Grand Chief Stewart Phillip may have stepped down as chief of the Penticton Indian Band, but that doesn’t mean he has slowed down his political activities.
Now in his 16th year as president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, Phillip continues to speak out on a number of issues affecting the lives of First Nations and indigenous peoples throughout the province. Currently, that’s the Kinder Morgan pipeline and that company’s latest move to take legal action against protestors.
“We have been quite active and outspoken in our efforts to draw public attention to the enormous risks attached to the Kinder Morgan pipeline project,” said Stewart, who was one of the key speakers at a rally last week in support of the five activists charged. Neither he, nor the UBCIC, were named in the lawsuit, according to Stewart, though there are a number of issues.
“First of all, we are on the public record being very outspoken in opposition to this and supporting those First Nations that are members of our organization that are in opposition,” said Stewart, who also attended a major rally at Burnaby Mountain Park in September to protest Kinder Morgan’s plans to run their pipeline through the urban green space.
“The issue is intensifying insofar as Kinder Morgan slapping protestors with thousand page documents by email, in our view a very ham-fisted, heavy-handed approach to intimidate those voices that are expressing public concern about the risks attached to this proposal and the use of public parkland to further their objectives,” said Stewart.
Stewart said he doesn’t see any good way to make the Kinder Morgan proposal work, citing concerns about the reliability of Kinder-Morgan’s existing infrastructure, which is 60 years old and the safety of the proposal to triple it’s capacity.
“It would be devastating if there was a tanker spill in Vancouver, pretty much wipe it out. from being a tourist destination,” said Stewart. After years of activism, Stewart said he has no plans to slow down.
“It becomes less a matter of what you do in terms of a job, it becomes a matter of who you are,” he said. “I have pretty much committed my life’s work to speaking out in defence of our indigenous rights, land rights and human rights and will continue doing that as long as I am here, regardless of whether I continue to be the president of the UBCIC. We have to fight the battles that need to be fought and certainly this is one of them.”
Stewart said the issue of climate change and global warming is a real threat, and he is concerned about what the future holds for his 14 grandchildren and in terms of the environment.
“We have to undertake these challenges and speak out, be very vocal and visible in our opposition to these proposals that are driven by corporate greed,” said Stewart. “As long as I am still on the right side of the grass, I will be doing this kind of work.”