultimate showdown will be here at Kinder Morgan’s gate – and along the pipeline route to Edmonton.
“We’re here to stop it. That’s the bottom line,” said Dean Bradley, of Kwakiutl First Nation, who has been staying at Camp Cloud for almost a month, bundling up in two sleeping bags during the cold nights.
Kinder Morgan has said 43 First Nation communities have signed mutual benefit agreements with the company, but a number of others have not, including Coldwater, B.C. Many fear irreparable environmental damage from oil spills and extracting more fossil fuels from Alberta’s oil sands. The Liberal government has pledged $1.5 billion to protect the country’s oceans from the project’s resulting increase in oil tankers along the west coast.
Watch Laurie Hamelin’s story on Camp Cloud
Pipeline proponents, like federal Conservative MP Arnold Viersen, say Trans Mountain will bring jobs to First Nations communities. He represents 14 First Nations and three Metis settlements in his Peace River riding, “all of which have benefitted from the oil patch and forestry industry,” he said.
“The industry coming in builds roads to the community, brings internet to the community, brings in power, water, provides construction jobs for roads, provides jobs for the actual servicing of the equipment that is up there, and so all of the communities in northern Alberta benefit immensely from having the oil patch and logging right in their backyards.”
But Rose Deranger Desjarlais, who drove 19 hours from Fort McMurray to join the Camp Cloud group, said her home community of Fort Chipewyan has been destroyed by Alberta’s oilsands.
“I am a victim of the tar sands,” she said.
Up the road, a cedar watch-house offers a tiny glimpse into the fenced-in Kinder Morgan property. Despite the Texas-based company’s announcement that it would halt all non-essential spending, there’s still ongoing activity on the site. As recently as last week, Peter McCartney, of the Wilderness Committee, spotted trucks transporting pipes into Kinder Morgan’s New Westminster site.
“It really put the fight into reality for me,” he said. “There’s this pipeline right here. It’s ready to be put into the ground in unceded territory where they do not have the consent of the First Nations.”
In an emailed response, Kinder Morgan said some materials were ordered and in transit prior to the April 8 announcement that the company would halt all non-essential spending.
“And some essential work that has already started may be continuing,” the statement reads.
While the numbers have seemingly dwindled since Kinder Morgan’s announcement, Camp Cloud is physically growing.
The site started as one trailer and expanded to a wooden enclosure filled with artwork and shelves of donated food. A handful of tents line the street, along with a small shelter recently built as a safe space for women and children.
“If it’s downtime then we’ll fix the camp up and make sure that it’s ready for more people to come in … We’re always keeping track of what they’re doing at the same time,” said Bradley, eyeing another truck rolling up to the Kinder Morgan gate.
Apart from volunteers, the odd passerby stops to ask questions, peeking over the “Stop Kinder Morgan” posters decorating the makeshift wooden frame.
Some, like Burnaby resident Susan Cross, drop off food and firewood donations. Despite Trudeau’s claim that the Trans Mountain pipeline process has involved the “most extensive” consultation with First Nations communities ever, Cross said she takes issue with how Indigenous people have been “mistreated.”
“When I’m watching the news, I’m just shaking my head constantly,” she said.
Joe Ciccone, another Burnaby neighbour, recently walked past Camp Cloud with his dog and a couple of printed-off articles about Kinder Morgan for those occupying the encampment site.
“These guys are the only hope for this bloody thing being stopped,” he said.