Meet the radical oil pipeline opposer who (quietly) owns a gas station

EXCLUSIVE: Eco-activist group Greenpeace invested in a protest scheme to sow the image of indigenous resistance to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion. New revelations deal the credibility of Kanahus Manuel, the militant face of Tiny House Warriors, and Greenpeace, a serious blow, claims Stewart Muir.

esso-neskonlith.jpgKamloops-area indigenous activist Kanahus Manuel is from the local Neskonlith First Nation. Over the past couple of years, she has become the figurehead of a Greenpeace-driven activist campaign called Tiny House Warriors. Tiny House Warriors uses extremist language to fan intolerance over "settlers" and the pipeline, gaining publicity as it deploys small structures it calls "tiny houses" on the right of way of the pipeline expansion.

She is also the owner of a gas station. Yes, that's right. As incredible as it sounds, Kanahus Manuel is a gasoline retailer who opposes an oil pipeline. The gas station in question is located on Highway 1 just west of Chase. It is operated by Esso, and has been in the family since at least the 1990s. The station, which is located on band land, became the centre of controversy over the sale of smuggled cigarettes.

Somehow, the fact of this ownership has escaped wider attention. Until now.

An authoritative local source has revealed to me that the Manuel family, after suffering the loss of Kanahus' father Arthur Manuel in 2017, continues to own the gas station, which is leased out to an operator. The family's ownership of the business is mentioned in his obituary, which ran in the Globe and Mail. 

Gasoline retailers around Kamloops are a short distance from the Kinder Morgan pipeline terminal located in the city. Refined products they sell are manufactured by Canadian refineries in Edmonton. It will strike many as ironic, if not downright hypocritical, that a gas station owner would take an extremist position against the safe movement of gasoline by pipeline. But then, very little is "normal" in the world of Ms. Manuel. In mid-July 2018 she was arrested in Clearwater, north of Kamloops, after the "occupation" of a public campground and vandalism of a highway, in connection with the anti-pipeline crusade. Her social media feeds are full of over-the-top rhetoric railing against the many things she believes are oppressing her. She married a triple murderer who is serving life in a California prison.

And now, because of the Greenhouse-backed Tiny House program, the hydrocarbon heiress is internationally lionized as an anti-pipeline crusader.

Greenpeace is characteristically cagey about how it provides support for such "independent" movements. Western Canadian Greenpeace operative Mike Hudema has written about support strategy and advertising by Greenpeace for Tiny Houses. In this blog post, he shows his unusually deep interest in the project, while carefully avoiding stating the fact that the pipeline corridor comes nowhere near the traditional territory of Ms. Manuel's First Nation. Funds from Greenpeace helped to build the first house, according to The Guardian, "while crowdfunding campaigns enabled the group to easily raise the approximately $5,000 needed to cover the cost of each house." 

It's not difficult to see the purpose of this weird campaign. This breathless profile of Ms Manuel in London-based The Guardian gushes over how the tiny "solar-powered homes will be used to house families in need, and some will likely be set aside to house language and cultural camps." Imagine the soulful stirrings a beaten-down London wage slave reading The Guardian on the Underground and wondering about this heroic indigenous activist doing so much to save the planet, before following the strapped publication's donation link. One can only wonder what disappointment he or she will feel when the full story of Ms Manuel's relationship with hydrocarbons becomes more widely known. 

Ironically, for many British Columbia First Nations, a gas station is a realistic and beneficial way of monetizing rural locations adjacent to major highways. On a recent 5,000-km tour of British Columbia, I encountered First Nations everywhere who are exploring new economic opportunities in energy retailing and transportation, forestry, tourism, and other businesses. I also was reminded, too often, of the poverty trap that many nations face that do not enjoy Ms. Manuel's privileges. 

When I broke news of the gas station angle on my Twitter feed, one reader responded succinctly: "They are using the stage provided by the [pipeline] project to further their political demands. They'll show up anywhere conveniently located where there's enough attention being focused to push for their political goals." I think that's a fair analysis. Two unrelated issues – radical indigenous-rights ideology and the environment – are fused together in the crucible of international eco-activism, creating extra value for Greenpeace. (We see this in salmon farming as well, where indigenous activists stoking hatred of "settlers" have aligned their efforts with longstanding campaigners opposing aquaculture for other reasons.)

The tragedy lies not just in the carelessness of Amsterdam-based Greenpeace in not screening their local "warriors" competently. (I'm giving Greenpeace the benefit of the doubt here - it's possible they knew about the gas station, but couldn't care less. They are that cynical.) It is that the other First Nations, ones that genuinely do care about environmental balance and pathways out of poverty for their people, suffer in silence. These nations have found beneficial ways that are true to their community values and result in benefits to be distributed to their members.

If Manuel and Greenpeace are successful, those accomplishments will not come to fruition. I'm concerned about what this means for the efforts of the majority of First Nations affected by the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion who have beneficially made their peace with the project, finding creative ways to be part of a success story that benefits all Canadians.

I've asked Ms. Manuel to account for these puzzling circumstances. So far there has been no reply but I look forward to updating this blog post when I have more to share.

Stewart Muir, founder and executive director of Resource Works, is directing a documentary series on First Nations in western Canada who are seeking freedom and prosperity through resource opportunities.



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