Three Mennonites were among the faith leaders who blockaded the entrance to Westridge Marine Terminal in Burnaby, B.C. for several hours on April 20, protesting the planned expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline system.
Among them was Steve Heinrichs of Winnipeg, originally from Burnaby, who was arrested on criminal and civil charges for contempt of the order and injunction by the B.C. Supreme Court.
“We wanted to prevent vehicles from getting into the workplace and continuing construction,” he told Canadian Mennonite. “We knew we were doing something against the law of the land, in our sacred tradition of obeying God rather than men.”
Representatives from Tsleil-Waututh First Nation had invited religious leaders to join them in opposing the project, and as Mennonite Church Canada’s Indigenous-Settler Relations coordinator, Heinrichs felt moved to respond.
While RCMP officers read the injunction, the protesters sat on the ground in front of the terminal entrance. They responded by quoting articles 25 to 29 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which state that Indigenous peoples have the right to the lands and territories they have traditionally occupied, including rights of conservation and protection of the environment of these lands.
Heinrichs said local Indigenous people are not supportive of the pipeline project and, at the very least, are asking for proper dialogue.
“The Supreme Court of Canada has declared that the federal government has the duty to consult with First Nations on projects that have potential impact on their lands,” he said. “They believe it poses a threat to climate change and the watershed. The work they’re doing is on behalf of us all. We’re all enmeshed in a system that relies on fossil fuels.”
Heinrichs clarified that “arrest” for him did not involve being taken to jail in handcuffs; he was photographed on site and served with papers to appear in court on April 24.
The two other Mennonites protesting were Johann Funk, former Conference of Mennonites native ministry worker and Christian Peacemaker Teams member, and Henry Krause, former pastor of Langley Mennonite Fellowship and former Mennonite Church Canada (MC Canada) moderator.
Krause said he thought it was important to respond to the call for church leaders to walk alongside Indigenous people in their opposition to the twinning of the Kinder Morgan pipeline. One of the main concerns, he said, is that the pipeline construction goes against the rights of Indigenous people to be involved in “free, prior and informed consent” about Indigenous land as outlined in the UNDRIP declaration.
“Given that Mennonite Church Canada has been supportive of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and said yes to affirming and living into the ‘Calls to Action,’ and given that Mennonite Church Canada has also repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery, it is important for the church nationally and regionally to ‘put feet’ to the decisions that we have made,” Krause said. “I am concerned about the building of the pipeline through this First Nations land without respect for their concerns about the environmental damage that this will cause.”
Heinrichs hopes that Mennonites in Canada will continue to pray for and support Indigenous peoples in the work they are doing. “We don’t have to have it all figured out,” he said. “Just be present and praying, be curious. If you’re able to form a position, join us. Take courageous steps. God’s inviting us into a conversation of faithfulness.”
Krause said that people of faith are invited to join with those who are opposed to the pipeline on April 28 to show solidarity with the Indigenous communities opposed to the pipeline and to pray for reconciliation and healing.
But an April 16 story by Vancouver news radio service News1130.com reported that not all First Nation communities want to see the pipeline expansion stopped “According to Kinder Morgan, 51 First Nation communities, including 41 agreements in B.C., have signed comprehensive mutual benefit agreements with the company. The number represents every First Nation along the pipeline route and 80 per cent of communities in proximity to the pipeline’s right-of-way.”
“Some First Nation leaders have voiced their concern with provincial groups seemingly speaking for every community,” the story continued. “Cheam Chief Ernie Crey said the public must be careful of ‘environmental groups who want to red wash their agendas under an Indigenous flag.’”
Reaction to two Canadian Mennonite posts on Facebook on the weekend of April 21-23 regarding to the religious leaders’ arrest was divided.
Herb Klein posted: “I am deeply disappointed in the stand they have taken. The protesters never think of all the economic benefits flowing from this project to the people of B.C. and First Nations communities. Very disappointing!”
Marcy Robinson responded: I disagree. These folks are looking at the bigger picture. You must have children and grand [children]. That is what they are thinking of with these protests, not just fast gain for this generation. Well done; you folks [are] brave!”
Steve Heinrichs, Mennonite Church Canada’s Indigenous-Settler Relations coordinator, is pictured while being arrested on criminal and civil charges for contempt of the order and injunction by the B.C. Supreme Court during a protest of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline by religious leaders in Burnaby, B.C., on April 20, 2018. (Photo by Jennifer Osborne)