Secwepemc land defenders arrested and tortured by RCMP officers working for Canada’s Trans Mountain pipeline

On the morning of Saturday October 19th, RCMP officers arrested two prominent land defenders, Kanahus Manuel and Isha Jules, on the eve of Canada’s federal election.  

Manuel and Jules had woken up Saturday morning in what Kanahus calls the Tiny House Warriors “safe zone,” a new camp that they had struck as part of a Tiny House Warriors “action camp” on the weekend of October 12 to 14th. The old camp is still there, across from the prospective construction site that Trans Mountain plans to build into a 1,000 person “man camp.”

An important part of the struggle waged by Kanahus and the Tiny House Warriors has been in popularizing an Indigenous feminist critique of pipeline construction and other mass resource extraction projects as assaults on Indigenous women. Kanahus and the Tiny House Warriors have made “man camps,” where pipeline workers are staged during times of high intensity construction work, a central part of their critique of Canada’s violation of Secwepemc sovereignty. Man Camps, Kanahus says, contribute to colonial violence against Indigenous women, which the national report on missing and murdered Indigenous women released in the spring of 2019 called “genocidal.”

The old camp was set strategically at a choke point to stop “man camp” construction, but like the new camp, its main purpose is to defend what Beverly Manuel calls the sacred waters of the Thompson River. In a phone interview held just after her daughter Kanahus had been released from jail in Kamloops, Beverly Manuel explained the importance of the Tiny House Warriors camps. “The workers are making little roads, they’re placing buildings. Two buildings just went up,” she said. “We’re just across from where they want to put a 1,000-man camp: right where the fields of blueberries go, right where the bears go, where the Blue River flows into the Thompson River.”

Beverly Manuel (@ArticulateDinos / Twitter)

“It’s all together,” Beverly Manuel said, in a profound description of the urgent struggle to stop the Trans Mountain pipeline. “The sky, the water, it’s all connected. Down in the inlet there where the people are fighting against the tankers, the water that flows into the sea there, it all starts in the mountaintops here in our territory.”

Beverly Manuel’s perspectives are illuminated by the fluidity of the Secwepemc notion of value, so starkly at odds with the limited, corporate value of capitalist profit. “We’re not just doing this for ourselves, it’s for all mankind,” she says. But the Secwepemc “mankind” is not human centred. Beverly Manuel describes this mankind as including non-human relations: “Not one tree can be cut down without causing harm, taking away a place where a stellar jay can land.”

Her argument then, that the RCMP are “Trudeau’s goons… working for Trans Mountain,” is consistent with the irreconcilable conflict between this universally relational Secwepemc worldview and the pragmatics of corporate profit that are upheld by Canada’s courts and executed, ruthlessly, by Canada’s cops.

“Fighting for Indigenous rights will leave you face down with cuffs on”

Before they had eaten breakfast, Kanahus Manuel and Isha Jules walked out of the new camp seeking the source of the noise of roadwork on a Saturday morning. They found a road crew with Dawson Construction, a contractor working for Trans Mountain, setting up a flagging team on Highway 5. Kanahus approached them and told them, as she had many mornings before, that they had not right to be there. “Hey, there’s no consent! Hey, there’s no treaty!” she recalled after being released from jail three days later. “And they arrested me,” she said.

But they did more than just arrest her. The arresting officer grabbed Kanahus and threw her to the highway, grinding her face into the cement so she had concrete dug into the skin of her cheek. He twisted her wrist until it snapped and then cuffed her and threw her in the back of an RCMP truck.

In a social media statement made after she was released from jail, Kanahus said, “Fighting for Indigenous land rights here in Canada, my father always said, will leave you face down with the cuffs on. And this time we’ll add one more: leave you face down with a broken wrist and the cuffs on. The arresting officer, he was terrible. He hurt me, he wrecked my arm, I had to get a cast. This is what fighting for Indigenous rights looks like.”

Isha witnessed the assault. He said, “Kanahus did not resist. This cop with a smile on his face slammed her on the ground.” And added, “This is what white supremacy does to Native women in 2019. The RCMP should be looking for the killers of Native women, not slamming Native women to the ground.”

RCMP’s in-custody torture techniques

The RCMP initially told Kanahus and Isha that they were arrested for “bugging workers,” and later charged them with mischief and intimidation. And then the RCMP used what should be understood as in-custody torture techniques to punish and frighten Kanahus, Isha, and their family outside.

Kanahus had been badly injured in the arrest but the RCMP denied her medical treatment. After taking her into custody at 8am, the RCMP did not allow her to see a doctor until midnight. During those 16 hours, the RCMP refused to allow Kanahus to speak to a lawyer or to give updates to her family.

Beverly Manuel, Kanahus’ mother, found out that her daughter was injured through a message from her lawyer, who was told that Kanahus was being moved to the Kamloops hospital.

Beverly said, “They kept her in Clearwater all day. They dragged their feet and refused to give her medical attention all day.” And then when they did take her to the hospital, it was with a 5-officer police detail. Kanahus’ family drove to Kamloops to see her in the Royal Inland Hospital but the RCMP instructed staff to refuse them entry. Kanahus shouted to them barred outside the room, “Tell mom I was in a lot of pain all day and they would not bring me to the hospital!”

After a brief hospital visit, where, Beverly says, her broken wrist “never received proper medical attention at all,” the RCMP drove Kanahus back to the jail in Clearwater; not getting back until 3am.

I asked Beverly why the police would ship Kanahus all the way back to Clearwater rather than keep her in Kamloops city cells, where she would have to return for a bail hearing Monday morning. She said, “the Clearwater RCMP detachment is set-up just to protect Trans Mountain. It is controlled by Trans Mountain.”

That Kanahus and Isha were denied the standard arrest protocol of releasing arrestees with bail conditions set by Crown Council, a higher-ranking officer, or through a phone-hearing with a Justice of the Peace, is a breach of standard protocol and the first sign that they were being subjected to a form of in-custody torture. Jails hold arrestees for as brief a time as possible because it is expensive to hold people in custody, and because holding cells are “hard time.” Prisoners in holding cells often do not have access to recreation of any sort, social spaces, or hot food. They are held in essentially solitary confinement cells with a 24-hour fluorescent light, a thin blanket and a hard bed.

Kanahus was subjected to these holding cell conditions for 3 days with a broken wrist, and she was denied access to her lawyer before being driven for 2 hours to the hospital in Kamloops. This was extraordinary and punitive treatment and, as Beverly Manuel said, the RCMP should have to answer for it.

“The RCMP have always been there protecting the corporations”

Warriors at Camp Moonbeam (@SecwepemcC / Twitter)

Beverly Manuel was angry that her daughter had been assaulted, arrested, and held in custody by the RCMP for 3 days, but she was not surprised. “Kanahus’ sister calls this the ‘deep north’,” she said, explaining that white residents are often viciously anti-Indigenous racist and the police are right there with them.

Beverly said that Kanahus has taken videos of pipeline workers and supporters threatening her and the Tiny House Warriors, but the police have not done anything in response. “There have been death threats against my daughter. They threatened to come in with a gun. We could see their license plate clearly. They’re never arrested.”

“The RCMP have always been there protecting the corporations. The RCMP are there to protect Trans Mountain, not to protect our rights,” she said. “When we’re up there protecting our rights, that’s our territory. We never signed a treaty. They want to charge us with mischief? They’re the ones!”

The Secwepemc struggle for the land is rooted in a strong legal, political, and moral argument. Beverly explains, “We stand for the land. That’s who we are: we are people of the land.” And because “we’re nomadic people, everywhere they want to put the pipeline is our home.” This claim to land and sovereignty is hard to argue against for Canada and its courts, which have recognized that Indigenous nations have a legal title claim to their territories on the basis of use, which is what Beverly points towards when she explains that the Secwepemc people are nomadic.

And the Secwepemc also have a legal and political system that predates Canadian colonialism by thousands of years. In a statement posted to social media at the courthouse, Janice Billy, who is Kanahus’ aunt, said that it was legally inconsistent for the judge to force Kanahus to “keep the peace and be of good behaviour.” She insisted that resisting the pipeline is good behaviour under Secwepemc law. “They are following Secwepemc law, which is to protect the land and water at all times,” Billy said. “Our law has to hold just as much precedence and importance as their laws. Our laws are higher. They can’t be arrested or anything else for following our law.”

What Canada is left with, then, is force.

But the Tiny House Warriors have an answer to that too. Unbowed by the in-custody torture she suffered for 3 days, Kanahus came out of jail calling for reinforcements. “We need everyone from Standing Rock. All the warriors.” She called for supporters and warriors to join the Tiny House Warriors at the new camp, at Moonbeam, the name of the area where the new camp is and where Kanahus was arrested, and at Blue River, where the longer standing camp is, opposing the 1,000 member man camp.

And for those who cannot make it out to support, Kanahus announced that the Tiny House Warriors will be starting a legal defence fund, in order to continue the struggle no matter what the police and courts throw at them.

“The Trans Mountain pipeline will not be built!” She said. “Not ever!”

Learn more about the Tiny House Warriors through their website:

And donate here, through gofundme:

Donate through the Secwepemc Nation Youth Network:

You might also like
404 Not Found

404 Not Found