Column: Earth Warriors Vs. Kinder Morgan

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Welcome to Canada – a country rich in natural beauty and natural resources. From the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific, travelers may overdose on pristine wilderness and breathtaking landscapes. Each region of Canada has it’s own unique features and riches, but many of those riches are being extracted and exploited at an increasing, and for many, alarming rate.

Western Canada is rich in oil. By now most North Americans have heard of the oil sands in the province of Alberta and the various schemes to extract the oil and move it out of Canada to the United States and beyond. Recently the actions of Kinder Morgan have created a protest movement, which has managed, for the time being anyway, to stop this corporate giant.

Kinder Morgan is the largest energy infrastructure company in North America, with a natural gas network consisting of 68,000 miles of pipelines moving one third of the natural gas consumed on the continent. They possess the only oil sands pipeline serving the West Coast. Kinder Morgan wants to expand its Trans Mountain pipeline system, which moves both crude oil and refined products from Alberta, through the Rocky Mountains to the province of British Columbia and the city of Burnaby, where the pipeline ends. The oil products are then transported in tankers, via the Burrard Inlet, across the Pacific Ocean.

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Burnaby. Simon Fraser University campus sits atop of Burnaby Mountain, with the city below

Nestled among the mountains, Burnaby is located directly east of the city of Vancouver and is considered a part of the Metro Vancouver area. With a population just shy of a quarter of a million people, it is the third largest city in British Columbia, covering 38 square miles, or 98.6 spare kilometers.

The problem is that the City of Burnaby, the City of Vancouver, First Nations groups as well as countless residents and concerned citizens oppose Kinder Morgan expanding the pipeline. In a letter to the people of Burnaby, Mayor Derek Corrigan wrote:

The City of Burnaby is officially opposed to this proposal because of the damage it would do to our city –during and after construction – and because of the long-term safety risks it poses to residents and the environment.

The protests began in September when Kinder Morgan cut down 13 trees on Burnaby Mountain, in order to perform a survey. This act broke the city’s by-laws and proper permission had not been sought or granted.  Kinder Morgan’s plan was to bore holes into Burnaby Mountain, right in the middle of a thriving residential neighbourhood, near a conservation area and the bustling campus of Simon Fraser University. Kinder Morgan is trying to sell this plan as “twinning” the existing pipeline which has been in the ground since 1953, but this is not so, as Mayor Corrigan also explains in his letter: 

In fact, in Burnaby 90% of the proposed line would follow a completely new route. It would carry unrefined oil products, not the refined (and less toxic) products carried in the existing line. It would result in a tripling of the capacity of oil stored on Burnaby Mountain and seven times the number of tankers carrying the oil (up to 580,000 barrels in each tanker) through Burrard inlet. The 890,000 barrels-per-day of oil it would carry would be for export, not for use anywhere in Canada. In no way would this pipeline resemble the existing line.

6_TWH Dec 20_14Two of the residents involved in the outcry against Kinder Morgan are Sparrow and Mojo, co-hosts of the popular Canadian pagan podcast The Wigglian Way. They identify as Wiccan, and the podcasts reflect this, but they strive to be as inclusive to all Pagan paths as much as possible and to honor the spiritual journey of all Pagans. Mojo is also an accomplished musician, having performed with the group Chalice and Blade as well as a solo performer. The couple lives within sight of the original pipeline and mere minutes drive away from the holes being bored through their mountain home. They were motivated to get involved and forced to take action in ways that, until very recently, they would never have guessed.

In a telephone interview earlier this week, Sparrow opened up about her experiences at the protest site. She started off by saying:

This is my home, I love it. When people come to this mountain you can feel a spirit, especially in that park where the drilling was done. We have held so many rituals at that space. You can see the sun set from that space, there are totem poles there, we have had so many gatherings, it is one of our sacred spots, it holds so much spirit. So I went up there, (to the protest site) and started doing it.

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Sparrow & Mojo’s street . Yellow and white posts mark existing underground pipelines

The Wigglian Way motto is “Its all about the love”, and that is certainly evident from the obvious love and affection that both Sparrow and Mojo convey in their work for their community, their environment and each other.

On November 14, Kinder Morgan was granted a court injunction against the protesters. It had been determined that their camp fell within the designated area that Kinder Morgan was working in and the protestors had to move or face arrest. This was also the site of a sacred fire that had been lit by an aboriginal woman named Sut-Lut, an elder from the Squamish Nation. The intent of this fire was to provide a sacred space for people to gather and speak as equals.  Her efforts were respected by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) onsite and they even helped tend the fire and ensure that Sut-Lut was free to come and go, despite it being on land assumed to be off limits to protesters.

On November 20 Sparrow headed up to the protest camp, which remained, despite the injunction, set up by the roadside. This was the day that Sparrow’s life changed.  She recounts what happened next:

When everything happened I said I was going to protect this land and I was going to protect the mountain and I was prepared to do whatever I had to do. Well, we had certain plans, but those didn’t pan out because while we were standing in the camp, the RCMP opened the gate and barreled in and started surrounding us. So we linked our arms, and it just happened, all of a sudden, and there was about nine of us. Brigette De Pape was one of the women with us, and my sister, and a lady named Maxine and some other people. We started singing and chanting and all of a sudden – what am I doing? I ‘m surrounded by RCMP! And they were saying, “You can leave, we’re going to give you a few options here. We have read the injunction to you, and you are in this space you are not supposed to be in, you can leave”

My sister decided that she would leave, for her reasons, so she went and documented everything – you need documenters too! So it got down to six of us. They started removing people quite forcefully and it turned out that I was the last one, or, as Mojo called me – the last Warrior. I was sitting there and there were people taking pictures and flashing me the peace sign and saying they loved me. One of the fire-keepers started drumming for me, and this incredible thing happened. I started looking around at the forest, which is my home, and I was looking at the sun dappling through the leaves, and I was looking at the moss and the ferns and all the beauty around me and smelling the rotting, gorgeous, loamy smell and I listened and I could not hear any birds. That’s one thing on this mountain, you will always hear birds, there are so many, but I couldn’t hear any birds. I was thinking.

If Kinder Morgan comes in here, this mountain won’t hear birds any more, they won’t see the bears anymore, the coyotes won’t sing at night. All these wonderful things that ARE the mountain could be devastated. There was kind of a meeting of the mountain spirit and my spirit and I knew at that moment I would do whatever I needed. That’s the moment when I realized my life was different. This is what I was going to do and I had to protect this Earth. We only have one Earth. We are ruining it for ourselves. At that moment I became a different Sparrow. The words that came were Earth Warrior.

The Last Warrior. As the RCMP moves in to arrest Sparrow, a woman named Clarissa drums and sings in support [Photo Credit: Tara Anderson]

And then the RCMP moved in, and arrested Sparrow. She became one of the first six people to be taken into custody by RCMP officers. Over four days almost one hundred more people were arrested, including an 84-year-old librarian, a mother with her 11 year old daughter, a young man named Tamo Campos, the grandson of famous scientist and environmentalist Dr. David Suzuki, and many other people from all walks of life.

Mojo stands against the tape which marks the injection zone. The RCMP sent their biggest officer to keep him company

Mojo stands by tape marking injection zone. The RCMP sent their biggest officer to keep him company

As Sparrow suffers from Lupus and was concerned for her health, she stood up and walked with her arms outstretched in a gesture of peace into her arrest. The RCMP officers escorted her to their car, searched her and tied her hands behind her back with zip ties. Sparrow was then loaded in to the back of the police van, or as she now calls it “The really great drumming acoustics van” where she and her five companions treated their captors to singing and drumming with there feet.

She found herself in the company of Brigette DePape, an activist who became a national underdog hero when she used her position as a page in the Canadian parliament to protest our current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, by holding up a stop-sign style sign which had been customized to read “Stop Harper”.

According to Sparrow “It was such a beautiful and loving experience in the police van.” Maxine, a Quaker and the oldest woman of the group, did not have her hands bound and was able to unzip Sparrow’s jacket when she got too hot, and adjust DePape’s cap as it slid over her eyes. The captives sang and reassured each other as they were transported to the temporary RCMP detachment, only 35 meters away from Kinder Morgan’s site headquarters in a parking lot, where they were processed, charged with civil contempt and warned that if they were to return to the encampment it would be a much more serious charge.

In the end, all of the civil contempt charges against Sparrow, the five others she was arrested with, and the almost one hundred others arrested after them, were dropped.  It turns out that the arrests were made illegally. Kinder Morgan had based the injunction on their GPS coordinates, which turned out to be inaccurate – they could not prove the protesters were actually trespassing.

Brigette DePape became a household name when she used her position as a page in the Canadian parliament to voice a popular opinion of Prime Minister Stephen Harper

Brigette DePape voices a popular opinion of Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the Canadian parliament

One has to wonder: if Kinder Morgan can’t give accurate GPS coordinates for a court injunction, should they be drilling a tunnel, through a mountain, in an earthquake zone to transport toxic petroleum products through a residential neighborhood and wildlife conservation area? Is there any wonder that the civic governments in the area as well as the First nations, residents and environmental groups are protesting?

As a Pagan, Sparrow believes that she needs to be a good steward of the planet and take care of it, and act on behalf of all of her ancestors, both in the past and in the future. Her decision on Burnaby Mountain to participate in the protest and do whatever needed to be done was her commitment in action, her gift to the place she calls home.

Mojo drumming his support to those being arrested

Mojo drumming his support to those being arrested

When asked if Canadian Pagans are political enough about the environment, Sparrow’s response is an enthusiastic “No!” and she goes on to say:

Everybody has to work to their own ability and they have to be able to come to their own place. My place was that I could get arrested, but some peoples place is make sure you are recycling and not consuming as much, that’s a really great place to be. Whatever any individual can do – that’s what you can do.  Until Idle No More about a year ago, I had never protested or rallied or anything. It’s Idle No More that got me going and then this protest just got me – I call it Instant Activist! It propelled me into a totally different world. I have a whole new group of friends with a whole new group of ideas and energy and events. It’s quite amazing.

In conclusion, it is so important for Sparrow that everyone understands that Kinder Morgan are still going to try to tunnel through Burnaby Mountain and that they need to be stopped.  Why are we building this infrastructure for such a dwindling resource? Why are we not focusing on alternate, renewable energy sources?

Kinder Morgan applied for an extension to extend the injunction to keep the protesters away from the two drilling sites but was rejected by the provincial Supreme Court.They were forced to clear out by the December 1st expiry date. The data they were able to collect will be presented to the National Energy Board in hopes of approval to proceed with expansion plans.

If the outcry against the test drilling was this extreme, what will happen if the project is approved? Only one thing is for certain: Earth Warriors will be there to protest.