In October of 2020, I travelled with others from Coast Salish territories to Tk’emlúps (Kamloops) to support Indigenous water protectors standing up against the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion (TMX).
While at the construction site at Sqeq’petsin, I witnessed Secwépemc Matriarch Miranda Dick post a “cease and desist” order — stating that TMX was not permitted to drill under the sacred waters briefly known as the “Thompson River.”
While Dick was conducting a hair-cutting ceremony beside the gate, her foot was a few inches over the RCMP’s freshly-drawn injunction line.
Along with seven others, Dick was arrested for breaching the TMX injunction and “contempt of court.”
During two years of hearings, the judge who convicted the Secwépemc water protectors has disregarded the significance of ceremony — held on their own territory and in accordance with Secwépemc law, to protect women, water and future generations.
Last month, Miranda Dick and five others, including a hereditary chief, were each sentenced to a minimum of 28 days in jail.
It wasn’t always so risky to protest the pipeline — but we have seen an escalation in this type of punishment through the courts since 2020.
There seems to be a particular harshness towards Indigenous people in our “justice” system — exuding a colonial toxicity that has no place in an era of “truth” or “reconciliation.
TMX and the injunction that shields it
Court-ordered injunctions are used to legitimize the repression of political resistance and to criminalize any opposition to corporate and government agendas.
While injunctions have been used against Indigenous people for centuries, they’ve become more prevalent in recent years consistent with the rise of neoliberal capitalism and privatization.
The beneficiaries are companies and governments, which are able to use the court to protect their interests based on an inflated definition of “harm” usually accepted by the court.
Back in 2014, hundreds of people united in opposition at the pipeline’s terminus on “Burnaby Mountain.” More than 100 people were reportedly arrested, but those charges were ultimately all thrown out because of inaccurate GPS coordinates.
In March 2018, Tsleil-Waututh Nation built the Kwekwecnewtxw (watch house) adjacent to the TMX storage tank facility, in order to keep an eye on the pipeline terminus. Will George (Swaysən) was the first guardian of the space.
Days later, Trans Mountain was granted a court-ordered injunction to stifle resistance.
Growing political uncertainty led the Texas-based Kinder Morgan to abandon the project, and “Canada” bought TMX for $4.5 billion in August 2018.
As such, TMX is now owned and regulated by the federal government and its agencies, which some see as a serious conflict of interest.
The colonial legal system comprises Crown and court: the Crown decides whether to target and charge land defenders, and the judges have the final word.
In late 2019, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Shelley Fitzpatrick started overseeing TMX injunction cases.
I’ve observed an escalation of sentencing severity under Fitzpatrick, which illustrates the court’s compliance with Crown’s strategy of deterrence.
I’ve sat through several court sentencings under Fitzpatrick, whose sarcastic, paternalistic behaviour is not what I expected from a judge.
In the hearing for Tsleil-Waututh land defender Will George, who breached a TMX injunction on “Burnaby Mountain,” Fitzpatrick revealed that she did not know where Tsleil-Waututh territory was — even though both the courtroom she was sitting in and the TMX terminus are located on the nation’s shared lands.
It is disturbing to witness such power wielded by a judge with such an evident gap in knowledge about — and blatant disregard for — Indigenous history.
Our courts have been weaponized through injunction law to oppress sovereign Indigenous nations and to suppress public opposition to extractive industrial projects.
For Indigenous land defenders, following ancient laws and upholding their duties to future generations, the courts are as ruthless as their colonial foundations.
As a consequence, we’re seeing our jails and courts swelling with land and water protectors — many of whom have been terrorized by C-IRG, an expensive, mercenary branch of the RCMP.
We’re seeing Indigenous Peoples being criminalized for protecting their unceded lands by a draconian colonial legal system.
Similar to the Potlatch Ban, the courts are weaponized to target Indigenous culture and ceremony. Judge Fitpatrick has consistently refused to acknowledge unceded territory and Indigenous laws. In some cases, she declined to use the Indigenous names of defendants — although she did eventually begin to use Secwépemc Hereditary Chief Sawses’s Indigenous name.
At Kwekwecnewtxw in 2020, Jim Leyden and Stacy Gallagher conducted a pipe ceremony for 20 RCMP officers and were both arrested days later. Gallagher was given a 90-day jail sentence.
Injunction law demands that the court ignore “Canada’s” commitment to “free, prior and informed consent” under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP).
Injunction law triggers the court to criminalize nonviolent protest and propagate trauma, while permitting industry to destroy land, homes and communities.
These court cases are not about justice nor even about upholding “rule of law” — they’re about facilitating the exploitation of stolen land. Such trends should concern anyone who values democratic process, human rights, and how tax dollars are spent.
Publishing this opinion piece was made possible in part through a grant from the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resources and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.
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SD67 career fair connects Indigenous students with professional mentors
During a career fair in “Penticton” last week, Indigenous secondary school students heard from 26 mentors working in different industries — giving the Youth an opportunity to learn about various professional pathways.
The event was the first-ever Indigenous Career Fair held by School District 67’s (SD67) Indigenous Parent Group, planned in collaboration with the district’s Indigenous Education Program and held at Princess Margaret Secondary School.
It aimed to bridge the gap between post-secondary aspirations and alternative career paths, and set Indigenous Youth up for success after high school.
The Youth learned about various industries from professionals including water technicians, Youth and family workers, teachers, artists and more.
Along with covering the event as a journalist on Nov. 16, I also represented my industry as a mentor, talking to the Youth in Grades 8 to 12 about my career as a freelance storyteller contributing to IndigiNews and Global Okanagan. I shared with them what it means to me to tell these impactful stories as a member of Penticton Indian Band (PIB).
Another of the mentors, Whitney Cardenas, is also a member of PIB and works for the nation’s fire department. She told me that before she became a firefighter, attended a similar career fair to explore different job paths.
Now, she is eager to encourage the next generation of Indigenous Youth who are trying to decide which career path to choose.
“I’m pretty proud of myself to be named as one of the Indigenous role models, and I’m excited to talk to the Youth and tell them why I do what I do,” said Cardenas.
“I’m here to help encourage them to know that there are options out there and how easy it is to get into these careers and how they can make a living.”
Students at SD67’s Indigenous Career Fair at Princess Margaret Secondary School on Nov 16. Photo by Athena Bonneau
As a mother of two young children, Cardenas shared her passion for building a sense of community, emphasizing the importance of involving youth in trades for real-world experience.
“I never saw myself in this position with the fire brigade but I love it. I feel it’s something that I’m going to continue doing for a long while,” said Cardenas.
Cardenas encouraged Youth who may be interested in the trades to “come as you are and experience it firsthand” — embodying the inclusive and supportive spirit at the heart of the Indigenous Career Fair.
Dustin Hyde, the District Principal of Indigenous Education and Equity for SD67, highlighted the importance of broad representation of Indigenous workers across different sectors at the event.
“There was a parent who said, ‘my daughter wants to study medicine’ and it would be wonderful if there was an Indigenous doctor here,” said Hyde, who is Métis.
“We plan to broaden our role models next year and the hope and the dream would be that we just continue to offer more opportunities.”
Christy Tiessen, a member of the Indigenous Parent Group and organizer of the Career Fair, said the group will continue to meet monthly to find different ways to encourage Indigenous youth to see themselves in different career paths aside from only the traditional university route.
“If one kid walked out of here tonight and says, ‘I know what I want to do, that’s what I’m going to do’ and now they have a passion to move forward — that’s the goal,” said Tiessen.
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For 18-year-old syilx basketball star, sports and mental health intersect
Just down the road from where sk’ik’aycin Peter Waardenburg Jr. grew up is one of his favourite safe spaces — the Westbank First Nation’s (WFN) basketball court.
The sport is more than just a means of keeping active or staying connected with his community — it’s his go-to coping mechanism to help navigate whatever challenges may present themselves.
So whenever he needs to clear his mind and ground himself, the 18-year-old will head to outdoor facility in syilx homelands and spend time shooting hoops.
“Whenever I feel down or need to feel motivated, I’ll come out,” says Waardenburg Jr., who is a member of Lower Similkameen Indian Band.
“It allows me to get away from whatever I need, to create a space for myself.”
Waardenburg Jr. was raised by a community of basketball players. His family started Syilx Basketball long before he was born — some of his earliest memories are of him watching his older brother Treyton, his older cousins and his dad play.
In addition to Treyton, his favourites included local Syilx Basketball league legends Jesse Vissia and Skye Terbasket, with his mom even gifting him a poster of the latter for Christmas one year.
“I always liked to watch and analyze more than I liked to play when I was younger. I was a little shy,” he recalled.
But Waardenburg Jr. was playing ball by the time he was five years old. Throughout his 13-year career, he’s generally played the point guard position, sometimes switching to shooting guard if needed.
At one point, he also played competitive baseball, where his time as a pitcher taught him patience and how to keep himself calm.
“That helped me later on with basketball: being a point guard and calm on the floor, kind of leading,” he said.
Basketball has introduced him to a new world of different clubs, tournaments and communities throughout North America — he’s played with the Jr. Heat Boys Basketball Club, Okanagan Valley Elite, GW Hoops, the Similkameen Men’s team, and Syilx Basketball for both the Junior and regular All Native Basketball tournaments.
He’s also represented Team BC twice in the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) — first in 2017, where the team placed second, and this past spring, where he was the starting point guard for the team, who finished third.
In 2022, he was part of the Syilx Basketball team that won the All Native Youth Basketball Tournament, which also saw him earn the MVP award. He competed again in this year’s Junior All Native, where he was the top scorer and was named an all-star, helping his team place second.
“Basketball allowed me to stay connected, especially to culture. With the All Native and with the Junior All Native, it brings you towards different tribes and bands,” he said.
A special highlight in his career was when he played with his older brother and his younger brother on a Men’s Similkameen Basketball team that his dad coached.
“When you’re surrounded by friends and family, and they’re playing basketball, it just makes you realize how much you’re loved,” he said.
This past August, Waardenburg Jr. was named as one of three syilx Okanagan recent high school graduates to receive a Syilx Siya Bursary Award from the Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA), for demonstrating “a willingness to dream big for themselves, their Nation, their community, and/or their family.”
Applicants for the bursary award were tasked with writing about overcoming a difficult moment in their lives. In his application, he wrote about losing his cousins to mental health challenges and how sports — basketball in particular — helped him cope.
“I definitely believe sports help with mental health. I’ve seen it help me through the roughest times,” said Waardenburg Jr., who graduated from Mount Boucherie Secondary School.
He said while opening up about loss was difficult, he has worked through many of the emotions involved with the grieving process.
“My two bros that I lost, they played a lot of basketball. I grew up playing with them,” he said.
Now, he is working his way through his first-year studies at Okanagan College’s business administration program. Waardenburg Jr. said he’s keen on promoting Indigenous sports more — he said he’d like to teach and coach other Indigenous Youth someday.
Speaking from his own experience, he encouraged those struggling with mental health to try and pick up a sport because you never know who you’ll meet that may help you down the road.
“It can also just make you realize that there’s more to life,” he said.
“Honestly, it could save someone.”
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Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc celebrates grand opening of on-reserve grocery store: ‘a source of pride’
Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc (TteS) is celebrating a new community-owned grocery store that’s bringing food options and employment opportunities to the reserve.
The grand opening for the new Sweláps Market is set to take place on Thursday at 11 a.m., and will include speeches and a ceremonial ribbon cutting. It will also feature week-long deals and prize draws, giveaways and food samples.
The Sweláps Market is located in the Chief Louis Centre, and had its soft opening on Oct. 19.
The market is owned by TteS but is open to everyone. The store displays signs in Secwepemctsín (Secwépemc language) including a welcoming of Weyt-kp above the front door.
The language also labels each department of the store such as q̓wlem (bakery) and ts̓i7 ell swewll (meat and fish).
On the market’s website, each department is listed with audio files to hear the proper pronunciation.
Sweláps translates to “bighorn sheep” and the logo represents the sheep’s horn among the mountains and North and South Thompson rivers.
The 22,000-square-foot grocery store incorporates culture into the architecture, including a Secwépemc weaving design on the ceiling and a wooden ladder outside which resembles the entrance of a pithouse.
After the ladder was carved on-site by Charles Dumont, the owner of Coyote Contracting and a TteS band member, and his son Ryder — a ceremony was held to bless the log as it was put into place.
General manager Kara Stokes spoke about the importance of having a market in the community, given that, before now, the closest grocery store was off-reserve and across the river.
The vision for a band-owned grocery store goes back ten years, Stokes recalled, with multiple locations explored before settling on the Chief Louis Centre.
Before the store’s opening, Kúkwpi7 Rosanne Casimir expressed high hopes for the store’s impact.
“This project will bring food closer to home, create employment, and further strengthen our economy,” she said in a community statement. “It will be a source of pride as leadership is fully implementing a community driven opportunity.”
Before opening, the public was kept up to date through updates and upcoming events listed on the market’s website.
A members-only job fair was held in September to give band members a chance to explore the job opportunities before opening it up to the public.
Between full-time and part-time job openings, the market employs a total of 65 people in management and frontline positions.
Stokes explained that the job openings are a helpful addition for TteS.
“That opens up the opportunity for a lot of people who live in the area to be able to work in the area,” she said.
Since the store opened to the public last month, Stokes said she has served customers of all ages and varying family sizes. The market is currently open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays.
“Everybody’s been coming in and shopping and it’s really amazing to see the support from the community to be able to provide this service,” she said.
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