Tsleil-Waututh Nation members lead canoes as part of a water ceremony to stop the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. Photo credit Mya Van Woudenberg

Paddling together to stop TMX

In the face of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, Tsleil-Waututh Nation Sacred Trust and Sierra Club BC hosted a water ceremony to invite the public into a deeper relationship with water.


Looking across the Burrard Inlet from the shores of Tsleil-Waututh Nation, it’s impossible not to see the huge oil drums and refinery across the water.

On June 25th TWN Sacred Trust hosted a water ceremony at Whey-ah-Wichen (Cate’s Park) in North Vancouver. Sacred Trust is an initiative of Tsleil-Waututh Nation focused on stopping the Trans Mountain Expansion Project (TMX), a project approved by the Canadian government without the consent of the Nation. This ceremony invited the public to connect and deepen their relationship with water in the face of TMX. Sierra Club BC was honored to support them in the organization of this ceremony.

SCBC has stood with Tsleil-Waututh Nation in their fight against TMX since the beginning. From supporting the Pull Together campaign, which aimed to fundraise money for legal challenges against TMX, to praying and practicing ceremonies. We are honored to be in this work together.

Launching the canoes at Whey-ah-Wichen

Rueben George, a member of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation and manager of the Sacred Trust Initiative, began the day with a welcome to the territory and gratitude to those that had made the day possible. We were then called to head out on the water in three 35-foot ocean-going canoes that we paddled as close as we could to get to the Burnaby TMX Westridge Marine Terminal. Near the giant oil drums, we rafted the canoes together as the matriarchs voiced powerful words, songs, and prayers to their ancestors and creator and offered sacred earth to the waters. We moved as one, paddling and singing together.

“We are Tsleil-Waututh, People of this inlet,” began Ruebens’s grandmother Xaliya (Ta7ah – Amy George). “We’ve been here for more than 30,000 years. We are the generation that our ancestors depended upon to take care of this inlet. We need to stop dirty tar sands oil.”

Over 30 billion taxpayer dollars are being spent on this dangerous pipeline and tanker project that puts the water, fish, salmon, orcas and human health at risk. Climate impacts with more frequent and intense storms, floods, landslides and wildfires only make this project increasingly vulnerable to a spill that would devastate the surrounding land and water. As part of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation’s own assessment of the proposed project, leading risk assessment exports from Simon Fraser University put the risk of a spill at 79 – 87 percent over a 50-year period, meaning the expansion is a direct threat to the Tsleil-Waututh community and way of life. You can read through it here.

“Thank you to the ancestors who never stopped looking at the water with love and never stop believing that we have a responsibility to live in harmony with the water, with the animals, the orca and the birds, the fish and each other. I have such gratitude to the ancestors and to the people who joined us today. Let us all paddle together” continued Xaliya’s granddaughter, Kayah George, who was recently featured on the front page of the Globe and Mail for her work with orcas.

Powerful words were shared by matriarchs and youth water protectors

We returned from the water and came together in a circle of over 150 people to join in the ceremony led by Elder Minnie (Grinder) Kenoras, Red Hummingbird Woman (Judy Wilson) and Sun Woman (JoAnne Buffalo), Xaliya (Ta7ah – Amy George), Ts’simtelot (Charlene Aleck) and Roxanne Charles. The women offered powerful and inspiring words to keep moving this work forward, and to never stop protecting the waters and all living beings. Young water carriers such as Kayah were called to speak and lifted spirits by saying the orca are probably having a rally right now too.

“I hope this ripples out,” Kayah said, “like my dad always says, like a pebble in a pond to the community, to the city to the world. Thank you for being there to have your heart connected to the land and water and to be here with us.”

The Tsleil-Waututh Nation have shown again and again that strength is built by inviting people in. After the ceremony, we were invited to a feast of salmon and bannock in their Community Center where 16 long tables were set up with food for over 100. Rueben George once again extended the Nation’s hospitality and passed the mic to a lineup of Indigenous leaders starting with Grand Chief Stewart Phillip who used his time to speak of his love and gratitude for his wife, Joan Phillip, who the day before was elected as BC NDP MLA for the Vancouver Mount Pleasant with a record 70 percent of the vote, becoming the second Indigenous woman to be elected as an MLA and the first to be elected on her own territories.

The feast closed with a soaring song led by Rueben on his drum, his son Cedar singing with resonant power and the George family standing and singing together. Their oral history tells that the Tsleil-Waututh Nation numbered over 10,000 before contact and shrank to under 100 over the years of colonization. They number 600+ today.

“We are small, but we are mighty. We took on the oil giant Kinder Morgan and we won,” said Rueben.

Few could have predicted that on the same day of their victory in court, the federal government would buy the Trans Mountain Expansion Project. Their fight continues and as Kayah George said to the crowd, “I remember when there was just a handful of people and now thousands have come out. Someday we can say we fought our hardest and we won. That’s what’s going to happen.”

TMX is not a done deal, and we are not giving up. Stay tuned for updates on this important initiative, and we invite you to visit twnsacredtrust.ca to learn more about how to paddle together.

Featured image by Mya Van Woudenberg.