Out in the Open

Two people on the front lines of Indigenous rights take different sides of the pipeline issue

One pipeline, two starkly different views — Kanahus Manuel and Stephen Buffalo are both passionate about protecting the future of First Nations communities, lands and cultures. But they’ve come to very different conclusions about how to do that.
Kanahus Manuel (centre) (Courtesy of Kanahus Manuel)

Both Kanahus Manuel of the Secwepemc Nation in British Columbia and Stephen Buffalo of the Samson Cree Nation in Alberta are deeply devoted to protecting the lands and cultures of Indigenous people in Canada. But they each have different conclusions on how best to do that. 

Manuel is on the front lines of opposition to Kinder Morgan's proposed Trans Mountain expansion project. The oil pipeline would cut across Alberta and British Columbia, going through large chunks of First Nations land. Buffalo heads up the Indian Resource Council, an advocacy group that is pro-pipeline if it is done safely, brings about financial returns for First Nations and gives them decision-making power. 

Manuel worries about protecting the land from damage. Buffalo sees the pipeline as an opportunity to gather money and resources for Indigenous people. 

Both Buffalo and Manuel have sacrificed a lot in support of their visions. Manuel, who is a mother of four, has been arrested on multiple occasions as a result of her activism, and was once separated from her infant child for three months. Buffalo gets calls all the time from Indigenous groups asking how he can possibly support the pipeline. 

What an oil pipeline means

Kanahus Manuel (Courtesy of Kanahus Manuel)
"When I think about this pipeline that's proposed to cut through our territory … I feel very sad and angered that as an Indigenous mother, I should be there spending all my time with my children, teaching them the culture, the language, the traditions," said Manuel. "And yet a lot of my time is taken up having to battle against oil, and gas and mining, things that are destroying the very essence of who we are: the land." 
I'm standing up for something I think - I know - would help our people down the road.- Stephen Buffalo

"If you looked at a map of, say, Alberta and see all the pipelines in the ground, you'd kinda go 'Well, what's two more?'" said Buffalo. "It's the old pipelines that are the ones we should be scared of, the ones that were put (in) in the 70s. Some are still being utilized today. But with these new ones, the technology and the monitoring that's required... to me, it's safe. I've done my research and that's my opinion."

Future generations

"I'm willing to do whatever it takes," said Manuel. "And a lot of times, people may see that as radical and extreme. But we do everything out of the love. I've birthed my babies free on our land, in our mountains, with clean water and clean air surrounding them, and cedar trees, and cardinals, and blue jays, and all the beauty of our land. I did that so my children could see what can be done."

"There's kids out there that are killing themselves at 13-years-old, at 10-years-old, because they see no hope in life," said Buffalo. "And that's because they're stuck with minimal resources. If we can find a way that First Nations can participate on these big projects, maybe that life will be better."

Why they fight and will keep fighting

"We didn't give up the land … we didn't ask to get put on reserves, we didn't ask for the boundaries, we didn't ask for the government to control us," said Buffalo."If you want to try and put this pipeline though our traditional territory, you can't do it without us."

We have principles and responsibility to look out for the next seven generations or even the next thousands of generations.- Kanahus Manuel

"I'll never stop. I'll never stop fighting, I'll never stop resisting. I'll always continue do just the best I can for our people, our children, for all the next seven generations," said Manuel. 

"I hate to tie it around money, but eventually that's what it is," said Buffalo. "Better life is having those resources to do what we need to do, provide that hope and provide those opportunities."

This story appears in the Out in the Open episode "Protection."