By Ruby Smith Diaz
Land defender Kanahus Manuel explains how ten tiny houses can help stop a pipeline.
Can you introduce yourself?
I’m Kanahus Manuel, of the Secwepemc nation and Warrior Society and Tiny House Warriors: Our Land is Home.
Tell us about the Tiny House Warriors project.
Tiny House Warriors: Our Land is Home is a project to build ten tiny houses that will be placed strategically on the path of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline to assert our Secwepemc authority and our Secwepemc decision-making on our lands. Our people got together in a historic gathering last summer, and the consensus was that there is no consent for this pipeline. That’s what we’re standing on right now — that declaration of our people, as well as our ancestors, that said never cede, never surrender our territories. This is the power that we’re standing on by going out and putting these homes on our territories.
What inspired you to launch this specific form of resistance against the Kinder Morgan Pipeline?
We looked at all the different issues that we are facing as Indigenous people. This project is not just to stop the pipeline. It is to create a solution to the housing crisis that all of us are facing, not just our community– it’s for people in the activist community, people within my own immediate family to learn [alternative building skills] to better our movements. Right now we’re doing the interior decorating of our first tiny house, and that one’s going to be deployed very soon. The second one is our elders’ tiny house and it’s built on a 24’ trailer. We wanted it to be a little bit bigger to accommodate elders. We want to have it in a very beautiful pristine part of our territory, where elders can come and be protecting the land and the sacred area that we chose to make that stand. The elders’ house is also going to be the language immersion place, because all of our language teachers and elders say we’re going to lose our language if it’s [only taught] in the classroom.
And so everything is based on the land. There’s [so many] different reasons why we chose to build tiny houses. First of all, right now, Indigenous people are stuck on this 0.2% of reserve land– meaning that if you calculate all the Indian reserves of Canada, it makes up 0.2% of the land base. Not even 1%. So the other 99.8% of our traditional territories is being developed, [is subject to] industrial resource extraction that has been happening since contact. Mining and pipelines are some of these things that are threatening our territory. Our people, although we have always been pushed onto the 0.2%, we still maintain current use traditional use on our territories including berry picking, medicine harvesting, and sacred fasting areas. We still depend on clean water as a main part of our ceremonies. In order for us to conduct our sacred ancient ceremonies, we need clean water, and so there’s going to be many different impacts on our traditions by having that pipeline going through, and that’s why people are opposed to this pipeline.
People are looking at tiny houses as a solution in a housing crisis globally. So that’s another reason why tiny houses became a way for us to make a stand. We’re building our homes, the land is our home, and we’re connecting those dots for people that don’t see the earth as our home. Our land is going to be a really beautiful area; we’re looking at doing some intensive gardening. These are things that Wolverine* (“Wolverine was a Secwepemc elder and land defender, Gustafsen Lake who passed away in 2016”) has taught us and [folks from] the other resistance camp* (Unistoten) has taught us too. Some will live, some will die and the strong ones will survive, so we need to start producing our own food. And so with Tiny House Warriors, Ruby, we don’t want to just be setting up camp, to just be another Standing Rock where we’re going to make our last stand right there. No, we want to build villages, we want to build hope, we want to build our dreams and imagination and creativity. We want food, beautiful homes, clean water, language, culture, dance, songs.
We even want entrepreneurship for our young people. We want some kind of economic interest. We have economic interest in every tree that is coming off of our territory, everything that’s being transported through our territory right now. I’m sitting here looking at the Trans Canada Highway, as millions of dollars [worth of resources] are being transported through here. When we were figuring what homes we were going to establish on our territory we chose to go with tiny houses because they’re fast, because the rest of the country is landlocked. The Trans-Canada and CPR crosses Neskonlith Indian Reserve, crossing our own natural transportation corridor, the river. Transporting every raw product across our homelands: Cars, coal gas, heavy machinery, military equipment, tires– the same corridor that is linked to the alberta tar sands that we are also fighting. They need these transportation corridors to come through our lands, in order to get things to the global market. I’m looking at a truck full of oil or gas, that’s going by right now as I speak, while our little 0.2% holds some of the most impoverished communities.
So Tiny House Warriors is giving hope to the nation that we can leave the reservations, and exclusively occupy traditional territories. We can go out there and say we are upholding our own laws, and our own rights to self determination; we can say no to projects like Kinder Morgan and Canada must respect that. Right now, Canada is violating our rights by [Trudeau giving] the federal “ok” to go through with this pipeline. But he doesn’t have our consent. So there’s many different people involved in this violation of international Indigenous and human rights right now.
To back up little bit: obviously the tiny houses are mobile projects. What do you think is the benefit of having this kind of specific resistance that are literal homes on wheels, instead some other traditional structures that have been built on the territory in the past for similar purposes?
As Secwepemc people we’ve always been tiny house living and so building this type of structure is nothing really different for us. We’ve built traditional underground pit houses, we’ve built cord wood houses, we’ve built all kinds of alternative and traditional housing. These homes are sacred sanctuaries cause our homes are the whole basis of our family life and who we are as Secwepemc people. We’ve had cedar bark lodges, we’ve had houses that are the most advanced architecture for our lands. We want to build underground traditional homes; when we’re figuring what homes we’re going to establish on our territory, we chose to go with tiny houses because they’re fast. You can get the shell of the whole house up in 2 or 3 days and have someone actually living in there while you continue to work on it. Our goal is to establish hundreds of pit houses and traditional homes on our territory cause I know personally how it is to live in an underground traditional pit house. You know, my partner built one for us and I raise my children in there. [The pit house] gives you more than you’ll ever imagine– a sense of how it was to live in the past. For instance, living in one structure that’s round, you don’t have walls, you don’t have rooms that separate your children from the parents. You’re all in one family, you have to learn how to collectively live together in a small space. That’s an art, that’s a very necessary art right now. How we’re going to live together as a people.
And so we’re building tiny houses now to stop this pipeline. Our goal is to have ten tiny houses on our territory along this 518 km pipeline route, but not stationary. We have them on wheels so we could be mobile out on our lands. We’ve always been a nomadic hunter and gatherer society and that’s what we do during the winter: we follow the seasons, we follow the food. Some of our people haven’t even been to these pristine areas where this pipeline is being proposed. Huckleberries, blueberries, medicines, fresh game, there’s so much out there that’s at risk right now that needs protecting.
Beautiful. So that gives people the opportunity to actually make connections with those sacred places and with those traditional areas in ways that other structures maybe wouldn’t have allowed for. That’s awesome. How were you able to find resources to lead this project?
Resources are the number one thing that we need in our movements right now, and we’ve been blessed to have made contacts with people who have big networks. Naomi Klein put out a call for donations to LEAP* ( https://theleap.org/give-tiny-house-warriors/) and they were able to secure $16,000 and then LUSH was able to give a big chunk of money as well, the cosmetic company. Now we’re selling Tiny House Warrior Volume One, a music compilation of artists that have come together to donate songs that are on this album. We’re selling this album on Bandcamp for $10 minimum donation. So we’re trying to find creative ways and sources that could help sponsor these tiny houses that doesn’t compromise our principles.
We’re going to be launching a bigger online fundraiser for a spring building camp– we’re hosting a 14-day building camp and hopefully make three or four tiny houses during that time. We’ll need approximately thirty or forty skilled builders to come out to assist, some of them could be labourers. We need five, we’re calling them conductors, but like foremen or crew bosses, that can help.
I’d like to also say that there were volunteer builders that came and volunteered all of their skills to build these tiny homes. Melina had secured some funding as well to solarize the tiny houses that were being built during the [last] spring building camp.
Incredible. On that note, how can people find out more?
We have a website, TinyHousewarriors.com and also we have a facebook page, and the Bandcamp page. And if you google Tiny House Warriors, a lot of news articles will come up and you can get educated in that way too. We had some other famous people, like Leonardo DiCaprio, that post Tiny House Warriors’ photos and information on Instagram. So there are people that are learning about the project and I’m sure that we’re going to be able to collectively come up with the resources to be able to complete all ten [tiny houses]. We’ve built three and we have enough raised for the fourth one, so we’re looking for funds for six more of them. We’re learning a lot as we go along, and you know, the tenth one is going to be like, boom. It’s going to go up like that, so we’re hoping to have these all out by summer.
Amazing. What has been the biggest obstacle that you’ve found during this project?
There’s many different obstacles that you’re faced with as grassroots organizers. Some of them are around funding. [Often it’s] these established organizations that have tax deductible status or non-profit status that are able to raise funds here in Canada. We don’t have that, we’re a grassroots organization, so a lot of our funding needs to be received from non-mainstream sources. That’s why we are dependent people, through crowd-funding and such, to support this project.
I don’t want to have to go too much into it, but for us here at the Secwepemc nation, we’ve had three of the Secwepemc chiefs who have already signed with Kinder Morgan and actually received money, cash deals, from them. And just to help people to understand they’re a federally funded native organization I would call it, more than a band council. People really need to be clear about who they’re putting their support behind: who the grassroots people are, who the tribal people are. We really need support from people who understand where Indigenous people hold the title to our lands; amongst all the 10,500 Secwepemc people that exist in the world that are in on Secwepemc territory– collectively, we are the ones that have a say in our lands. We collectively hold that title to the land, not one elected chief and council can make a decision about our lands. So these are some of the other obstacles, is being able to explain to everyday Canadians the internal politics that go on behind the scenes. As the grassroots people, we really need the support behind us because that’s one of the biggest obstacles we’re facing too in our territories.
Many long term projects and social movements have the tendency to quickly lose people along the way due to disinterest or burnout. However, it seems that you’ve been able to pull together enough people with sustained interest to complete three houses so far, and more planned for the summer. What do you think is different about this project that has helped keep people motivated and committed to help?
It’s the urgency. And just the dire crisis that this planet is in right now. We see the climate change in our everyday harvesting practices. We see the climate change through the wildfires that ravaged our lands last summer. We see that happen in our berry patches and our medicine areas. We see the urgency around standing up now. We know that if this pipeline pushes its way through, the Alberta Tar Sands is going to increase dramatically in size and impact more of our people in the north, our own relatives that are there around the Tar Sands. With the people that we are working with, it’s a life– I don’t want to say it’s a lifestyle, but it’s the way we live. We aren’t saying, oh my daughter’s gonna grow up to be a doctor or a professor, you know. It’s like, we already knew, you can’t turn back and once you wake up in the matrix there’s no going back. You know that the rest of society is fake. And it’s based on non-documentation of our title and our rights to our lands. We should be able to have our homes in the most pristine areas of our territory and that’s where we’re going with our tiny houses. We want people to see that no, you’re not meant to live by the Trans Canada highway, you’re meant to be up there in the beauty of your lands. That’s why they’re ripping all this stuff to drive through the Trans-Canada highway. Everything is based on the lands; you can’t have society without the land. Everything, the whole consumer capitalist society, is based on these resources, on these lands.
Ruby Smith – DIAZ
Ruby Smith-Diaz is an afro-latina person born in Edmonton- amiskwacîwâskahikan (ᐊᒥᐢᑿᒌᐚᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ). Since graduating, with a degree in education, she has found her passion working as a youth facilitator, multi-disciplinary artist, video editor, and body positive personal trainer. Throughout all of her projects, she is deeply invested in the dignity and identity of individuals and supporting them in developing the sense of self-worth and integrity that will make them agents and animators of change in the world, according to their most fierce imaginings.
Kanahus Manuel, Secwepemc and Ktunaxa, is member of the Secwepemc Women Warriors Society (her unceded Territory lies within so-called British Columbia, Canada), a mother of 4 and a twin , she was born into Indigenous Resistance and Land Defence, coming from a high-profile political family known for bringing their fight for their Traditional Territories and homelands into the spotlight from the local to the international level. Kanahus’ inheritance of the land struggle has led her to spearhead many Indigenous frontlines. Kanahus is traditional birth keeper, traditional tattoo artist and warrior.