How a Hummingbird & A Small Group of Activists Stopped the TMX
Q&A: CATHERINE HEMBLING
WORDS & PHOTOGRAPHS BY: ASALAH YOUSSEF
A couple weeks back I was scrolling on Instagram and came across a post about how a hummingbird stopped the construction of the Trans Mountain Pipeline. There was just so much beauty in that post; how such a small being had the power to stop something so big and layered right in its tracks. After doing some more research, I found an organization called “Protect the Planet Stop TMX” and found out they were doing volunteer-run guided tours to one of the activist tree sits at the New Westminster construction site. In the Facebook event description it mentioned how they talk about the story of the hummingbird. I was immediately drawn in. The event began at 12pm and I was sitting at my dining table reading about it at 1pm. Nonetheless, I took the chance and made my way to the site hoping someone kind enough would be willing to share the story. Well, I lucked out and met the kindest human, Catherine (a volunteer with Protect the Planet Stop TMX) who was willing to take me on a walk to the tree-sit so I could learn more about their efforts and photograph the beauty that is being endangered.
And the story begins….
Could you give me a little background of your journey with activism and why you are standing against the Trans Mountain Pipeline?
I grew up on the North Shore, before there were public swimming pools! I learned to swim in the Burrard Inlet. My parents (and grand-parents) were very "outdoorsy" people, so I walked, spent summers at the beach, hiked, skied, picked berries all over the mountains very early and grew very familiar with the trees, flowers, birds thanks to my Mum's interests in naming everything! I think that post World War II many people found healing in the out-of-doors....and there were fewer city attractions and addictions!
Later at UBC I joined the Varsity Outdoor Club, where I learned to be more expert, in the company of peers who became lifelong friends. So, I have an association of wilderness with rich, reliable companionship. Later, as a young stay at home mum, I became a docent at the Vancouver Aquarium. I was introduced to the beauty and richness below the surface of Burrard Inlet. Later again, I learned to kayak, and about the same time, to meditate. As I outgrew rigorous long haul kayak trips, and opted for shorter, more gentle paddles, I came to recognize that sitting still, resting with my paddle across the boat, being rocked by the waves of Indian Arm, was the same experience I had in deep, healing meditation.
When the first talk came up of expanding the pipeline and terminating it on Burrard Inlet I was very alert to all the discussion. I could not bear the thought of contamination and destruction of the waters. I attended rallies, talks, open houses by the pipeline company, supported friends who made formal presentations, wrote letters, signed petitions, protested outside MP's offices, and it became obvious that though we were many in opposition to the pipeline, the decision to build had been made, and the hearings were just window dressing. The conditions required to present at hearings were infamously narrow, and the panel members did not take notes, and would not accept most written submissions. It was very disillusioning. I grew increasingly angry and frustrated. I had already witnessed climate change as receding glaciers in the mountains of Whistler and the Rockies. I was outraged that from the start, that the conditions set by the Harper government, for allowable carbon to the atmosphere did not include the "downstream" burning of it, once it was sold offshore, only what happened during production, here in Canada.....not to mention infuriated that what goes into the pipeline is referred to as "energy" instead of what it is: diluted bitumen, with the consistency of road tar, diluted with among other things, benzene, the worst carcinogen going!!!
But I "knew", from my meditation practise, and from psychology, that disillusionment and outrage were not good states for my health! I stumbled on a meditation group that met monthly at the Watch House on Burnaby Mountain. I thought that at least I could have some moments of calm around all of this!!! And from there, I became a member of the Prayer Circle of StopTMX. (Trans Mountain Expansion)
How are you involved with Protect the Planet Stop TMX?
My involvement in ‘Protect the Planet Stop TMX’ is as a member of the Prayer Circle, where I am one of four potential arrestees in non-violent actions. We gather as a group of 6 to 20 for meditation/prayer (by Zoom, and sometimes at various sites, well distanced), every other Saturday. I'm also a member of the Treesit Support Team. Here, with a friend, I bring food to the Tree-sit every Wednesday. I have roped in another friend to do the cooking....I am also a member, on the same day, of an "Intelligence" group that provides information of changes on specifically assigned parts of the line, so I get to walk in the woods, create trails, hear birds, see the seasons change, take photos, explore, just as I did as a kid!!! I love that! And it has become an essential part of maintaining my mental health during Covid.
What impact does the pipeline have on the local ecosystems?
Tons - too many effects to list. One specific one is silting and contamination of creeks running into the Brunette River, which has been restored in the last 40 years from an industrial sewer to a four species salmon bearing river by the work of hundreds of volunteers. The story of that is beautifully documented by "The Return '', a prize winning doc. by local (East Van) filmmaker Marina Dodis. The effects of the pipeline are from exacerbating climate change, to fire at the tank farm, (SFU has no safe exit), causing wide spreading of carcinogenic smoke from the diluent, to indirectly exterminating southern resident killer whales in an unrecoverable dilbit spill, to killing the endangered Nooksack Dace in the Brunette River.
Pictured: Catherine points at a pile of trees that were felled to make room for the construction of the Trans Mountain Pipeline.
Pictured: The Brunette River which is home to a vital salmon habitat is at risk of spills and contamination.
Pictured: Catherine points to the hazelnut tree up above.
As we made our way to the tree-sit, I couldn't help but notice the richness of diversity. There was an abundance of variety in the plant species that all contribute to the ecosystem in unique ways.
How does the organization work with and support local First Nations in the movement against the pipeline?
We have ongoing support and participation in ceremonies from the Mountain Protectors, specifically Stacey Galagher and Jim Leyden, both now awaiting appeals on (2nd) conviction of breaking the 2018 court injunction. So now we go to their court dates.....discouragingly and systemically racist, and never covered by mainstream press. We communicate all our actions to Qayqayt First Nation, whose land it is on, and receive their moral support, but they are a small group, deeply preoccupied with federal negotiations to get a land base. They are the only Indigenous nation without a reserve in Canada. We honour the fact of unceded territory at every gathering. We support the Braided Warriors, and receive support from them in our non-violent actions.
The pipeline is an environmental disaster, but it also is so much more than that. The building of the pipeline is a continual action of colonial violence towards the land and Indigenous peoples. Despite not having consent from local host nations and facing opposition from Indigenous land protectors, the route will run through many reserves threatening their water sources, endangering the well-being of the community and destructing their traditional food source. The construction of pipeline has also been linked to missing and murdered Indigenous women. Standing against the pipeline, means advocating for Indigenous land sovereignty.
Indigenous Land Protectors against TMX to Support:
After walking for a while through the forested path, we arrived at this small clearing. Before entering it Catherine paused and uttered "story time". She begins sharing the story of the hummingbird...
TMX was actively cutting trees and clearing vegetation, as shown above with the stump in this area until the Community Nest Finding Network noticed a large number hummingbird nests. With the findings of the nests, Environment and Climate Change Canada ordered a halt to construction of the Trans Mountain until the end of bird nesting season. Although removal of trees and construction is paused at the moment, once nesting season terminates, the chainsaws and bulldozers will be back. The hummingbirds are symbols of the habitat loss that is and will take place with the building of the pipeline. 'Protect the Planet Stop TMX' activists are doing what they can to continue actively stopping construction, and one of the main ways of doing so is through their 24/7 tree sit in.
Hummingbirds are a symbol of wisdom and courage in some Indigenous cultures. The hummingbirds that are actively stopping construction constantly reminds me of the beautiful story "The Flight of the Hummingbird" about how a small hummingbird dealt with a mighty forest fire which originates from the Quechuan people of present-day Ecuador. Watch the story here.
After hearing about the hummingbird story, we continued making our way to the tree which an activist is occupying. Along the path, we were continuously greeted with more beauty...
We arrived at the tree top camp which activists have been occupying on a rotational basis 24/7 for over 150 days, successfully blocking TMX from tree felling near by.
Pictured: Tim Takaro, a professor of Health Sciences at SFU stands atop tree camp.
How can folks get involved?
We are opening our arms!!!
Support the TreeSitters
Bring food, take a tour, maybe climb on up yourself? email@example.com
Adopt a Pipeline
Join the campaign to monitor Trans Mountain on the ground. They break laws: we report it. firstname.lastname@example.org
Interfaith Direct Action Group Meets regularly outside for prayer, ceremony, song and action: email@example.com
Community Nest Finding Network
Monitoring habitat and protecting nests: CommunityNestFindingNetwork@gmail.com
"We need a lot of people doing a little bit at a time."
I would like to acknowledge that the land that I walked upon and photographed is the traditional and unceded territory of the Halq'eméylem speaking Coast Salish peoples. The people of this land which also includes nations such as the Qayqayt, qʼwa:n̓ƛʼən̓ (Kwantlen), Katzie, kwikwəƛw̓əm (Kwikwetlem), xwməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Stó:lō, sc̓əwaθn məsteyəxw (Tsawwassen), and Tsleil-Waututh are the original caretakers of the land and continue to steward today.