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News > World

Canada: Indigenous Women Resist Environmental Destruction

  • Indigenous activists and allies occupying the Imperial Metals office, as staff of the company smirk in the background.

    Indigenous activists and allies occupying the Imperial Metals office, as staff of the company smirk in the background. | Photo: Facebook / Yuct Ne Senxiymetkwe Camp

Published 10 August 2016

Indigenous women are leading the fight against environmentally-destructive resource development projects in Canada.

Despite consistent government promises to collaborate more closely with Indigenous groups, four activists were arrested Tuesday for occupying the headquarters of a Vancouver-based mining company that is responsible for one of the worst mining accidents in the country's history.

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This month marks the two-year anniversary of the Mount Polley mine disaster when Imperial Metals Corporation released years of accumulated mining waste into a lake in central British Colombia. The four activists were arrested for occupying the offices of Imperial Metals, and another 20 protesters outside – nearly all Indigenous – intended to underscore the government's approval of mining projects such as the one that produced the Mount Polley spill.

The group’s leader, Kanahus Manuel, said the group wants the mine permanently shut down while the government should impose a moratorium on similar mine projects.
“We want to show Imperial Metals and all levels of government that we can and will shut this mine down in an assertion of our Indigenous rights and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” Manuel said in a news release. “The province has no jurisdiction to be issuing permits to companies illegally operating on our sovereign territories without the free, prior, informed consent of the Secwepemc Tribal Peoples.”
Video footage depicts Vancouver police violently manhandling women protesters.

One of the women, Sacheen Seitcham, of the Secwepemc Women’s Warrior Society, told CTV News that the occupation grew heated only after staff members became aggressive with them.

Violent arrests by police against protesters occupying Imperial Metals headquarters in Vancouver. | Photo: Facebook / Ricochet English

Said Seitcham: “The mining disaster pumped billions of gallons of toxic tailings into salmon spawning headwaters. We’re here to protect the salmon, the future for our children ...We want them to get out of our territories, to cease and desist all operations as soon as possible.”

The Secwepemc Women’s Warrior Society had also blockaded an Imperial Metals mine near Likely, B.C. last week, in protest against the provincial government’s decision to grant the company a permit, allowing them to resume full operations at Mount Polley. Protesters say that two years after the spill, little effort has been made to clean up the site.

The Secwepemc Women’s Warrior Society protesting. | Photo: Facebook / Harsha Walia

In the same province, another environmentally-destructive project has been approved by the Trudeau administration, sparking outcry from Indigenous activists and environmentalists.

The construction of the Site C dam, a proposed dam and hydroelectric generation station on the Peace River in the province of British Columbia that would flood about 5,550 hectares of agricultural land, was approved in late July. The dam would also submerge 78 Indigenous heritage sites, including burial grounds and places of cultural and spiritual significance.

A global campaign was launched by Amnesty International on Tuesday calling on both the federal government and provincial governments to withdraw all permits and approvals for its construction.

“It’s an area that people have used for thousands upon thousands of years. Their ancestors are buried in the land; there are hundreds of unique sites of cultural importance; there is cultural knowledge of how to live on land that is associated with this specific spot,” said Craig Benjamin of Amnesty International Canada.

Many continue to rely on the land – which is unceded Indigenous territory – to hunt, fish, plant medicines, gather berries and conduct ceremonies.

Despite the environmental and cultural damage the construction of the dam would inflict, the province of British Columbia has justified it by saying it will generate more electricity and jobs for the province’s growing population.

Earlier this year, as clear-cutting of trees began in the area, part of the construction was blocked by a protest camp set up by Indigenous activists.

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“We seem to have gone backwards with this government,” said chief Roland Willson of West Moberly First Nations, which is one of the communities most affected by the construction of Site C, in the Guardian. “I was hopeful that the Trudeau government would honour its words and promises to the First Nations people, but saying it is one thing, doing it is another. This government has shown that they’re all talk and no action.”

His community is one of three First Nations groups to challenge Site C in court, citing that the project fails to consider their established rights to the land.

“They do not have free, prior and informed consent from us at all. We’ve made that very clear from the beginning,” he said.

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