The air was crisp and cold as they trekked up Burnaby Mountain early on Saturday morning. People's breath came out in white puffs as each of the volunteer construction workers carried two planks of wood. Their goal was to build a traditional Indigenous "watch house" to monitor Texas-based Kinder Morgan as it proceeds with construction of its Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project.

The $7.4-billion project was approved by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government in November 2016 and subsequently challenged in court by First Nations, the City of Burnaby, the City of Vancouver and the B.C. government.

Volunteers construct a traditional 'watch house' to protest Kinder Morgan's pipeline expansion construction on Burnaby Mountain. Photo by Trevor Mack.

The action on Saturday was part of the latest resistance backed by Indigenous leaders from across North America, local citizens and environmentalists opposed to the project. A counter-demonstration in downtown Vancouver was organized by pipeline supporters.

Kinder Morgan's injunction vs. a citizen-sponsored construction zone

In Burnaby, the volunteers chose a spot on public land where the B.C. Supreme Court has temporarily drawn a line in the sand through an injunction granted to Kinder Morgan on Friday that set a 50-metre 'exclusion zone' to keep protesters away.

Building the watch house was the first act. By 10 a.m. several thousand people converged to follow Indigenous leaders from across North America in a demonstration that began at the Lake City Way Skytrain station in Burnaby.

Thousands gathered in Burnaby on March 10, 2018, to protest against the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion. Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chief and Grand Chief Serge Simon of Mohawk Council of Kanesatake gave their views about the proposed oil pipeline expansion. Videos by Trevor Mack.

Volunteers construct a 'watch house' as a gathering spot for Indigenous elders and people opposing the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion on Burnaby Mountain on Saturday, March 10. Photo by Trevor Mack

The Trans Mountain expansion has been at the heart of an intensifying conflict between the two NDP governments in B.C. and Alberta since early 2018. The B.C. government is formally opposed to the project, while the Alberta government has threatened B.C. with boycotts and a cutoff to its oil supply if doesn't stop trying to scuttle the pipeline. But densely populated parts of B.C., including the City of Vancouver and the City of Burnaby, have been opposed to the project for years due to the increased risk of an oil spill along the coast.

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson at the rally against Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. Photo by Trevor Mack.
Grand Chief Stewart Philip and his wife, Joan, speak on Burnaby Mountain at the Protect the Inlet rally on March 10, 2018. Photo by Trevor Mack.

Prime Minister Trudeau told National Observer in an interview last month that the project was a compromise needed to proceed with a national climate change plan and has accused B.C. Premier John Horgan of trying to undermine that objective through his opposition.

A few hours after the rally against Kinder Morgan's project began in Burnaby, about 200 proponents assembled at the Jack Poole Plaza in downtown Vancouver to show support for the pipeline expansion. Speakers included BC Liberal MLA Ellis Ross, a former Haisla Nation Councillor who now serves as Official Opposition Critic for Natural Gas and Petroleum Resources.

Kinder Morgan said in a statement to National Observer it understood that some people had opposing views on the pipeline expansion, but that the company hoped it could be built in a respectful way.

"We support the right to peacefully and lawfully express opinions and views about our project, and we understand that not everyone supports the expansion," the company said in an email. "But, we're confident we can build and operate this project in a way that respects the values and priorities of Canadians and in respect of the environment."

Voices on the ground

The days events were notable for being led entirely by Indigenous leaders while big name environmentalists like David Suzuki cheered from the crowd. Green Party leader Elizabeth May, Burnaby South MP Kennedy Stewart were also in attendance.

"The federal government and the mainstream press are totally underestimating what's happening on the ground," said Stewart, an NDP MP, in an interview with National Observer.

Prominent environmentalist David Suzuki, who said to National Observer last week saying Trudeau couldn't fulfill his climate commitment and expand an oil pipeline at the same time, expressed his frustration at the rally.

"We're in a time when our prime minister signed an agreement in Paris. [Prime Minister Trudeau] said we've got to keep our temperatures closer to 1.5 degrees than 2 degrees," Suzuki told National Observer. "Why is he talking about building a pipeline?...Most of that oil has to be left in the ground. All I'm here to say is, alright, Prime Minister. You signed on our behalf. Live up to it."

They were among thousands marching to oppose the pipeline expansion project, which would bring a seven-fold increase in oil tankers traffic on the coast. Supporters say this will fuel growth in the oil industry, create thousands of jobs and millions in new tax revenue, while opponents say it would put the coastline at risk and push Canada's climate change goals out of reach.

Prominent Indigenous leaders spoke against the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion during the Protect the Inlet rally on March 10 in Burnaby. Video by Trevor Mack.

"We live downstream from the Alberta tarsands. The oil that is going to be pumped down this pipeline comes from my traditional territory," said Eriel Tchekwie, a director at Indigenous Climate Action and member of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation. She said for over 60 years, oilsands development "contaminated" her land, and that "it makes no sense" to her that Canada would be building more oil pipelines.

The workers on Burnaby Mountain are hoping to complete the watch house before demonstrators — and presumably the police — arrive.

"This is a vision one of our elders had - it's a watch house. It's a spiritual structure to monitor the doings of Kinder Morgan. It's to show the importance of protecting our waters and ceremonies," said Will George, a member of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, which is also opposed to the oil pipeline expansion due to risks it poses to the Burrard Inlet.

Will George, Kinder Morgan, Burnaby, Vancouver, Trans Mountain
Tsleil-Waututh member Will George stands on the shores of the Burrard Inlet in Burnaby, B.C. on Feb. 7, 2018, near the terminal for Kinder Morgan's Trans Mountain pipeline. Photo by Jennifer Osborne

Risk understated, says scientist

Other volunteers at the site said they could hardly sleep the whole night in anticipation of the day's rally.

Surveying the scene up on Burnaby Mountain, George said, "it's beautiful here." He said he plans to live in North Vancouver for as long as he can and that he will peacefully demonstrate against the Kinder Morgan expansion for as long as it takes. He said the watch house will serve as a gathering place for elders and other people who support their cause for weeks to come.

George told National Observer he felt moved to voice his opposition to the project because it affects him on a personal level. He has a young son who he takes out to the waters on their traditional territory near North Vancouver to catch fish and crabs. He said all this would all be at risk if there was a major oil spill along the coastline.

People of different ages and backgrounds were at the rally, including Wendy Palen, an associate professor at Simon Fraser from the department of biological sciences. Palen is one of the authors of a 2017 peer-reviewed paper in Frontiers of Ecology and Environment that reviewed over 9,000 studies of the effect of oilsands products on the marine environment.

"I'm a scientist that studies unconventional oil and gas development," Palen said. "On a scientific level, the risk of oilsands pipelines has been understated. The science behind oilsands pipeline spills is that we do not know enough to actually prepare for the eventuality of a spill in a coastal ecosystem. I'm here on a personal level because we can't simultaneously make commitments to the international community about climate and continue to build oil sands pipelines."

Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a member of the Lubicon Cree Nation in Alberta and a Greenpeace climate campaigner, stressed that this was also about noting the reciprocal relationship with Mother Earth.

"What we do to the land, we do to ourselves," said Laboucan-Massimo. "Where we come from...the air is turning black. The children are getting sick. We can no longer drink water from the streams...Why is it OK for Canada to destroy our sacred places of prayer?"

"What we have chosen to do in the face of destruction of our homeland is to build a new future that we want to see," she said, referencing the Lubicon Cree Nation's Piitapan Solar Project, a renewable energy project in Little Buffalo,which powers the community's health centre. She said she wished Canada could build more projects like this in the future, rather than expanding oilsands infrastructure.

"We do this to protect the land, water, and climate for all people of this earth," she said.

With files from the Canadian Press.

Editor's note: This article was updated at 6:20 p.m. ET on Saturday to correct the spelling of NDP MP Kennedy Stewart's name as well as additional edits for clarity. It was updated again at 7:30 p.m. ET with additional quotes and reaction. Additional quotes from Kinder Morgan were added at 8:30 p.m. ET.

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Mr. Prime Minister … once offered to mediate this pipeline issue…that time has come !
… a (U.S. EPA funded ) oil spill risk assessment focused on …. the Trans Mountain Expansion(TMX)pipeline… predicted a risk increase of 375 percent….in prime feeding grounds for endangered killer whales.
Mr. PM your scientists surely should have pointed out the importance of an independent risk assessment …before agreeing to the TMX ,southern BC tanker routing ?
Your Omnibus Bill C69 Bill calls for outside expert science…you could end up with a plan that communities would permit, as per your own counsel about ‘community permission’ ?
Imagine a tanker loading terminal near Port Simpson which allows tankers easy access to the open Pacific !
Carl Shalansky, P. Eng. (Retired)
(604) 986-4657

Mr. Shalansky,
I am sure that, to a person, if you sampled opinions from the Saturday event, you would find that EVERYONE will insist that the mess in Alberta be SHUT DOWN! No need for alternative locations for pipelines or shipping ports, thank you!

Thanks for the details Dylan. And good luck with your studies in law and human rights. I have read an article published in Energy Mix (04Mar2018) and in Climate News Network (13Mar2018) that shows Alberta tar sands has no international market. Better and cheaper oil and gas products are available from the U.S. and can be shipped very cheaply using VLCCs (very large crude carriers) and the Louisiana deepwater port. What were Trudeau, KM and the NEB thinking? We have an international climate agreement. And maybe those VLCCs ate a climate problem too - 2 millionbarrels of oil in one ship.

This was a day to remember. We marched for the land, for the water, for the Salish Sea, for the climate which is reaching or has reached a point of no return, we marched especially for recognition of First Nation Rights once again trampled on, we marched to protest a hypocritical sham of a review of the Kinder Morgan Expansion pipeline by an NEB lacking in all credibility, we stand for the rights of British Columbia and all our citizens to protect ourselves from a catastrophe. A tanker will either collide or rupture in Port Vancouver, in the Salish Sea or in Haro Straits devastating sea life, the economy, the life line of our beautiful coast. Can't happen? Well, it just did in the South China Sea when a massive tanker, the Sanchi, double hulled with very modern navigational aids collided with another ship, burst into flame, exploding, sinking ,spewing its cargo of up to 900,000 barrels of condensate into the sea. Reports that all hands were lost. A major pipeline carrying tar sands dilbit can't rupture? Well, this did happen at Kalamazoo a few years ago. Over 1 million gallons of dilbit spilled into the river. The condensate evaporated from the dilbit and the bitumen sank. No world class cleanup possible. 125 MT of CO2 from the life cycle emissions of the dilbit in this dipterous pipeline will accelerate climate change and Trudeau's climate plan will be revealed for what it is: smoke and mirrors ($50.00 a ton carbon tax and reducing coal will only generate CO2 reductions of about 35 MT.) This prime minister has the arrogance and hubris to tell us that this is good for us, that it is in the national interest. The pipeline review did not consider green house gas emissions, did not consult meaningfully with First Nations most affected by this reckless project. Incredibly a study of the effects of a major dilbit spill in our waters was not done. Many thousands of us are appalled.The resistance to this project will be something this country hasn't seen in decades. Of course Kinder Morgan will launch civil suits by the arm load. Arrests will awaken a giant . If Trudeau says: Just watch me.' he is mistaken. We will not be watching. There has been no truth on the government side. None at all.