Secwépemc matriarch and hereditary chief head to jail for opposition of TMX construction on unceded land

A Secwépemc matriarch and a hereditary chief are both serving jail time three years after they were arrested for opposing the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project’s (TMX) development in Secwepemcúl’ecw.

Rather than going through the lengthy process of appealing their 28-day sentences, Miranda Dick and her father, Hereditary Chief Saw-ses, are spending time behind bars. They said goodbye to loved ones and allies in front of the Kamloops Law Courts building in Tk’emlúps (Kamloops) on Tuesday.

Dick and Chief Saw-ses — who is a survivor of the Kamloops Indian Residential School (KIRS) — were part of a group of eight land defenders who were arrested and later charged with criminal contempt for violating a TMX injunction in the federally-owned company’s construction area in Sqeq’petsin (Mission Flats area) in 2020.

Presiding over the case of the eight land defenders was B.C. Supreme Court Justice Shelley Fitzpatrick, who sentenced both Dick and Chief Saw-ses in February. They expect to each serve up to three weeks in separate facilities, Dick said.

“It’s just a shame that my dad has to go,” said Dick. “He’s 72 years old and having to go to jail to fight for clean water.”

Following their sentencing, Dick and Chief Saw-ses filed appeals against their convictions and their sentences to the B.C. Court of Appeal, to challenge what land defenders have described as Fitzpatrick’s “blatant bias against Indigenous communities and in favour of TMX.”

However, Dick said that she and her father decided that they didn’t want to put themselves through the six-month process of appealing their jail sentences, having already spent the last three years fighting the case in the colonial court system.

“We didn’t want to start this whole process all over again, and be on probation and so forth,” said Dick.

While they won’t be appealing their jail sentences, Dick said that they do plan to continue with the appeal process for their convictions of criminal contempt, upon being released from jail. She cited various issues including the fact that “Canada” owns the TMX project as well as being involved with the court system where land defenders are tried under a colonial rule of law. Further, she and other land defenders take issue with the conduct of the judge who sentenced them.

“The reason why we’re appealing is because of Fitzpatrick’s remarks pertaining to the residential school children that were there,” she said, referring to controversial comments the judge made in court regarding the evidence of 215 children’s graves at KIRS.

Dick said that they “couldn’t just let Fitzpatrick have her remarks,” and that the appeal will fight for Secwépemc rights and title to the land.

As described by the We, the Secwepemc: Virtual Unity Camp group, the appeal will seek to challenge Fitzpatrick’s “long and storied career protecting corporate interests against the health and well being of Indigenous and Black communities.”

Dick also described the incarceration of a residential “school “survivor who was protecting his homelands as an “injustice,” and spoke about TMX’s construction at the sacred Secwépemc site of Pípsell — a recent development that has been met with heavy opposition by members of the Secwépemc Nation.

“It’s so unjust that Indigenous land-based defenders are having to face jail time for doing ceremonies. No matter where we are, we’re protecting clean water,” she said.

“The highest rate of incarceration are Indigenous people. It’s really amongst other crises that we’re facing.”

Joining Dick and Chief Saw-ses on Tuesday were family and loved ones, who displayed signs that called attention to the Secwépemc people and their cause to stopping TMX, and for the protection of salmon and clean water.

The group drummed and sang the Porcupine Song before they said goodbye to one another, where they exchanged hugs and laughs prior to heading to jail.

Meanwhile, Dick said, April Thomas and Billie Pierre, two other Indigenous land defenders who were also sentenced by Fitzpatrick earlier this year, are planning to take their case — particularly the issue of the “Canada”-owned pipeline infringing upon Secwépemc law, rights and title to the land — to the United Nations.

“To stop the pipeline is the main objective. Canada is giving permits, and, well, owns the pipeline. So that’s the main concern, is conflict of interest,” said Dick.

“Raising awareness around that — that they could imprison Indigenous people because of the extractive industry that they own.”

Aaron Hemens, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, IndigiNews