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Indigenous land defenders take fight against TC Energy to Ottawa

A delegation of Indigenous land defenders visited Ottawa in October to speak out against TC Energy pipeline projects. Salvador Aparicio Olvera, an Otomi land defender who opposes the Tuxpan-Tula pipeline, traveled from Mexico to join Chief Na’Moks and Eve Saint, Wet’suwet’en land defenders who oppose the Coastal GasLink pipeline. Both projects run through Indigenous territory and face significant local resistance.

Delegates at the University of Ottawa. Left to right: Eve Saint, Chief Na’Moks, Salvador Aparicio Olvera, Anna Zalik, Eliana Acosta Márquez, and translator Arelis Medina.

TC Energy (formerly TransCanada) is a Canadian company with projects throughout North America. Its Tuxpan-Tula gas pipeline, currently under construction, will cross the lands of Otomi, Nahua, Totonac, Tepehua and mestizo people in the Mexican states of Veracruz, Puebla and Hidalgo. Its Coastal GasLink pipeline, which is built but not yet operational, crosses Wet’suwet’en territory in British Columbia. Indigenous land defenders argue that both projects will harm the environment, people and Indigenous ways of life. 

Environmental infractions in the construction of Coastal GasLink have already led to over $800 million in fines for TC’s subsidiary carrying out the project. The Tuxpan-Tula project, meanwhile, has been stalled by lawsuits filed by Indigenous groups, who allege illegalities including a failure to carry out consultation.

While in Ottawa the delegates, accompanied by Above Ground and Peace Brigades International, brought their grievances to a major financier of TC Energy: Export Development Canada (EDC). EDC issued at least $1 billion in public financing to TC Energy between 2001 and 2020. This included a loan of up to $500-million for Coastal GasLink, two financing transactions in Mexico and multiple loans for “general corporate purposes.” 

They also met with representatives of the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) and Global Affairs Canada (GAC), urging better oversight of TC Energy’s international activities.

At a public event at the University of Ottawa,1The event was made possible with financial support from the University of Ottawa’s Laboratory for Engaged Research, its Research Centre on the Future of Cities, and the UOttawa-ULyon Joint Research Chair on Urban Anthropocene. the delegates recounted facing similar tactics allegedly used by the company and governments to push through the projects. They described police intimidation and harassment, challenges to their claims of indigeneity and sovereignty, and attempts to justify the pipelines on grounds of national energy security. 

Salvador Aparicio Olvera spoke about the importance of protecting life – including the life of people, land and water – and called pipeline projects that threaten this life “death projects” (proyectos de muerte). Chief Na’Moks and Eve Saint echoed the importance of protecting Indigenous ways of life, which includes protecting the land and water.

This 2023 short film made by activists in Puebla, Mexico explains the fight against the Tuxpan-Tula pipeline. It was screened at the public talk in Ottawa on October 16, 2023.

The land defenders said that uniting in resistance to these projects offered strategic and motivational support for their ongoing efforts. They stressed the importance of respect for Indigenous sovereignty and emphasized how this cannot be trumped by industry or government interests.  As Chief Na’Moks expressed on multiple occasions regarding the purpose of participating in this delegation, “We want you to see that we are human.”

This 2019 film documents the Wet’suwet’en struggle against the Coastal GasLink pipeline, and was also screened at the talk in Ottawa.