With the Tsleil-Waututh First Nation, participants at the first Sacred Earth Camp paddle a traditional canoe on the Salish Sea opposite an oil tanker. Submitted photo by Laurel Dykstra

New Westminster Sacred Earth Camp highlights Indigenous land justice

A group of budding young environmental leaders immersed themselves in the eco-justice issues of the lower Fraser Watershed from July 31 to August 13, publicly expressing their opposition to the proposed Kinder Morgan Pipeline expansion project as the first Sacred Earth Camp unfolded in the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster.

Taking place at A Rocha’s Brooksdale farm in South Surrey, B.C. with trips around Coast Salish territory and the lower mainland, the camp aimed to teach youth and young adults about the local bio-region and to help them learn the spiritual and practical skills necessary to become long-term leaders for environmental justice.

Sacred Earth Camp is a project of Salal + Cedar, a new diocesan church plant rooted in the tradition of watershed discipleship. Partial funding came from the national Ministry Investment Fund and the social justice branch of the Primate’s office.

The Rev. Laurel Dykstra, director of the Sacred Earth Camp and priest in charge of Salal + Cedar, noted that the camp was catalyzed by the diocese’s Marks of Mission Champions initiative, in which “youth expressed significant concern about environmental justice, a strong desire to be effective agents of change—and little practical knowledge about how to do that”.

Participants ranged in age from 12 to 23, encompassing settler, Indigenous, and migrant youth. Seven participated in the full two-week program and three took part only in certain activities, while at least 70 other people, from infants to elders, participated in events, community activities, or camp life at some point.

Over the course of the camp, leadership moved from staff members to participants. The first week had a pre-planned schedule centred around the question “What are the issues?” while the second week saw a more flexible format based around the question, “What are the solutions?”

Opposition to Kinder Morgan Pipeline Expansion

Delving into issues from endangered salmon to climate change, participants chose to focus on Indigenous land justice in the form of opposition to the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion project. The proposed expansion would create a twinned pipeline through Burnaby Mountain on Coast Salish territory, nearly tripling the flow of oil from 300,000 barrels per day to 890,000 barrels.

Sacred Earth Camp participants hold signs outside the Kinder Morgan hearings after speaking out against the Trans Mountain expansion project. Submitted photo by Devin Gillan
Sacred Earth Camp participants hold signs outside the Kinder Morgan hearings after speaking out against the Trans Mountain expansion project. Submitted photo by Devin Gillan

Attending public hearings on the pipeline expansion, Sacred Earth Camp participants drew upon lessons from a media literacy skills workshop and wrote and issued a press release outlining their position. They cited concerns about bitumen spills harming local marine life, the need to protect ecosystems sacred to Indigenous people, and the urgency of creating more sustainable energy solutions.

Prior to the hearings on August 11, campers held a prayer vigil in a park near the Kinder Morgan terminal. Dykstra noted that as part of the vigil, the youth made votive candles expressing “their prayers for land and water, their hopes for the future, and their desire to overcome fossil fuel addiction. These burned outside the hearings while the young people gave their testimony.”

While attending the hearings, participants dressed in and wrote signs using the colours of the medicine wheel to represent Indigenous justice and the diversity of voices opposing the project. Some prepared speeches, and all of the campers delivered a spoken-word performance together.

“The youth were extremely well received at the hearings and got some media attention—CBC, BurnabyNOW, Save the Coast,” Dykstra said.

“But they were very disappointed to see their focus on Indigenous land justice changed to a story about church-youth environmentalism,” she added, citing one media outlet that interviewed four youth but “failed to air the words of the one Indigenous youth living in the impacted community.”

Promoting environmental leadership

Throughout the rest of the camp, participants engaged in numerous activities based around environmental stewardship. Each morning, they took part in one of three work areas—farm and garden, conservation and habitat restoration, or meal preparation—while evening offered time for reflection.

Activities during the day included the KAIROS blanket exercise, harvesting and making medicine and food from native plants, hiking on Burnaby Mountain with activists involved in the 2014 anti-pipeline encampment, learning Haida cedar bark weaving, building wilderness survival kits, shoreline clean up, and workshops on writing, poetry, spoken-word performance, and environmental activism.

Venturing outside the farm, participants visited Steveston Cannery Museum, toured Chinatown to learn about the historic relationship of Chinese migrant labour to local industries, viewed the area drinking water reservoir, and floated down Burrard Inlet in the Salish Sea piloting a replica cedar Coast Salish canoe.

Reflecting on the inaugural Sacred Earth Camp, Dykstra indicated a positive reaction among those in attendance.

“The camp was a great success, and there will be more like it in the future.”

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