A recent decision by the Canada Energy Regulator to approve a change in the Trans Mountain pipeline route has ignited concerns among the Secwépemc community, specifically regarding the potential desecration of a sacred site near Kamloops, B.C.
“A Violation of Sacred Law”
Mike McKenzie, a Secwépemc knowledge keeper, raised concerns about the potential consequences of the route change, referencing a Secwépemc law known as X7ensq’t. The law warns that disrespecting the land can result in repercussions from both the land and sky. “It’s a serious law,” McKenzie emphasized, adding that he questions “how much farther” the violation will go.
For McKenzie and many within the Secwépemc community, the site near Pípsell, or Jacko Lake, is of paramount importance. He likens its significance to that of major religious landmarks in other cultures, stating, “This is our Vatican. This is our Notre Dame. This is a place that gives our people an identity and kept our people grounded since time immemorial.”
Historical and Cultural Context
The area around Jacko Lake, also known as Pípsell, holds deep historical and cultural resonance for the Secwépemc Nation. It is not only where their creation story takes place, but it is also the birthplace of many of their customs and laws.
Furthermore, this isn’t the first time Pípsell has been at the center of development debates. In 2017, the federal government chose not to approve the Ajax Mine Project in the area, respecting the Secwépemc Nation’s stance against it.
Engineering Difficulties and Route Changes
The route modification was proposed by Trans Mountain Corp., citing engineering challenges they encountered while trying to construct a tunnel in the area. The approved change affects a 1.3-kilometre stretch of the pipeline.
In a recent statement, the company acknowledged the sacredness of the area, pledging to avoid disturbing any archeological and traditional land use sites. They also emphasized their commitment to respecting the spiritual and cultural significance of the land.
Reactions and Repercussions
The decision has stirred mixed reactions. While the Stk’emlúpsemc te Secwépemc Nation has generally supported the project, they opposed this particular route deviation. They originally gave their consent to the construction under the understanding that the company would minimize surface disturbances.
However, with this recent deviation, the Nation argues there will be “significant and irreparable harm” to their culture. They further claim that they weren’t given the opportunity for free, prior, and informed consent as required under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
The project has not only drawn criticism from the indigenous community but also faced other challenges. Purchased by the federal government in 2018 for $4.5 billion after environmental and regulatory concerns, its estimated cost has since soared to $30.9 billion as of March.
Mike McKenzie poignantly remarked on these mounting challenges, stating, “If that isn’t the land and the sky turning on this company, I don’t know what is.”
Federal Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Gary Anandasangaree acknowledged the complexities of the situation, stressing the federal government’s commitment to continuous consultation with indigenous communities.
As construction resumes, concerns about cultural preservation and the future of the Trans Mountain pipeline project remain at the forefront of national discussions.