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Indigenous Water Protectors are about to get their revenge on Big Oil

At this point, it’s hard to understand why these huge oil corporations think they can just build pipelines anywhere they want with no hassle.

And yet here’s Kinder Morgan, trying to build an enormous pipeline to pump millions of gallons of Tar Sands crude from Alberta to the coast, then onto oil tankers bound for refineries and overseas markets. If built, the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion would violate the sovereign rights of dozens of First Nations. If you remember Standing Rock, that probably sounds familiar.

But Kinder Morgan’s pipeline, like with the Dakota Access Pipeline and the KXL Pipeline, shows they have no idea who they’re picking a fight with.

People from both sides of the U.S./Canada border converged in Washington this week for the Oil Free Salish Sea Action Camp, preparing to use their unique skills — skills that come with being members of indigenous nations, sailors, fisherpeople, kayakers and more — to confront Kinder Morgan where they’ve never been confronted before: on the water.

Water-Based Resistance in the Pacific Northwest

Activists training to oppose Kinder Morgan's Tar Sands pipeline
Activists training to oppose Kinder Morgan’s Tar Sands pipeline

“The Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline is a hail mary pass by a dying industry,” said Harmony Lambert (Chumash Nation), Direct Action Trainer for Indigenous People’s Power Project (IP3). “If it gets built, the world’s dirtiest oil fields will be further developed, violating Indigenous rights and endangering us all with disastrous spills and accelerated global warming.

“The Trump and Trudeau governments are failing us by permitting the construction of new pipelines. In times like these, non-violent resistance is one of the few things that keep us all safe.”

Over the course of Oil-Free Salish Sea Action Camp, trainers from groups including IP3 (a network of native trainers, artists and action coordinators), Greenpeace and Mosquito Fleet (a crew of water-based “kayaktivists”) led tactical safety trainings, kayak lessons, tactics for on-water communication, banner making, art builds and more. “Training people in how to safely demonstrate on the water is part of the diversity of tactics we will be using to oppose this project,” said Ariel Martz-Oberlander of the BC Sea Wolves, a kayaktivist group based in Vancouver.

Activists training in Kayak, sailing and powerboat skills at the Oil-Free Salish Sea Action Camp
Activists training in Kayak, sailing and powerboat skills at the Oil-Free Salish Sea Action Camp

The camp was held on Lopez island in the northern corner of coastal Washington state. The bioregion has become a major hotspot in the showdown between Big Oil and those of us who prefer our land and water oil-free. Thanks to its geographic position between huge fossil fuel deposits like the Tar Sands and huge energy markets like China, the Pacific Northwest (PNW) is home to nearly two dozen proposals for new pipelines and tanker terminals. For Big Oil to keep making big profits, they need to turn the PNW into a fossil fuel superhighway; the Trans Mountain Pipeline is Kinder Morgan’s contribution to that strategy.

Not Just a Canadian Issue

While Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion will be located mostly in Canada, it’s inaccurate to say it’s just a Canadian problem, and not only because of the tricky nature of settler-drawn borders. Much of the oil pumped through the pipeline will end up in one of four big refineries in Washington; the pipeline will also allow for a massive, 700% increase in oil tanker traffic in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. If a spill happens in those waters, the oil isn’t going to just come to a halt at the U.S. border.

Cedar George-Parker, a member of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation spoke to that dynamic: “It’s not a matter of if there will be an oil spill but when. We’re standing with our allies… Let’s not let borders separate us.”

A New Phase for the Climate Justice Movement

The climate movement has a long history of confronting these projects on land, but Big Oil has been operating on the water with impunity for generations. Two years after #ShellNo, oil companies still don’t know what to do about a swarm of teeny boats. When kayaktivists launched a blockade at a Shell’s Puget Sound refinery last spring, Shell cancelled all tanker traffic for three days rather than try to deal with it. On-water resistance is a game-changer.

The Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline is a hail mary pass by a dying industry
— Harmony Lambert (Chumash Nation), Indigenous Peoples Power Project

Can we go cold-turkey on oil tomorrow? Of course not. But we’ll never be able to build clean energy infrastructure on a massive scale if Big Oil can keep making billions doing the same old thing. No one’s needs will go unmet if we stop Kinder Morgan; in fact, stopping these pipelines is apparently the only way to force these companies to just build some goddamn wind farms already.

Big Oil needs our cooperation to keep pumping dirty Tar Sands crude. They’re not going to get it.

Written by Caitlyn McClure

Caitlyn is a rabble-rouser and writer based in Olympia, WA. She is a copywriter and logistics specialist for Tiny Pixel Collective, a web shop providing activists and artists with the tools they need to tell stories that inspire change.