By Ana Simeon
On March 31-April 1 I had a special opportunity to visit Pípsell, a beautiful lake set in the rolling grassland near Kamloops and a sacred site to the Stk’emlúpsemc te Secwépemc Nation. Pípsell (also known as Jacko Lake) is threatened by the proposed Ajax mine, an open-pit gold-copper mine that would destroy much of the lake and Peterson Creek, which flows into downtown Kamloops. (The mine would also spew a cloud of dust and pollution over a residential neighbourhood and elementary school less than 2 kms away.)
Photo credit: Ana Simeon.
Faced with the threat of a destruction of keystone cultural area, the Stk’emlúpsemc te Secwépemc exercised their sovereignty on the territory in accordance with their own laws, traditions and customs. They conducted their own social, cultural and environmental impact assessment, and their own community consultation process.
A unique and historic process
The process was led by an Indigenous-led Review Panel, which brought together representatives from each family, as well as elders, youth and elected leadership. The Panel sat for five days of hearings and reviewed extensive written and oral evidence, based both on Western and Indigenous sciences and values, including impacts to spirit and culture. Hearing about it I couldn’t help thinking that all Canadians deserve this depth and breadth of scrutiny of projects that potentially impact the water we drink and the air we breathe. The Stk’emlúpsemc te Secwépemc process is a model the B.C. and federal governments have so much to learn from!
Based on the Panel report – which concluded that Ajax would destroy part of Pípsell and Peterson Creek – the Stk’emlúpsemc te Secwépemc withheld their Free, Prior and Informed Consent to the Ajax mine. Check out their video, Honouring our Sacred Connection to Pípsell.
On April 1, representatives from more than 30 groups and organizations representing hundreds of thousands of members across B.C. and Canada gathered at Thompson Rivers University to express their support for the Stk’emlúpsemc te Secwépemc.
Upon entering a beautiful round pithouse-style building we were smudged and welcomed with drumming and prayer. Chief Ron Ignace and Councillor Viola Thomas spoke powerful words, to repeated standing ovations. On behalf of RAVEN, I took my place with the other allies as we each made a short statement and signed the Declaration of Support. See the story in Kamloops This Week.
“What happened today is the first chapter in our new story” – Participant
All in all, it was an incredible ceremony. The energy in the room pulsated with waves of “Yes!!!” People were visibly moved; there were tears. For a moment, in that room, we were one – Indigenous and non-Indigenous, across gender, class and age divides. For me, it felt something was finally happening that I had long wished for.
Moments like this don’t happen in a vacuum. A thorough assessment process like this is a costly proposition, taking resources away from other community needs. Sacrifice is not too strong a word to describe the Stk’emlúpsemc te Secwépemc commitment to protect their land and culture in this way. The time and resources they spent on the panel process are in addition to their participation in the provincial/federal review of Ajax, and all the other issues and needs they may be dealing with in their community.
For this moment of coming together to happen, allies also had to show up. The grassroots opposition to Ajax in Kamloops is robust and diverse – from Kamloops Area Preservation Association to Moms for Clean Air to Physicians for a Clean Environment. A number of national and B.C. groups that are not directly working on Ajax also expressed support by their presence and/or statements of solidarity.
(From the Pípsell Declaration)