No food, no water: Indigenous protesters mount hunger strike against Trans Mountain

Inspired by jailed demonstrators, TMX opponent prays on Burnaby Mountain

Rain Flinn-Neeposh spent the weekend in silent, hungry prayer mere metres from the clamour of  Trans Mountain excavators.

The Abbotsford-based artist and student mounted a four-day hunger strike near the Watch House, which has stood over the controversial pipeline’s right-of-way on Burnaby Mountain since spring 2018. 

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Flinn-Neeposh, who is two-spirit and Cree, said the demonstration was inspired by the recent sentencing of pipeline protesters convicted of violating an injunction last summer, including the poet Rita Wong, who was given 28 days in jail. 

“To use jail time to punish peaceful protesters in a time of climate emergency, it struck me a lot as using political prisoners,” he said. “To see that kind of unfairness in our own court here in B.C., I felt that if there was anything that I could do, that maybe I could sacrifice some time, so I sacrificed four days. 

“As powerless as we are to stop this, we felt that doing something quiet and peaceful that stood in solidarity with the people who have already been punished would be the best way to go, rather than rallying and rioting and things like that. This is the best way we knew how to show we are with them.”

Flinn-Neeposh said the hunger strike was a form of vision fast, an Indigenous “ceremony for clarity” in which someone sequesters themself without food or water and prays, waiting for a vision to come.   

But the setting made it difficult to have a vision, he said.

“As you can hear in the background, the men are still digging. They're still cutting trees down and it's been at a break-neck speed.”

Flinn-Neeposh and fellow hunger-striker Cynthia Myran say they spent two of three nights outside and one inside the wooden Watch House when it rained. 

By Monday morning, Flinn-Neeposh was tired, but no longer feeling hungry. 

“There's a point in the fast when your body realizes that you're not going to give it food and it stops feeling hungry and it starts feeling tired. And that's it – standing up or sitting up is a chore.”

Flinn-Neeposh was readying to break his fast after a sweat-lodge ceremony in North Vancouver Monday morning. But that won’t be the end of this latest protest against the controversial expansion the the pipeline. 

More protesters would be “tagging out” Flinn-Neeposh and Myran at the sweat and starting their own four-day hunger strike. The pipeline opponents hope to keep a chain of hunger strikers going “as long as we can,” Flinn-Neeposh said. 

The federal government recently reapproved the project, but the Federal Court of Appeal also agreed to hear new appeals of that decision. The Trans Mountain saga promises to continue, as the country heads into a federal election Oct. 21.  

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