‘This is not Canada’: inside the Tsilhqot’in Nation’s battle against Taseko Mines

A proposed copper and gold mine has been rejected twice by the federal government for its impacts on Fish Lake, an area considered sacred by the Tsilhqot’in. But B.C.’s mining laws allow the company to move ahead with exploration work anyway. That doesn’t square with Tsilhqot’in law and the community says it won’t back down

Image result for the narwhal: ‘This is not Canada’: inside the Tsilhqot’in Nation’s battle against Taseko Mines
Xeni Gwet’in Chief Jimmy Lulua sits in a pit house built as part of the Xeni Gwet’in traditional village near the shores of Chilko Lake in the Nemiah Valley. Photo: Louis Bockner / The Narwhal

The brand-new, 21-foot Highfield boat, bought by Xeni Gwet’in First Nation to enforce Tsilhqot’in laws on Chilko Lake, docks at the pebble beach on a small island and Chief Jimmy Lulua dives in.

Chilko Lake Louis Bockner Taseko New Prosperity Tsilhqot’in Nation
Where the road through the Nemiah Valley in Tsilhqot’in territory ends, Chilko Lake begins. The mountains that rise from its shores offer a stark contrast to the open landscape of the Xeni Gwet’in traditional territory. Photo: Louis Bockner / The Narwhal

A quick dry-off and Lulua is ready to give a history lesson.

“We have always owned this land. Everywhere you look belongs to us. The land is who we are as Tsilhqot’in people. We say we are people of the river, people of the blue water,” he said.

“This is not B.C., this is not Canada. The jurisdiction is ours,” he said.

Chief Jimmy Lulua of the Xeni Gwet'in Louis Bockner Taseko New Prosperity Tsilhqot’in Nation
Chief Jimmy Lulua of the Xeni Gwet’in was elected in a 2018 landslide victory and is continuing the band’s decades-long fight against Taseko Mines’ proposed New Prosperity Mine at Fish Lake. Photo: Louis Bockner / The Narwhal

Neither is it the Wild West, Lulua emphasized and, as Tsilhqot’in communities master the complexities of writing laws and generating revenue, they are also figuring out how to control activities in a vast territory that, for the first time in Canadian history, has been legally acknowledged as belonging to Indigenous people who have used the land for thousands of years.

In a precedent-setting 2014 decision, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled that the Tsilhqot’in Nation held Aboriginal title to almost 1,800 kilometres of land in central B.C., southwest of Williams Lake. The title land covers the Nemiah Valley and stretches north into the Brittany Triangle, along the Chilko River and part of Chilko Lake. That means the Tsilhqot’in Nation, made up of six communities including Xeni Gwet’in, has the right to exclusive use and control of the land.

Dezine Studio Tsilhqot'in Nation New Prosperity Taseko Fish LakeIn 2014 the Tsilhqot’in won a 25-year legal battle when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the nation held Aboriginal title to almost 1,800 kilometres of land in central B.C. A larger area has been legally declared as a place where Tsilqot’in have rights to hunt, trap, fish and trade. Taseko Mines’ proposed New Prosperity mine is within this larger rights area, and also within an area the Tsilqot’in delcared as a tribal park in 2014. Map: Dezine Studio / The Narwhal

A larger area claimed by the First Nation, including Dasiqox Tribal Park, has been legally declared as Tsilhqot’in rights land, giving the right to hunt, trap, fish and trade. But, it remains a grey area where rules can be unclear.

The rights land includes Fish Lake, known as Teztan Biny, an area of profound cultural and spiritual significance, and ground zero for an almost 30-year fight against Taseko Mines Ltd.. That fight is reigniting as the mining company pushes to conduct extensive explorations while the Tsilhqot’in Nation remains adamant that Taseko equipment will not be allowed into the territory. MORE

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Supreme Court rejects Tsilhqot’in appeal in Taseko mine case

The Tsilhqot’in Nation calls mine exploration a violation of human rights


First Nations protest Taseko Mines outside of federal court in Vancouver in 2017. (CBC)

 

Indigenous guardians turn to their laws to protect the coast

To care, you must be connected

Jonas Prevost is worried about the younger generations’ addiction to technology. He said they think they’re connected through social media, but they’re often disconnected from everything around them. Photo by Emilee Gilpin

Twenty-four-year-old Jonas Prevost doesn’t own a cellphone. He has some social media accounts, but says he doesn’t use them, and he spends most of his time in the forests on Haida Gwaii.

He said if someone wants to get hold of him, they’ll have to just walk to his house in the village, see if his truck is in the driveway and knock on the door.

Prevost lives in Masset, one of two Haida communities on Haida Gwaii, located 100 kilometers west of the northern coast of British Columbia. About 800 people live in Masset.

Haida Gwaii is an isolated group of more than 200 islands, with a total landmass of about 10,000 square kilometres.

The Haida people have lived here for at least 14,000 years — probably longer.

Prevost works for the Council of the Haida Nation, doing “cultural feature identification surveys,” far from cell service, looking for medicinal plants, old village sites, canoe runs and collecting data, providing further evidence that his people have always been out on their territories, using “every last bit of it.”

“I don’t use Instagram, Facebook or all those things people have that make them stare at a screen for hours a day. Every day, I’m in the forest. We start our day with a coffee and safety briefing, then we’re out the door and don’t come back to the cabin till the day is done,” Prevost told National Observer in April.

“Everything you need is on your back. You can’t Google anything out there. If something goes wrong, you need to have the skills, self-reliance and confidence to be OK.”

Prevost is also an Indigenous guardian, which means he’s one of a number of people who monitor, survey, preserve and protect their homelands, upholding the stewardship responsibilities of their nation, and the governing structures that exist within their nation. While Canadians may be more familiar with the role of a park ranger or conservation officer, guardians are first and foremost accountable to their governing structures, ones that have mostly effectively managed and preserved lands and waters for thousands of years.

Indigenous guardians are on the front lines of a battle between unfettered development and sustainability. They strive to reconcile the differences between their own Indigenous laws, values and associated responsibilities, and the policies and practices of settler societies. MORE

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National Observer Special Report: First Nations Forward

 

 

Blood Tribe wins massive land claim battle in Federal Court

Alberta First Nation argued reserve should have spread into Cardston, Waterton Lakes National Park


The Blood Tribe’s reserve is the largest in Canada, stretching 1,400 square kilometres across southern Alberta. It’s bigger than the cities of Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal combined. (CBC)

Southern Alberta’s Blood Tribe, the country’s largest reserve, has won part of its 40-year land claim battle against the federal government.

On Wednesday, a Federal Court judge ruled in favour of the Blood Tribe, finding that Canada shortchanged the band when the boundaries were drawn as part of 1877’s Treaty 7.

The reserve stretches 1,400 square kilometres across the southwestern Alberta prairie, from west of Lethbridge and south to Cardston.

Justice Russel Zinn considered evidence including century-old government reports and maps, handwritten letters and oral history from Indigenous elders. In 2016, Phase 1 of the trial began on the Blood Reserve with elders giving an oral history of the First Nation.

Although Zinn ruled the Blood Tribe should have been more than 160 square miles larger than its current size, he denied the band’s bid to have its boundaries include specific land “between the rivers to the mountains.”

That territory would have included everything from the St. Mary River in the east all the way to the Waterton River in the west, and south to the U.S. border.

Lawyers for the First Nation also argued the town of Cardston and part of Waterton Lakes National Park should be included in its territory, but that part of the claim was rejected by Zinn.

Zinn did find that the band did not get all of the land promised by Canada, which used a formula to calculate how much territory it should get based on population. The judge found the Blood Tribe had a bigger population than what the government suggested and was entitled to more land as a result.

In a 205-page written decision, Zinn ruled Canada was in breach of Treaty 7 and that the Blood Tribe was entitled to 710 square miles of land. The reserve is currently 547.5 square miles.

“Canada is liable to the Blood Tribe for this breach of treaty,” wrote Zinn.

A separate hearing will now be scheduled to address compensation for the First Nation. MORE

Trans Mountain consultation approach ‘fatally flawed’ even with extension, says First Nations leader

The Trudeau government is in a clear conflict of interest as owners of the TransMountain pipeline and their duty to consult with the traditional legitimate title holders. Expect litigation and more delay.

‘Extending the timeline doesn’t address all these issues and approach to consultation,’ says Judy Wilson


Kukpi7 Judy Wilson, elected leader of the Neskonlith band and a member of the executive branch of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau critical of the consultation process on the Trans Mountain pipeline. (Chantelle Bellrichard/CBC)

Even if the time period for consultation with Indigenous groups over the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline is extended by a few weeks, “it still doesn’t make up for the approach and the flawed way the consultations are being done,” says one B.C. First Nations leader.

Kukpi7 Judy Wilson, elected leader of the Neskonlith band and a member of the executive branch of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier this week in which she described the consultation process as “fatally flawed” and detailed several critiques of the process that’s currently underway.

Amarjeet Sohi, Minister of Natural Resources, announced Thursday the consultation timeframe would be extended by a month, based on requests from Indigenous groups and advice from former Supreme Court of Canada justice Frank Iacobucci who is leading the government’s efforts on consultation for the proposed expansion.

“Extending the timeline doesn’t address all these issues and approach to consultation,” said Wilson.

Among her criticisms is that Canada is in a “clear conflict-of-interest” when it comes to fulfilling its obligations to Indigenous groups, especially since it purchased the project from Kinder Morgan.

“As pipeline owners, they have a constant bias now because they’re looking at the interest of the pipeline as a national interest versus their Crown role for consultation to our Indigenous Peoples,” said Wilson in an interview Thursday.

She is also critical of the consultation process itself, because “it’s still bypassing our proper title holders, who are our people … they’re relying mainly on the band construct, which the federal government created,” she said.

MORE

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IDLE NO MORE CO-FOUNDER FACES TRIAL FOR PROTECTING ANCESTRAL LAND

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On February 26, 2017, a Saskatchewan Parks officer issued a warning to Idle No More co-founder Sylvia McAdam (Saysewahum) and her brother Kurtis McAdam (Saysewahum). The warning advised them to vacate their ancestral homelands, land that their family has lived on since before European encroachment and land that was promised to their relations during Treaty 6 negotiations.

Sylvia and Kurtis did not comply with the order and now must stand trial for contravening Section 25(1) of the Parks Act. Both Sylvia and Kurtis face fines and the possibility of imprisonment if convicted.

Idle No More and Defenders of the Lands stand in solidarity with Sylvia McAdam (Saysewahum) and Kurtis McAdam (Saysewahum). We insist that Canada, including the province of Saskatchewan, adopt Call to Action 45 (i) of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Report—that is “to repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius.”

At the heart of this legal battle is the Doctrine of Discovery. The Canadian government, including the provinces and territories, have, since the creation of Canada and the 1867 Canadian Constitution Act, assumed control over Indigenous lands. MORE

First Nations in Canada Are Demanding Property Rights

Changing or abolishing the Indian Act in order to allow private land ownership may seem like a logical solution, but it’s not without its criticisms.


A boy plays on a broken-down RV on the Cote First Nation, near the town of Kamsack, Saskatchewan. Zachary Prong/Reuters

Currently, in southern Manitoba’s Sandy Bay First Nation—a place where winter temperatures often dip below -40 F—people are living in rat-infested homes without heat or reliable electricityRampant mold in northern Ontario’s Cat Lake First Nation is seriously damaging people’s health. In Attawapiskat, some people live in uninsulated sheds. Neskantaga First Nation has had a boil-water advisory for 25 years. In Nunavut, tuberculosis infection rates among Inuit are 26 times the national average due to overcrowded housing. Most people can’t afford to do better; 80 percent of reserves have median incomes below Canada’s poverty line.

Not all Indigenous people in Canada live on reserves; many have separate land treaties and settlement agreements, while others have yet to reclaim their land. Still, housing shortages are a common problem across most First Nations, Métis, and Inuit territories. This article speaks mainly about First Nations reserves.

Changing, or abolishing, the Indian Act in order to allow land ownership may seem like a logical solution for much of the First Nations housing crisis—but it’s not without its criticisms, either.

Many Indigenous people believe that private ownership brings with it a looming threat of foreclosure, which could ultimately chip away at Indigenous territories and rights. It could also disrupt the communal spirit of many communities. MORE

 

Jody Wilson-Raybould and the paradox of reconciliation in Canada

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Hayden King is Anishinaabe from Beausoleil First Nation on Gchi’mnissing in Huronia, Ontario. He is the Executive Director of Yellowhead Institute, based in the Faculty of Arts at Ryerson University.

…At the end of her meticulous recounting of what she called “inappropriate” pressure her colleagues applied in an effort to defer SNC-Lavalin’s prosecution, Ms. Wilson-Raybould linked these two threads: “my understanding of the rule of law has been shaped by my experience as an Indigenous person and leader. The history of Crown-Indigenous relations in this country includes a history of the rule of law not being respected … And I have seen the negative impacts for freedom, equality, and a just society this can have firsthand.”

Knowing these dynamics better than most, and despite any of her efforts, Ms. Wilson-Raybould has been a part of a government responsible for perpetuating lack of respect for the rule of law, in this case in relation to Indigenous issues. How can all of this be reconciled? MORE

Earlier this year, in response to widespread outrage, “rule of law” was official government messaging when the RCMP served a pipeline company’s injunction in Uni’stot’en territory, on lands the clan has not agreed to share in a treaty (what the Supreme Court calls “title” lands). From Oka, through Ipperwash, Caledonia, Elsipogtog, and two dozen other examples of conflict over land, the rule of law is a prime-ministerial invocation that twists the law.

On criminal justice, the Supreme Court has demanded that the over-incarceration of Indigenous peoples be addressed with unique sentencing protocols known as the Gladue Principle. The directive is overwhelmingly ignored by lower courts, provincial and federal officials, and incarceration rates continue to rise.

Law after law dating back to the Gradual Civilization Act in the mid-1850s have discriminated against Indigenous women. Canada has argued in court that the Charter of Rights and Freedoms doesn’t apply to First Nation women. Indeed, there is still gender discrimination in the Indian Act.

Indigenous children are somehow invisible to the rule of law, too. Last week the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal issued its seventh non-compliance order against Canada for failing to fully and completely end discriminatory policies.

Late last year, in a speech to First Nation leaders in B.C., and on the eve of her demotion to Veterans Affairs, Ms. Wilson-Raybould called out those among us who have little faith in Canadian institutions and laws. These individuals, she said, “in the name of upholding Indigenous rights, critically oppose almost any effort to change [within the Canadian constitutional framework].” This is an apt characterization, though to be fair, the heretics have ample evidence of corrupt institutions on their side. MORE

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Wilson-Raybould’s place in Liberal party at risk after SNC-Lavalin testimony

NEB ruling sparks new vows to stop the Trans Mountain pipeline


Grand Chief Stewart Phillip shown Oct. 23, 2018. Photo by Michael Ruffolo

Indigenous leaders and environmental groups vowed the Trans Mountain pipeline would never be built after the National Energy Board issued a second go-ahead to the federal government Friday.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, said it’s “ludicrous” that economic interests are considered more important than killer whales.

‘In this country, jobs are more important than justice.’ – Grand Chief Stewart Phillip @UBCIC #TransMountain #pipeline #NEB #CdnPoli

“Indigenous people are not going to stand idly by and watch the destruction of the sacred killer whale population along the coast of B.C.,” Chief Philip vowed. “The thought of killer whales disappearing … is absolutely unthinkable.” MORE

Who controls Canada’s indigenous lands?

The courts in Canada are grappling with a decision central to the relationship between Canadian and traditional indigenous laws.

Chief Na'Moks on left, quote "We are hereditary chiefs..." on right.

The dispute involves the construction of a multi-billion dollar gas pipeline in the province of British Columbia.

It’s a project which has exposed a rift between elected and hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en people, who disagree about whether to allow the pipeline to be built through traditional lands.

The elected councils have jurisdiction within the boundaries of the reservations to administer federal government legislation, but not the wider traditional territory which the pipeline would pass through.

The hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en nation are stewards and protecters of 22,000 square km (13,670 square miles) of traditional territory, outside the reservations.

They are concerned about the impact of the project on their land and natural resources. SOURCE

Taseko Mines tells court Ottawa erred in rejecting New Prosperity mine

The company argues the project — twice-rejected at the federal level and opposed by the Tsilhqot’in First Nation — was denied based on ‘invalid’ toxic water seepage estimates

Image result for Taseko Mines tells court Ottawa erred in rejecting New Prosperity mine

Taskeo Mines, proponent of the embattled New Prosperity mine — a $1.5-billion open-pit gold and copper mine, that has been rejected twice by the federal government — is back in court once again.

The decades-long battle to build a mine in the sacred territory of the Tsilhqot’in First Nation is entering a new chapter as Taseko appeals to a federal court to revive an application for judicial review rejected by a court tribunal.

The application, filed in 2017, claimed the federal government erred in accepting information from Natural Resource Canada regarding the seepage rate of toxic water from the proposed New Prosperity mine and significant environmental threats to Fish Lake and Wasp Lake. MORE