Local Anglican clergy and lay people and the National Indigenous Anglican Bishop are among those who have joined protests and actions against the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project in British Columbia, which recently halted “non-essential” spending amid opposition from various quarters, including the provincial government.
Texas-based oil and gas giant Kinder Morgan announced the suspension April 8 and issued an ultimatum that if no agreement is reached with “stakeholders,” it would find it “difficult to conceive of any scenario in which we would proceed with the project.”
The project has been beset by legal challenges and opposition, not just from the B.C. government but from First Nations and environmental groups. Opponents argue that the expansion, which is expected to increase coastal tanker traffic by sevenfold, will result in increased risk of oil spills and negative environmental effects, including harm to endangered orca whale populations.
Supporters say, however, that the pipeline could be built responsibly and argue that the expansion would mean an increase in Canadian jobs and create millions of dollars of economic benefits.
Anti-pipeline protests, actions
On April 20, several Anglican clergy members joined lay people and faith leaders—including Mennonites, Lutherans and Quakers—in a protest at Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby, B.C.
The pipeline is “a critical moral and spiritual issue for Canada, at multiple levels,” says National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald, who joined the protest. He cited both the project’s environmental consequences and “the issue of Indigenous Rights.”
How these issues are resolved, he says, “will have a deep impact on the character and quality of our common future.”
Salal + Cedar, an Anglican environmental justice ministry of the diocese of New Westminster, has been involved regularly in pipeline opposition actions.
The goal of Salal + Cedar, says its priest, the Rev. Laurel Dykstra, is to “build capacity for the fifth mark of mission”—the Anglican church’s affirmation that ministry should “strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.” Salal + Cedar worships outdoors and participates in a range of activities meant to encourage learning about and engaging with environmental stewardship.
“We’re not the ministry of responding to Kinder Morgan, but we are very focused on discipleship in our watershed, so responding to what’s going on in our bioregion is really critical,” says Dykstra. Salal + Cedar has been part of responding to the pipeline project since 2016, when members would kayak out to the tanker berths under construction and slow down work.
Since November, she says, the ministry has regularly participated at blockades and protests, and in supporting grassroots surveillance camps Camp Cloud and The Watch House, Indigenous-led encampments set up to watch over and report on pipeline construction.
Lini Hutchings, a member of St. Mary’s Kerrisdale and Salal + Cedar in the diocese of New Westminster, has been actively involved in pipeline opposition, and was arrested March 7. Since then, an injunction has been granted to Kinder Morgan to prevent protesters from its work sites.
Hutchings says she has been present at around two dozen nonviolent actions against the pipeline since November. During Advent, she joined a small group in blocking an access road to the marine terminal each morning. She and other church members also make visits to Camp Cloud to provide practical assistance. “As church people, we feel uniquely equipped to address the need for full tummies and clean laundry and dishes!” she wrote in an email. “But we don’t just offer practical help: it has become clear that as relatively privileged people, we provide a buffer for our grassroots friends. Just being present protects them from harassment.”
She adds, “We are sometimes described in the media as ‘eco-terrorists’ or ‘extreme activists,’ but I have no difficulty in describing the action as primarily spiritual.”
On March 10, reconciliation animator for the Anglican Church of Canada, Melanie Delva, participated in a march that drew an estimated 10,000 people.
“It was always specified that it was a peaceful water protection action…the leaders are very specific about not wanting to be called protesters—they are water protectors, land protectors,” she said. People from every age group and ethnicity, from Canada and the United States, joined the march.
“Historically, Anglicans aren’t known for our stepping to the barricades, and it might be time to change that,” says Dykstra. Salal + Cedar is part of a movement called “watershed discipleship,” she says, which refers both to working within their environment and that “in terms of climate crisis, we are at a watershed moment. We are at a point where the actions that we take can make a lot of difference.”
A complex issue
Not all Anglicans oppose the pipeline, and some, in particular those living in Alberta, depend on the oil industry for their livelihood.
The complexity of issues surrounding this industry’s economic impact has become clear through Council of General Synod’s (CoGS) conversation around responsible investing. At the 2016 General Synod, resolutions involving social and ecological investing drew considerable debate.
Dean Iain Luke, of the diocese of Athabasca, reminded General Synod at the time that Anglicans across the country are “in very different places,” adding, “We have different stakes in these issues, so it’s important that all voices be heard.”
Others from the diocese advocated for influencing positive change from within the industry, using the leverage afforded an investor, and for consideration of the local communities that depend on the oil industry for employment.
“When you speak against these companies, that aren’t based in communities, you’re speaking against people. The corporation isn’t there,” one lay member from Fort McMurray noted at the time.
Further discussions on divesting were brought to light at the task force’s update at CoGS last June, which noted that companies operating in the Canadian oil sands are the largest private-sector employees of Indigenous people in the country.
‘An insult to the concept of reconciliation’
In the case of the pipeline, Hutchings thinks that framing the issue as a struggle between the environment and jobs, or between B.C. and Alberta, is “distracting.”
“These are interpretations which conveniently eliminate the most powerful and basic elements from the conversation. These resources are not ours to take,” she says.
In a statement, MacDonald called the “prophetic witness and actions of our Coast Salish sisters and brothers” an “urgent and vital moment in the struggle for Indigenous Rights and a just and livable future for all Creation.” He added, “Reconciliation is a meaningless word without justice and Indigenous self-determination at its centre.
“The way that this pipeline project has unfolded is an insult to the concept of reconciliation,” adds MacDonald, when reached by email. “There was defective consultation of the First Nations involved, as we now see from the firm resistance to the pipeline.”
Most critically, he says, this betrays a lack of “Free, Prior and Informed Consent,” a principle of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
Article 32 of the declaration holds that states must “cooperate in good faith with the Indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent” before approving any project that would affect their lands, territories, or resources, “particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.”
Full adoption and implementation of the UNDRIP is one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action.
Kinder Morgan says it has engaged with 133 First Nations and Métis communities and groups in Alberta and B.C. over the past six years in regard to the project. The company has reported agreements with 43 groups, 42 of which were confirmed by the CBC.
Kinder Morgan has stated that its “policy has been that the project will only cross reserve lands where we have consent.”
Some First Nations are in favour of the pipeline, which “needs to be honoured as well,” says Delva. But she says the UNDRIP must be respected in all cases. “If we really are going to have nation-to-nation relationships with Indigenous people, then we have to take Indigenous sovereignty seriously,” she says. Whatever the prime minister and premiers decide, “behind closed doors,” she says, that sovereignty is what’s at stake.
Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde recently criticized Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for not inviting Indigenous representation to pipeline meetings, calling it a “big mistake.”
“It’s been Indigenous people on the ground since the beginning who have been standing up against” the pipeline expansion, Delva says. “So, to have them absent from that table, I think, is a huge oversight.”
Noting that General Synod endorsed the UNDRIP in 2012, Delva adds that the Anglican Church of Canada has committed to supporting the declaration. “I think we have to take these movements seriously.”
Hope for a ‘turning point’
Another protest is planned for April 28, which Dykstra describes as a “massive callout for people of faith and spirit.” The event, which Salal + Cedar is co-organizing with Indigenous and environmental NGO coalition Protect the Inlet, is expected to draw more than 100, “perhaps hundreds,” of people.
In a media release, KAIROS Canada announced that executive director Jennifer Henry will attend the April 28 event, stating the organization’s “profound disappointment with the federal government’s decision to support the pipeline expansion,” which it says infringes on the rights of Indigenous peoples, compromises reconciliation efforts and Indigenous women’s safety, and undermines Canada’s commitments to reducing greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris Climate Agreement.
KAIROS is a faith-based social justice organization of 10 Canadian churches and religious organizations. The Anglican Church of Canada is one of its members.
With Kinder Morgan’s May 31 ultimatum, negotiations are ongoing between the federal and provincial governments. Trudeau has stated that the project is in Canada’s “vital, strategic interest” and “will be built,” but B.C. Premier John Horgan has pledged to file a reference case to challenge Ottawa’s jurisdiction over the project.
When asked what she is hoping and praying the outcome of the standoff will be, Dykstra says she hopes activist resistance will not only stop the pipeline, but that it will become “a real turning point around investment in alternative kinds of energy.”
She also sees the co-operation of faith communities, Indigenous groups and NGOs in opposing the pipeline as a “pretty remarkable” example of “practical reconciliation,” one that she hopes will continue.
“I never used to understand why we pray so constantly for those in authority,” says Hutchings. “Now I understand why those prayers are needed!” She says that she sees hope in Indigenous voices. “I…hear in the voices of Indigenous elders expressions of love, forgiveness and hope—all of these are essential to healing our relationships to one another and to the land.”