Ancient Secwepemc Law Clashes with Trans Mountain Pipeline Expansion


Amid the verdant expanse of Pipsell, also known as Jacko Lake, near Kamloops, British Columbia, tensions are mounting. At the heart of the unrest sits an ancient Secwepemc law, X7ensq’t, which dictates that maltreatment and disrespect of the environment will result in retribution from the land and sky.

Stern in his interpretation of Secwepemc law, knowledge keeper Mike McKenzie ponders the lengths people are prepared to go in contravening this sacred decree. McKenzie, a staunch critic of the ongoing pipeline expansion, pinpoints Trans Mountain Corp.’s recent construction resumption – a move sanctioned by federal regulators who approved an alteration to the Trans Mountain pipeline trajectory.

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McKenzie perceives the dismantling of the Pipsell site as a perpetuation of cultural demise. Fearing a significant loss of identity without this place, he emphasized the importance of Pipsell in Secwepemc’s creation story along with its significant part in generating their laws and customs. As he drily puts it, “This is our Vatican. This is our Notre Dame”.

The late September consent afforded by the Canada Energy Regulator for Trans Mountain Corp’s intended alteration to the pipeline route, a substantial relief to the government-owned firm, may prevent an additional nine-month procrastination of the project.

The Stk’emlupsemc te Secwepemc Nation, with its large opposition to the route alteration, voiced that the area surrounding Jacko Lake holds “profound spiritual and cultural significance”. The Nation’s understanding was that construction would only ensue on the pre-existing agreement of minimized surface disruptions. It further criticized that a change in construction procedure would inflict “significant and irreparable harm” to their culture, citing a lack of the Nation’s free, prior, and informed consent – a principle enshrined in the United Nation Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Trans Mountain Corp. indicated that the route change was necessitated by ingrained engineering obstacles involving the creation of a tunnel. The company then confirmed its resumption of construction at Pipsell and verbalized its commitment to recognition and respect for the cultural and spiritual significance of the area.

Despite the company’s proclamation of establishing “meaningful engagement and effective relationships,” an emotional McKenzie expressed his distress, claiming that the project contradicts reconciliation attempts. McKenzie fervently expressed his disappointment over the defilement of a sacred site and the nations’ non-consent as a contradiction to Canada’s image of reconciliation.

It’s not the first time Pipsell’s fate as a potential development site has been a contentious issue. Earlier in 2017, Stk’emlupsemc te Secwepemc Nation had withheld its approval for the Ajax Mine Project called to be developed in the area. The federal government eventually refrained from approving the project.

The importance of Pipsell to the community and to McKenzie, where he underwent his vision quest, cannot be overstated. Therefore, the decision to change the Trans Mountain pipeline route being taken in Calgary, over 700 kilometers away, impacted the community’s ability to express their attachment to the site.

The Trans Mountain pipeline, the country’s sole oil transportation infrastructure from Alberta to the West Coast, is in expansion to boost capacity from 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000. The pipeline is already dealing with construction-related challenges, escalating capital estimates, and grim delays since the federal government acquisition of $4.5 billion in 2018.

On this note, McKenzie reflects on the escalating adversity, saying, “If that isn’t the land and the sky turning on this company, I don’t know what is.”