As hundreds of thousands gather in New York to protest the Republican National Convention at the end of August, a smaller and less historic but perhaps more profound convergence will be taking place in the interior of British Columbia. More profound in its demands. More profound in representing over 500 years of struggle.
Sun Peaks resort and Delta Hotels are built on Secwepemc territories that have never been ceded or surrendered. Land and Water BC disregarded the Secwepemc, who said NO to expansion in stakeholder meetings and in June 2001 obtained a court injunction to forcibly remove the Secwepemc from their homelands. The Skwekwelkâ€™welt Protection Center, at the resortâ€™s entrance, claims aboriginal title and rights. For this exercise of rights, 54 arrests with charges ranging from criminal contempt and intimidation by blocking a road to resisting arrest have been made.
In honour of the front-line struggles of this land that have been in total resistance for centuries, a convergence is being organized on Secwepemc territories on August 28-29. Hundreds will travel from Vancouver and surrounding areas to escalate the fight against state and corporate occupation.
FIGHTING CORPORATE COLONIALISM: SUN PEAKS AND DELTA HOTELS
Empire-building and colonization has sprouted other more seemingly-benign heads, more subtle, yet as violent and vicious â€” nationalism, terrorism, and the project of corporate globalization. The political arm of the state and the corporate arm have increasingly become merged to protect the interests of the elite. Whether on a local, national or global level, the assault on genuine democracy and markets are intrinsically related. Their roots lie in the power of corporate entities that are totalitarian and increasingly interlinked and reliant on powerful governments.
Sun Peaks resort, Delta Hotels and Nippon Cables has for four years now been forcibly pushing ahead with their expansion, â€œcorporatizing the land that bears our medicines and plants, the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the dreams we dream.â€ (Janice Billy, spokesperson of Skwekwelkâ€™welt Protection center). The $70 million expansion plan is mind blowing: clear cut of a total of five mountains for ski runs, development on the drainage basin for commercial and residential real estate and expansion of a 9-hole golf course to an 18- hole golf course.
Yet again a continuation of the appropriation of politically aware language- Three Mountains, One Village- selling a dream of a community â€œfrom extreme to serene, Sun Peaks resort has it all. Our village is as versatile as you are.â€ Beneath the layers of advertising euphemisms is the deeper truth of dispossession. Thousands tour the largest ski area in the interior of British Columbia, in what has now become not just a winter destination, but an all-year around playground for tourists with all the essentials: sports centers, golf course, Pancakes with Santa, and a sprawling real estate business of townhouses and chalets that mimic Disneyworld. Meanwhile, in passing, a culture, a way of life, has been casually decimated.
And the absurdity continues: one of the three mountains has been renamed Sundance and one of the lodges at Sun Peaks is called Sundance lodge. Absurd because the siege of Gustafsen Lake (1995) that the same Shushwap community was embroiled in involved protection of their sacred Sun Dance lands. In a trend that is becoming frighteningly familiar- the market continues to absorb its opposition. Names now reduced to innocuous magnetic poetry.
The entire ski resort industry means greater destruction of mountain eco-systems, forest, pure water, and animal habitats. The effects around Sun Peaks resort are already being felt. The expansion involves putting ski runs on the previously undisturbed Mt. Morrisey, destroying the vital mountain ecosystem. Mount Morrisey, Mount Todd and Sundance are being cut, these three mountains destroyed along with animal habitat of deer, moose, bears, beavers, lynx, bobcat, cougars, wolverines and other animals, along with destruction of plant systems that provide berries and medicine for the Secwepemc community. Sun Peaks resort pollutes the water with weed-control chemicals for their golf course and with chemical and bacterial additives used to make artificial snow. Sun Peaks over-consumes water and energy to make this artificial snow (it takes 1/3 the energy of a average town to run a medium ski area).
The Secwepemc assert that the current expansion of Sun Peaks Ski Resort will undermine their ability to exercise their inherent rights to land-use and occupancy and thus their Aboriginal title to the land. The federal and provincial governments have refused to acknowledge Aboriginal title and enter negotiations to establish co-jurisdiction despite legally binding decisions to do so. The government disregarded environmental and cultural impact studies performed by the Adams Lake and Neskonlith Indian Bands and refused to engage in consultation and meaningful discussion with the bands about the development. Notwithstanding the lack of consultation, the $70 million development plan began.
The Secwepemc communiy responded fearlessly to state and corporate occupation of their lands. The spirit at the Skwelkwek’welt Protection Center (set up in October 2000) is soul-stirring. Lone tents amidst sprawling golf courses and ski lifts. The blockades, the camps. These are not just protests for the sake of protesting. This is a community with ideas, with histories, with stories, with sufferings, with victories, and with visions. Remaining on the mountain despite police harassment, anger from tourists, and no near hope of victory. Victims, winners, survivors, fighters.
In November 2001, provincial Attorney General Geoff Plant terminated all discussions with the Secwepemc community, demanding that people vacate the camp located on traditional territories and return to the federal Indian reserve. In a letter dated November 2001 â€œpeople at Sun Peaks need the confidence that they can go on with their lives while we continue with our discussions.â€ Read: business as usual must continue. â€œThe protestors have demonstrated that their manner of asserting rights requires that others be excluded from exercising theirs.â€
A mockery considering that traditional land-users (i.e â€œthe protestorsâ€) have shared land in a spirit of co-existence since time immemorial. In fact more than a mockery, in a manner that reveals the blatant racism, Sun Peaks residents that assault Secwepemc defenders undergo no police investigation and are â€œjustifiedâ€ in asserting their rights to utilize their snowmobiles and perpetuate the processes of environmental devastation and cultural genocide.
In response Chief Arthur Manuel wrote, â€œIt is unreasonable that you insist that we vacate our lands before you will even discuss our right to use and occupy our landsâ€¦ Even these mass arrests will not deter us from using our Aboriginal title lands as we have from time immemorial. You may be able to use your police to grab and hand cuff our Elders, land-users and youth and haul them away. But you will not be able to keep them away from our land. They will return and all our people will return.â€
After one year of failed attempts at negotiations with the province and Sun Peaks, the Secwepemc youth, Elders and land-users established a permanent log building on McGillvary Lake road near the resort. An extremely defiant step to move off the reserve and build and establish community on the traditional territories. Elders taught the youth hunting, fishing, recognizing plants and their uses, and building traditional structures such as sweatlodges, along with regular discussions on outstanding land issues.
On December 10, 2001 (ironically-or perhaps not- International Human Rights Day), Sun Peaks Resort demolished two sweatlodges along with the cordwood home of Native Youth Movement freedom fighter Nicole Manuel and her family. With the supervision of the government of British Columbia and with the blessing of the courts that ruled in favour of an injunction application presented by Sun Peaks Resort, hate crimes against religious and sacred sites were committed. In its place, freshly groomed ski trails.
Collusion between state and corporate interests is nowhere clearer than in the destruction of indigenous lands. The land at McGillvray Road was not under tenure by Sun Peaks in June 2001, they merely possessed a Controlled Recreation Agreement with the province of British Columbia. The first attempt at getting an injunction to remove peoples off their own land was unsuccessful. Two weeks later, the Crown land was transferred under a lease agreement to Sun Peaks (based on a hand-drawn sketch of the area and no legal description of the property) and an injunction issued to remove Secwepemc off their own lands. Two youth and two Elders (ages 75 years and 73 years old) were charged with criminal contempt when they refused to leave.
And the process of criminalization continues: during the trial the defenders utilized the â€˜colour of rightâ€™ defense stating that they believed they were not breaking the law because Sun Peaks is built on Secwepemc territories without their consent. To this Judge Sather ruled that their beliefs were beyond reason and bordering on ridiculous. (A similar judgement was passed down to political prisoner Wolverine during the trial of Gustafsen Lake)
Currently, over 15 Secwepemc defenders have court-ordered restrictions placed on them, ranging from 5 to 10 kilometre bans. One year later, when several youth and Elders returned to the McGillvray Lake area, under heavy police monitoring, one RCMP asked two men: â€œWhat race are you? Are you even human?â€ And perhaps more despairing is the silence around such atrocities. Indigenous peoples are being refused the inherent right to even walk on the land; Elders and youth are being smeared as terrorists, a movement is being crushed ruthlessly.
Yet the resistance continues- the Secwepemc have developed a huge national and international support network (that puts all the city-slicker activists to shame), participated in United Nations Convention of Biodiversity discussions, made submissions to the United Nations Committee for Elimination of Racial Discrimination, along with ongoing fundraising and raising awareness. A Statement of Defense and Counterclaim to the trespass charges has been submitted to the provincial court, a crucial step in asserting Aboriginal title and forcing the government (judicial and executive branches) to deal with unsettled land issues.
THE OLYMPIC BID: WHOSE GOING TO STOP US NOW?
Never mind that now with the Olympic 2010 bid, we are supposed to tingling with joy at the prospect of more jobs and a better economy for British Columbia. Itâ€™s funny how the interests of corporations are so often, so successfully, and so deliberately confused with the interests of the people and local economies. Lands are being occupied. It is an asset. The Earth is being owned. This includes the expansion of the Sea-to-Sky Highway ($600 million), rapid transit system ($2 billion), Trade and Convention Center ($405 million), improved sport facilities and athletes village ($620 million). Leonerd Peltier wrote in a statement against the FTAA, 2001 â€œthey will justify their actions in the name of development for the poor. Development? What the first peoples of America need is recovery, not development. Recovery from the very same colonization, domination and genocide that multinational corporations want to perpetuate for their own gains today.â€
From the 2010 Vancouver bid website: “The development of athletes’ accommodations in Vancouver and Whistler will result in lasting legacies that include more affordable housing.” Does this mean Vancouver, that boasts one of the poorest postal codes in Canada, will get more affordable housing only because of the Olympic bid? What is it about our comprehension of prosperity and development and economy that allows the devastation of the environment and the violation of people’s rights on a scale so vast that it becomes normalized as everyday life and rendered invisible? The Olympics- another capitalist project with questionable benefits but unquestionable effects.
Winona LaDuke wrote in her 1995 book: â€œI have come to the conclusion that NAFTA, free trade and the Self government deal are the current political and economic tools to genocide against Indigenous peoples. Both agreements are primarily designed to continue the dispossession of indigenous peoples from their homelands and exploit their resources.â€ Not surprisingly, the Government of BC is connected with the Vancouver-Whistler Bid Corporation, for example by providing funding through tax dollars for the Corporation’s operations: a minimum of 26.5% of the $34 million to be spent in the preparation and selling of the Bid to the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
A municipal referendum on the Olympics was held in Vancouver, and in an interview with CBC Mayor Larry Campbell stated: â€œVoter turnout was absolutely outstanding. The results are decisive, we want the games.â€ 2 million people voted, with 64% of them voting yes (86,113 votes), amounting to 4% of Vancouverâ€™s total population. No, not just voter apathy (voter apathy places far too much of an onus on those dispossessed and disenfranchised)- youth are legally disqualified from voting, as are non-citizens and prisoners, and those typically alienated from the electoral system include Vancouverâ€™s large aboriginal population that lives well under the poverty line.
The 2010 Olympic bid is also directly affecting unceded Stâ€™atâ€™imc territory and Sutikalh camp established in May 2000 to stop construction of a $530-million ski resort in Melvin Creek area. Plans for the Cayoosh Ski resort began in 1991 by Nancy-Greene-Raine resort consultations (Nancy Greene is a former Olympic medalist) but initially the governmentâ€™s own Environment Ministry, Kamloops Region, advised against any development in the Cayoosh and Melvin Creek watersheds citing danger to wildlife habitats. In 1994, after much political pressure, the BC Cabinet overruled the Kamloops offices initial decision and subsequent Environmental Assessment Reports have downplayed the negative environmental impact. Destruction of the previously untouched Alpine mountain area (Cayoosh Mountain Range) has resulted in devastation of the habitat of grizzly bears, cougars, bobcats, deer, hawks, owls and many other small animals. The area is also home to one of the largest herds of mountain goats now remaining in North America.
The Stâ€™atâ€™imc, like other indigenous nations in British Columbia, have fought for over a century to protect unceded territories that have never surrendered through treaties: â€œWe claim that we are the rightful owners of our tribal territoriesâ€¦We have always lived in our country, at no time we ever deserted it. We are aware that the BC government claims our country, like all other Indian territories, but we deny their right to it. We never gave it nor sold it to them. They certainly never got the title to the country from us, neither by agreement nor conquest, and none other than us could have any right to give them title.â€ (1911 Declaration of the Lilloet Tribe, Stâ€™atâ€™imc nation)
As the Environmental Assessment neared completion in early 2000, a camp was set up at Sutikalh and set up an informational checkpoint at Highway 99 for 17 hours. In August 2000, the Lilloet Tribal Council issued a letter by all eleven chiefs rejecting the ski resort and in October 2000, referendum on the ski resort was held in Mount Currie. Of 800 eligible voters, 324 voted with 276 voting against the ski resort. Over four years now, the camp at Sutikalh represents the strong will of the Stâ€™at’imc people and is one of the longest standing camps in opposition to corporate and state occupation of traditional territories.
The inhumanness of the Neskonlith and Adams Lake reserves hits you. Right outside the sprawling development of the Sun Peaks Resort. Poverty, development and colonization no longer remain abstract words, part of our rhetorical vocabulary. It takes on a face in the form of demolished sacred sweatlodges and traditional cordwood homes. On International Human Rights Day, a young boy who only ever wanted to play with his older brother falls into the arms of his mother. Bulldozers, and kilometres of cuts from logging. Constant living reminders of what we are fighting for. Yet more real, more urgent, more critical.
There is no mitigating argument for the terror that has been unleashed at Skwelkwek’welt. Or Cheam. Or Sutikalh. Or Grassy Narrows. Across these lands, indigenous peoples continue to serve as collateral damage.
One of the greatest strengths of movements in the present is our solidarity and our vision of something new. Something more just. We maintain the right to imagine and to create a global apparition. A globalization of struggle. A globalization of hope. Fully articulable but not yet articulated. Yet the movement already exists. It has existed for over 500 years. We must remain grounded in the historical realities of this land, remain true and honour indigenous struggles and indigenous histories and ideas and visions, for it is inextricably linked to all futures and all our movements that agitate for Earth and a more just existence.
Based on visits, interviews and support work since 2002. Written by Harsha Walia and Stefan Christoff (organizers with No One is Illegal and also involved in various indigenous solidarity campaigns). To find out more about the Convergence against Sun Peaks on Aug 28-29, email [email protected].