This story presents the unfiltered voices of Haisla chiefs when they testified at the Northern Gateway Pipeline Joint Review hearings on January 10, 2011, at Kitamaat Village, based on the official transcript. There have been minor edits for clarity.
My name is Ellis Ross. I’m the recently elected Chief Councillor of the Haisla Nation Council back in July of this year.
I have been on council since 2003 as a full-time councillor and I have held a number of different portfolios, including finance, community development, but I have always stuck close to the files that had economic development at its core and, more importantly, aboriginal rights and title at its core.
As a Chief Councillor now, I now sit on basically every portfolio that is under council. So I am responsible for more than just this Enbridge project and there is more happening than just Enbridge.
There is a lot of natural gas industries that wants to come here. There’s a lot of forestry companies that want to come here. All of the spinoffs that are coming from the KM LNG project that want to come here, we’ve also got to deal with those.
We are dealing with land issues, treaty issues. We’re dealing with — this is not — this is one of the priorities, but it’s not just one — it’s not one of the main projects that we have to deal with. We have like 10 main projects we have to deal with.
So I really appreciate the fact that you guys came this far to listen to what our concerns about this project are.
As a Haisla person, I’m born and raised in Kitamaat. I’ve only spent maybe one or two years at most outside that and that was only to search for employment elsewhere and search for training.
And both my parents are — lived in Kitamaat their whole lives off and on in Butedale and other fishing villages. They continue to reside in Kitamaat Village. My dad’s name, hereditary title is Haanatlenok . That is a very important name to remember. We submitted it as evidence, but basically that is the founder of….
So thousands of years ago, that name was — he gave it to himself and it means archer and passed down through the generations, it finally came to my dad. That has a relevance to something I want to talk to you about later on.
Throughout my experience since starting in 2003, I focused on aboriginal rights and title. I read the court cases. I read the summaries. I read Mikisew Cree. I read Haida 1 and Haida 2. I’ve read just about every — I’ve read Gladstone, Sparrow. A lot of that legalese I couldn’t understand, so I bought a dictionary.
That’s how important I think Aboriginal rights and title are to our communities, not just our community, all the First Nation communities, an understanding of what case law means, because it’s basically Canadian courts and provincial courts that actually rule on how the honour of the Crown has to be dealt with in terms — in looking at projects like this.
So I am here to talk about basically our history and our traditional knowledge and my personal experience. I think it is really important for you to hear because right now, we are making history and you are part of our history. Regardless of what happens here in the next 10 years, I’m going to recount to my grandkids what happened here today and the results.
It will become traditional knowledge because, quite frankly, I don’t have traditional knowledge in the same manner as Sammy Robinson does or in the same manner as Henry Amos. I was too young to go up the Kitimat River before the eulachon was wiped out. I missed out in that teaching.
Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of eulachons annually, these are the stories that are passed down to me now. It’s not about this is where you go to fish; this is where your fishing camp is. It’s about this is where it used to be. This is what we used to do. That is my traditional knowledge that has been passed down to me.
And if not that traditional knowledge; it’s reviewing all the assertion letters that council has sent out in the last 40 years in trying to determine what the Haisla Nation goal was.
And it all had a common theme: protect the environment; bring back the environment. It always had that.
But in terms of the Kitimat River and the eulachon run, Henry and Sammy and Rod got to go up the Kitimat River and witness that and they also got the teachings, hands-on teaching on how to do things. Don’t disrupt the environment. Don’t spill any kerosene or gasoline into the river. Don’t litter in the river. Respect not only the eulachon and the river itself, respect your neighbours because once you are done with a fishing spot, you are going to process your eulachon and somebody else is going to move into that spot. So leave it the way you got it.
So as I was telling you, I missed out on all that, and it’s a crime. It’s an absolute crime.
The last story I got from the Kitimat River was my dad with Ray Green Sr. going up there after everybody else gave up on the Kitimat River. They tried to harvest eulachon so they could boil it into eulachon grease, but the end product smelled like effluent coming from the Eurocan Mill, so they thought it was just a product of the water itself. So they went inland a few hundred yards and dug a hole and tried to get the groundwater out of that and try to see if they could boil the eulachons using that. The result was the same.
That is my traditional knowledge. After that, there was no point because a run that estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands of tonnes annually got reduced to maybe 50 individual eulachons per year. And I know that because we’re trying to struggle every year to find eulachon so we can test them for taint. If that’s not a signal to Kitamaat, if not B.C. and not to Canada, something’s wrong. I don’t know what that is.
If that was a commercially viable product, the whole country would have been up in arms demanding some sort of report and accountability from DFO. Nothing. We got nothing. Nobody came to our aid.
So my traditional knowledge is basically trying to listen to these stories
from past council members and elders and make sure that doesn’t happen again.
At the very least, I’d love to try to bring it back.
So I told you about Haanatlenok, the founder of Kitamaat. So he comes to this territory because nobody else would come here. Everybody else is terrified to come to this territory. Why? Because there’s a monster living at the head of the Kitimat River. Everybody knows it so everybody clears away from here, steers away.
Well, Wamis and his hunting party are the only ones brave enough to come here and check it out and they find out it’s not a monster. It’s thousands upon thousands of seagulls all rising in unison every time an eulachon run goes up the river and then landing again to feed on the eulachon. That’s what everybody thought was a monster.
I can’t imagine that. If there’s thousands upon thousands of seagulls doing that at a distance of maybe greater than seven miles viewing it, imagine how much eulachon was in the river that those seagulls are feeding on.
That is my traditional knowledge. That is a shame. So the comments you hear now, “Noosa”, Nuyem, they all come from basically practical experience that was handed down from generation to generation to generation, all the way back to Haanatlenok, the guy that founded Kitamaat.
Now, who am I supposed to look to because that line was broken? Who am I supposed to look to? Who am I supposed to blame? I can’t very well blame my elders. I blame people that signed those permits and authorized those certificates. That’s who I blame. I blame anybody that claimed to be managing that on behalf of Canada or B.C., but all the while bending to corporate interests.
The personal experience I have with the Kitimat River in 2003-2004 was going down to Vancouver to meet with the Minister of Environment. So we were trying to save what was left of the Kitimat River, we were trying to save what was left of the eulachons.
So the pulp and paper mill couldn’t reach its intended targets in terms of effluent dumping and emissions so what was the provincial government’s solution; let’s amend the permit, let’s make it larger so they can reach their targets. They didn’t say anything about making the company reach those targets, fulfill its obligations, they just said let’s make the permit bigger.
Well, we told the provincial government “If that happens, if you do that against our wishes we’re going to court”. The Minister at the time had the gall to put it back to us and say, “Okay, the company has already said that if they’re forced to abide by these permit conditions they most likely will have to close down. How will Haisla feel when you guys are the ones to blame for this pulp mill shutting down, how will you explain that to your people that working inside Eurocan”.
And we said “Go ahead and do it, I’m pretty sure for the six people out of 500 working in Eurocan mill we can find other opportunities for them”. Six people, and you look at every industry in Haisla territory over the years it was always started by Haisla people but they were slowly squeezed out for one reason or another.
And it’s all based on promises that we’ll come in, we’ll give you employment, we won’t affect the environment, we’ll listen to your wishes. Basically saying whatever they could to get their project approved and then guess what, less than 10 years later we find out that it was all a lie; they just said what they could just to get that permit, their certificate, whatever it was.
So I was born in 1965 and by the time I was old enough to start joining the fishing party to go up the Kitimat River by 1975 it was starting to decline. It didn’t take long; it didn’t take long at all. Salmon weren’t far behind it. There’s a reason why that state-of-the-art hatchery was built right beside the Kitimat River not long after. There’s a reason for just about everything that happened to Haisla in the last 60 years and it’s all directly linked to industrial development.
So instead of getting taught how to fish for eulachons, how to process eulachons, how to boil for eulachons, how to collect the right wood for burning for the eulachon pot, how to skim the grease, how to bottle it, no, I’m taught how the government issued permits that took it all away.
And guess what, I’m going to have to pass on what I do here as traditional knowledge to my kids and my grandkids because I’ve witnessed the Kildalo River do the same exact thing, the Kildalo River was not even a fifth the size of the Kitimat River and that’s where I went to harvest eulachons and the year that that disappeared, in the mid eighties, I wanted to cry thinking about what my parents went through and what my grandparents went through, thinking they lost hundreds of thousands of tons of eulachons in the Kitimat River and here I was maybe losing just maybe a couple hundred tons.
The scale of it all is just astounding and that’s just one example of the traditional knowledge that is now becoming part of our history.
In relaying that story to you I really think that Henry Amos’ comments about the federal government’s intervention in this is entirely appropriate because quite frankly he’s worried about this process now. It’s the traditional knowledge where we have on government intervention like that that actually makes Haisla very wary of these types of processes We see it all across Canada; people don’t trust environmental assessments because they can’t see the disconnect between the governments that mandate them and the actual bodies that implement.
So in this instance with all the comments coming from the federal government and the ministers I think Henry was right on, he was right on the money because we’ve seen this example over and over and over in the past 60 years.
The other component of Aboriginal rights and title is the consultation accommodation exercise that we go through. Haisla Nation council and to a secondary point the Haisla people in general are well aware of environmental assessments but we’re more acquainted with the B.C. assessment process than a federal process.
It was there where we learned that technical expertise is absolutely crucial; technical, financial, environmental, it’s not just a question of traditional knowledge. It’s a fine line between environmental issues and Aboriginal rights and title; they’re connected, they’re absolutely connected at the hip.
You cannot talk about a resource like salmon or herring or eulachon without looking at some sort of a scientific study to back you up because nobody really puts emphasis on traditional knowledge. If they did we wouldn’t be where we are right now, we’d still have eulachon stocks.
So my traditional knowledge is basically anything to do seven miles down channel; that’s where my traditional knowledge starts. That’s where I go to crab fish, harvest salmon, harvest seals, cucumbers, cockles — well cockles and clams are more like 10 to 12 miles down channel. Any of you think of that’s connected to the marine resource that’s where my traditional knowledge started, that’s where my teachings began.
Why, because the Douglas harbour here is so polluted, confirmed by scientific reports, nobody here eats the crabs out of Douglas — the harbour here. It was actually sent out in the flyer to community members, over 10-15 years ago, not to eat the crabs out of the harbour
Then they changed that later on, not long after, say, okay, you can eat the crabs but don’t eat the guts because that’s where their contamination is. For the non- First Nations eating the guts out of the crab is the best part out of eating a crab.
The same goes for seals, there’s a tremendous amount of seals there on Minette Bay on the road coming in to the village, tremendous amount. You could feed your family for a year in that stuff but you can’t eat it because you can smell the effluent inside them.
So anything you harvest has got to be away from the effluent, it’s has to be away from it, and the same goes for a seal as what I said about a crab; you eat the skin, the fat, the meat, the marrow, the lungs, the liver, the heart, the flippers, and the delicacy, the intestines.
So you can’t just think about a resource like a salmon or a seal or an eulachon and just think that just at face value that’s what the Haisla are after because, you know, they take the best parts, no they don’t; we were taught to utilize as much of the resources we could at every part of the year.
Even after the spawn is done, for a salmon for instance, perhaps a coho, that’s dead — long dead in November, if you chop through the ice and you dig a coho out of the riverbed it makes good soup. You’ll have to take my word for it because I’ve never tried it but the Elders tell me it’s a delicacy and I just can’t — maybe some day I’ll try it but…
So that’s what I’m really talking about when I talk about Aboriginal rights and title, I’m talking about they go out and harvest the resource like that and feed my family and friends. I’m talking about the ability to make decisions on land use.
That’s the entire reason for case law in the first place, to ensure that Aboriginals had a say. No longer do they get steamrolled, you have to listen. And it can’t be a situation where you just listen to them spew off and vent some steam and just go do whatever it was you planned to do in the first place; it has to be meaningful.
So basically everything that you heard tonight was a pretty sad story on what happened to our resources from people who experienced it firsthand. I didn’t get to experience that, I can only imagine. That’s the best I could do, I can only imagine. Imagine what my stories are going to be like when I have to recount how there are no more kelp beds lining our beaches here. No more kelp beds.
I’ve never seen kelp beds in our territory, I’ve seen it down in the channel, but I’ve never seen them here, so how do I recount that story to my kids? I can’t even begin to explain how thick it was, where it was, I can’t begin to explain to them where my Elders used to go down and collect shellfish right off our front beach here. I can’t do it. It will just be basically second-hand information based on what my Elders tell me, my parents tell me.
Apart from what I do for Council, I had a previous life. I was basically born on the water, literally. I live — my parents have a house down on the waterfront there down by the — our little dock down there. And as soon as I was old enough to pack a five-gallon gas tank, I was old enough to go check the net. I was old enough to go hunting and get taught.
So my teachings were a blend of how to live on the water, how to live in the bush, how to respect animals, how to respect the water. That translated just — into about just about everything I did after that.
I worked for the Department of Fisheries for about three years in the late eighties, walking streams and helping with enforcement. I also did a accrual census for the Department of Fisheries.
I started up a business, hand logging and log salvage with my brothers through the nineties — part of the eighties, part of the nineties. I also did some hand logging with a local hand logger here — out of Kitimat here for a few years, and I also spent the better part of 10 years being the pilot of a charter boat that basically covered off almost every square inch and including beyond Haisla territory, all the way o ut to Surf Inlet outside of our territory to Kitlope and all the other areas in between.
I got a firsthand look at every inch of our territory. The sites were amazing. The amount of killer whales that are out there and sea elephants and sea lions and you name it; it’s out there and I just can’t understand why those sights aren’t right outside my front doorstep any more.
The Elders tell us about how the whales used to come into the harbour here, and for the kids to have to listen to that, imagine that, I gotta confirm it that yes, I’ve seen that. I’ve seen it out in Wright Sound, I’ve seen it on the Surf Inlet. I’ve seen these areas where you can just walk along a beach or dig down and you’ll find clam beds. It’s amazing. So I had that context to imagine what Douglas — the harbour here looked like.
In that past experience I also had about four different incidents on spill response. Working for Department of Fisheries, a Coho creek that crossed underneath Kitimat Highway from Kitimat to Terrace, an excavator that was put down there to deepen the pool so fish could jump into a culvert, the excavator tipped over, dumped all its diesel into this little creek. This little creek’s no wider than eight feet, and you could walk in it with gumboots, it doesn’t even go past your knee. It doesn’t — barely goes out over your ankle.
So I was called in because I was basically low man on the totem pole at the Department of Fisheries office to go there and help place absorbent booms and absorbent pads. This is late eighties. Nobody cares about spill response, nobody — it wasn’t a big issue, not like today, but it was a big issue for DFO because it was in a salmon-bearing creek.
So I went there, and you know what, the only words I can describe what I thought about myself after that is basically useless, helpless, because it didn’t matter what I did. In a creek that small, that accessible, literally, just walk off the highway, there’s nothing I could do to stop that diesel from going further and further down that creek.
So I just basically just stood around. If I saw a drop of diesel pop out, I’d throw an absorbent pad on it, but it was a bit of a joke. It was — I was just basically biding my time until 4 o’clock came around because there’s nothing you can do. There’s nothing I could do then.
Interesting note, they brought down a bulldozer to upright the excavator. The bulldozer tipped over, too.
At that point, I went back to creek walking. I never dealt with that again, it was too silly.
The other incident I had was when I was working for a charter boat company out of Kitimat, District of Kitimat. And a tugboat down at our dock here sunk, dumping all its diesel into the water. Well, we were called in because we were the representative Burrard Spill for our region.
Optimal conditions; the water’s calm, you’re working off the dock, you got every gear that you can think of, you can pack it down. We still couldn’t pick that diesel up. In fact, most of it got under the dock and it took a year for it to all leech out, but we spent a couple days down there trying to do what we could, basically mopping it up.
When we were done with the absorbent pads and booms, the first thing we found out is that, actually, nobody wanted to deal with that product. Our company had an agreement with the pulp and paper mill to burn the product in their furnace, natural gas furnace, so the higher-ups agreed to it, but when we got to the door, their workers refused us. So we were stuck outside the pulp and paper mill with these bags and bags of booms and absorbent pads.
So they came down with a condition. You guys can burn it in our furnace, but you guys have got to pack it up there yourselves.
So covered in diesel, soaking wet, stink, and nobody wanted to come near us, we had to do it ourselves. Nobody would touch that.
The last two incidents I had was at a pulp and paper settlement pond. Technically, those — the DFO and government officials said that after the water came out of the settlement pond that water was fit to drink, but when a glass of water was produced for them to drink it, that came out of the effluent pond, they wouldn’t drink it because it’s brown, it stink. But they said it was okay. Now we know better.
But they wouldn’t accept traditional knowledge to say the eulachon was tainted with this, or the fish or the trout; they had to have scientific evidence.
So when somebody in the effluent mill opened up the wrong valve then dumped too much black liquor into the settlement pond, again our company was called in down there. Settlement pond is basically a big swimming pool, 50 feet by 100 feet, so all you’re doing is walking around this pool. Again, even better than optimal conditions, you’re trying to pick up this black liquor. Again, we couldn’t do it.
We’re not talking about rough water here. And again, it was a stink, dirty job. It was one of the ugliest jobs I ever had. I was quite glad that whoever was opening those valves stopped opening them because they did it twice.
So when we’re talking about projects like this I’m fully aware of what can go wrong and for the most part it always boils down to human error. It doesn’t seem to matter how idiot proof you can make something because they just keep building better idiots.
I think the one topic that we missed here in terms of impacts is the amount of heat coming out of these projects. You heard testimony from some of our Elders to say that life is coming back. I’m absolutely grateful that there not dumping chemicals into the Kitimat River anymore, 100 percent grateful, but I’m also grateful that they are not dumping heated water into that river anymore.
I think higher temperature of the water in the river and the channel itself has got a lot to do with why shell fish aren’t in our area anymore, or kelp beds. I think it’s a big reason why herring don’t come back in big numbers, which last year we did have a big herring return. I also think that’s why whales don’t come back. But whales are coming back.
Last summer around midnight during the summer I could hear a whale. Now, I spent a better part of 10 years getting close to whales on my charter boat job, so I understood how to get close to humpbacks and great whales and killer whales. Well, midnight I hear this whale and it’s right outside the soccer field, so my wife’s house is right down the soccer field, it’s waterfront, but I can hear this whale, and I can’t understand why it’s so close, something’s got to be wrong.
So I walk down there with my daughter, my youngest daughter, and I try to flash a light down there, and quickly figured out it’s not in trouble, it’s sleeping. It’s resting right outside our soccer field.
You can’t imagine what that means to a First Nation’s that’s watched his territory get destroyed over 60 years. You can’t imagine the feeling. Then to see a herring run return. And not based on anything we’d done. There’s nothing that the federal government did that brought that back. There’s nothing that we did as a First Nations that brought that back. It was just a simple exercise of closing an effluent mill that was dumping a product that shouldn’t have been dumped in the first place.
And how did they get there? Well they promised that there’d be lots of jobs. Well that didn’t work out too well. They promised there’d be no negative impact on the environment. That worked out worse than the jobs promise did. It’s a cliché to make promises and then break it to First Nations but in our territory it happened over and over and over again.
Forestry activity, unchecked. Well it produces slides into the river which then changes the course of the river, provides sediment that blocks up spawning channels, and all with promises of jobs and that we won’t affect the environment. Well 40, 50 years later of unchecked forestry the Kitimat River is a good example of what to do — what happens when forestry activities go unchecked.
So we have 19 reserves in our territory — 19 reserves. Some of those reserves are characterized back in the day as useless and worthless, so yeah, go ahead and give it to them. Well one of those reserves is on the Kitimat River. It’s Indian Reserve #1. And it’s one of our biggest reserves. We only got three big reserves, what we call big reserves.
If you went into the interior of B.C. you’d call these postage stamps. So R#2 being here is one of our biggest reserves. R#5 up by the head of Mitibiz (ph) is a fairly big reserve. And then R#1, the sight of our old fishing village up the Kitimat River for eulachons is R#1, that was one of our bigger reserves.
It was made a reserve because that was where our people fished for eulachons. That’s where the camp was. That’s where our potato farm was. Well the Kitimat River over the years has been diked so many times that the river has changed its course. Now R#1 is cut in half because of the river changing its course. And the spawning bed where the eulachons used to spawn, where our people used to fish, it’s now just a dry rock bank. It’s all it is. There’s no spawn — there’s no such thing as spawning ground for eulachons there anymore.
Because somebody issued a permit without considering Haisla Nations’ interests or concerns diking was allowed to happen.
It’s even gotten to the point now where Haisla Nation Council considered hiring a hydrologist to try to pin-point exactly where the damage is coming from in terms of diking. But that costs money.
So all of these impacts — and that’s not all of them, there’s more, there’s lots more, there’s lots more impacts, but I think I’ve given you a good idea of why Haisla people think the way they think and why they behave the way they behave and why they don’t trust anybody. When you look at that, how many Haisla people were affected by these decisions and permits? Absolutely every generation in the past 60, including the ones yet to come, that’s how many people.
Why? Because not all 1,600 band members go out there and harvest fish. Not all 1,600 band members go out there and harvest crabs. Certain members go out and feed their family and friends. Twenty crabs can feed three families. Fifty salmon can produce 10 cases of salmon and that gets shipped all over B.C. to friends and family all across B.C.
Half dried is only preserved for the sake of making sure that other Haisla member main source of sustenance. So how many people get affected by these types of projects? Absolutely everyone one of them — every one of them.
And it’s not just the physical impact; it’s a mental one as well. It’s one of pride, dignity. Can’t say how much I really thank the Niska people for providing my people with eulachons, but just for the simple fact that they have to do it, that the y’re risking their own stock so that my people can get a taste of eulachons, when we used to have the highest producing eulachon rivers in the northwest, I don’t think that’s right. And there’s a little bit of shame in me when I’ve got to deal with people that either I ask for or they offer eulachons for my people.
Two years ago when we first got one of our shipments from Niska we actually rendered it into grease and we put them into little court jars. Historically our eulachon camps used to come out with barrels upon barrels of eulachon oil to sustain them through the winter; so putting them into little quart jars and then having our people line up so that everybody can a little bit of taste of eulachon oil is demeaning.
You got to swallow your pride and, quite frankly, a little quart jar of eulachon grease can get used up in one meal for your family whereas, before, we used to have eulachon grease there that could sustain a family for an entire year. So it affects you mentally.
How much of our territory would be impacted by some of these projects?
Well, it depends. In terms of the Douglas Channel, in case of a crude oil spill, depending on where it is and what the tide is doing, what the prevailing winds are doing, you can’t really tell where that oil is going to go.
And even if it’s just at the terminal, you can’t say that that oil is not going to go up the river. Tidal currents carry saltwater up rivers, it’s confirmed. That’s why the Department of Fisheries has boundaries at the mouth of rivers. Kitimat River, for instance, you can go up by speedboat to harvest logs there when the tide is going in because the tide will carry you in.
So if you can’t stop a crude oil spill from hitting a rock — a rock embankment, how are you going to stop it from going up the Kitimat River or Bish Creek or Emsley Cove or Wathdo (ph), our own Wath (ph) Creek right here? How do you do it?
So I don’t think we really want to answer that question about how much of
Haisla territory would get impacted, we don’t want to see that at all. It’s not worth it to see it. This shouldn’t be a testing ground. We already know what environmental degradation does, we know what the impacts are, do we need a new one for a case study? The Haisla just don’t want to see that.
So I’ve been asked over the last couple of days here what this means for Haisla in terms of jobs. Like, my priority is jobs for my people, it is a priority but it’s not the top priority.
Every public meeting I’ve been at, ever since 2003, everybody always said: “Make sure the environment is protected first”. And up to two years ago, our employment — unemployment rate was always hovering from 55 to 60 percent. So my heart doesn’t bleed for the federal standard when they talk about 7 percent or 8 percent unemployment when, historically, I’ve got to try to deal with 55 to 60 percent unemployment, knowing that our people are getting squeezed out of all the jobs that are surrounding them.
More than once I’ve been in that unemployment line, looking for Welfare, looking for UIC, looking for stamps for UIC, looking for money under the table, looking for some way to keep the money going.
But in terms of jobs, overall, the amount of people working right now, even with the modernization project going ahead and getting approval and the KM LNG project getting us word that they might give notice to proceed in the spring of next year — this year, we still have approximately 300 people that are still looking for jobs; 300 Haisla people still looking for jobs.
Contrary to popular belief, just because we sign an Impact Benefits Agreement with something with the natural gas project or somebody like RT Alcan, it doesn’t mean we’re guaranteed jobs; we still got to fight to get those jobs.
We get hung up on details, we get hung up on qualifications or we haven’t done the Notice to Proceed or we haven’t done the final investment decision yet, or no, this is a union job or — we get all the reasons thrown at us why our people can’t work.
So when my people complain to me that they’re not working and asking why I don’t approve the next project coming down the pike, it’s because I’ve got to answer the environmental question fully and foremost first; that’s what I got to do. I got to protect what we have in Haisla territory; I owe it to the generations 50, 100, 150 years down the line; I got to do my job.
It’s mandated to me by my community and I think, more importantly, it’s mandated by Nuyem and it’s mandated by Nusa, the teachings. It’s built into us. Something as simple as spitting in a graveyard is not allowed, you’re not allowed to pick berries in a graveyard; that’s how deep our laws go. And if there’s a potential for environment degradation, don’t do it. That’s something that non-Haisla culture hasn’t absorbed yet.
So on top of all this experience we have, what can we expect? Well, we can expect that all those people that had jobs during a project in the golden years, once that dries up, they’ll leave. They’ll look for better, greener pastures. They’ll go to Fort McMurray, they’ll go to Vancouver, they’ll go elsewhere. They’ll just pack up and leave.
Haisla don’t have that option, we have to stay here. It’s more than just a matter of choice, it’s an obligation.
So when the environmental mess is made and left, the history has shown us already that the ones to stick around and clean it up and try and make something out of it will be the Haisla. And by hook or by crook, through the federal government or provincial government, we know it’ll be a hard fight to get some help from all levels of government, from all the corporations.
And you want to know the terms “passing the buck”, I think that term was invented in Haisla territory because nobody sticks around to take responsibility for environmental degradation.
So that’s what the Haisla have learned over the past 50 or 60 years. That’s our new history. That’s our new traditional knowledge.
So I listened to what my colleagues here had to say tonight, including my counterpart here in council here, Henry Amos, and, in bits and pieces, you heard their fear of a crude oil spill and the damage it’ll do based on their experience of other industrial developments and based on what they’ve seen in the Gulf of Mexico, based on what they see in Kalamazoo, based on Prince William Sound. That fear is warranted and I think it’s justified.
With that being said, the Haisla still consented to participate in this review knowing that the facts are already out there and, quite frankly, those facts are still being formed in areas like San Francisco Bay, Gulf of Mexico, Prince William Sound. And that’s why they’ve spoken to how this project is unacceptable under any terms. I can understand why they’re saying that.
But the process you guys have put together here is a process that Haisla District Council will continue to participate in. We don’t believe it’s an adequate process to address our rights and title. We don’t believe it’s an adequate process. And we did ask for consultation from the federal government, but they refused us. They want to wait until you guys reach your decision in 2013.
At that point, we’ll make — we’ll have to make another decision as a community on what to do at that point.
I thought about what I was going to say about this next point, but given what’s happened in the last few days here, I thought about revising it. If there’s one consistency in the last 60 years, one consistent process or initiative, it’s that the Haisla have had to try fight for protection of their environment alone from day one. And we’ve had to find creative ways to try fund that fight, whether it be the Kitlope fight or the pulp and paper fight. We had no political support from anybody else. But I think that’s starting to change.
I was actually pleasantly surprised to find out that there’s environmental groups, or at least specific groups set up in the District of Kitimat there that actually see the risks with a crude oil project in our territory and that they’re gaining the courage to speak up.
So Haisla being alone in protecting Haisla territory, I — hopefully, within a couple of years, we can no longer say that. Hopefully, we have partners in the District of Kitimat that can help us because we’re basically all neighbours here. We’re all living in the same area. And I think a lot of people in the District of Kitimat want to keep the Kitimat as a home base for themselves.
A lot of this, by the way, you can review it in my Affidavits that I submitted. I would have loved to submit my own personal experience in my Affidavits, but we felt it was my responsibility as Chief Councillor to swear to all the assertions that have been made in the past 40, 50 years, to swear that in as an Affidavit first, and that was before rights and title case law was established.
So we didn’t need rights and title case law to try to protect our environment and formal correspondence to the federal and provincial governments. We didn’t need it. We were doing it long before rights and title came about.
If the picture I painted was a pretty depressing, gloomy picture, it’s because you can’t really whitewash what happened to the Haisla in the last 60 years. There’s no positive spin you can put on it. Every impact affected Haisla first, it affected them deeply and still continues to affect them today. You can’t hide it.
Try to be positive and think if things are going to change in terms of processes and listening to the Haisla people and, at times, it’s hard to keep that positive attitude going. But with that said, I’m of the opinion that we’re go ing to have to add some new traditional laws to our nuyem because case law basically says that Aboriginal rights and title and the First Nation communities can’t be static.
You can’t characterize First Nations as being frozen in time. You can’t say, “Why is that First Nation community not living the same way they did 100 years ago?” First Nations, to survive, have to evolve.
So internally, as a community, based on what we’ve done in the past 60 years, I think that the teachings and the Nuyem has got to be revised to include remediation of the environment. We focus a lot on protecting, but now I see that, lately, we’ve been putting a lot of effort into trying to bring back the environment. And that’s a component, I think, is needed in today’s age.
The last settlement agreement we had with the Eurocan mill was not about money. We didn’t want money. We wanted measures for the pulp and paper mill to implement to stop them dump — to stop them from dumping so much effluent into our river. And if they couldn’t implement those measures, then we wanted a penalty in place in terms of compensation to the Haisla. But we really didn’t want compensation. We wanted them to take money and invest it in their outdated machinery to stop polluting our environment.
That didn’t work. At the end of it, it seemed like they were — the cost to upgrade the mill was more expensive than the compensation cost, so they just gave us compensation, so it backfired on the Haisla.
But in that agreement, there was a clause in there for rehabilitation of the Kitimat River, and we made them commit seed money in the amount of $150,000 to rehabilitating the Kitimat River. A hundred and fifty thousand dollars ($150,000) can get spent in a day on one consultant, but it was the principle we were after.
We were hoping other corporations would have jumped on board and other levels of government jumped on board and said: “Yeah, that’s a really good idea.” That plan went nowhere because nobody’s really interested — until this year.
The KM LNG project has to compensate for loss of habitat out at our Reserve out on Beese Reserve No. 6. They’ve asked if they could transplant the loss of habitat over to the Kitimat River to help rebuild the Kitimat River. We were ecstatic when we heard that. That’s a really good idea. That’s a really good idea.
But it takes an American company, based out of Houston, to come up with the idea.
So remediation in all its forms for what happened to Haisla territory the last 60 years, we’re hoping that we start to make that a priority as well. Just as much as these projects are coming in and talking about impact to the environment, get them to commit to help us rehabilitate the territory at the same time. It only adds value to all the people living in the Kitimat Valley, not just the Haisla.
That’s a wish for the future based on our traditional knowledge of industrial development.
We’d also like to see a commitment to cleaner industries. We’re glad that RTA actually committed to cleaning up all its emissions after all these years and actually committing to stop dumping all those emissions into our territory. They’ve still got some ways to go but the investment to modernize that plant is going to cut the emissions that are being dumped into our territory drastically. That’s the kind of mindset these corporations have got to have.
This mindset that we have of chasing the almighty dollar and promising whatever we can just to get that certificate or permit has got to change. It has to change. What we’re talking about here as an example of what happened to Haisla territory is going to affect everybody in this planet. We’re connected, not just to the deer, we’re connected to all — each and every citizen on this planet. It’s being proven every day because this world is getting smaller and more and more human beings are being born.
Everything can’t just be for economic development. It can’t be just for that, there’s got to be a balance.
You only need to look in the news to see examples: garbage washing up from Japan is washing up on the west coast of Vancouver Island now and they’re anticipating more. Where did you think it was going to go? It’s not going to dissolve.
The thinking of the First Nations Indians over the past Lord knows how many generations ago, it goes back thousands of years, is where we should be thinking about when we talk about environmental assessment about these projects.
Embrace scientific reports. Embrace traditional knowledge because, sooner or later, it’s going to come back and it’s going to affect you as well; if not you, it’s going to affect your kids. Haisla and non-Haisla alike. Aboriginals and non- Aboriginals alike.
So when I’m asked to weigh the benefit versus the cost of a crude-oil terminal in our territory, I try to view it from every angle. I try to do it with an open mind. I try to do it as impartial as I can but I have no idea what the benefit is. I can’t tell you what the benefit is because I don’t know what the cost is going to be. I have no idea. I just know how sad I am when I look at a — a four-hectare area destroyed for God knows how long, whether that be on the marine side or on terrestrial, I just don’t know. I don’t think you can put a price on it.
If there’s one thing that really relates that we have one thing in common between Aboriginal communities and non-Aboriginal communities, I think it’s the idea behind the precautionary principle. We’ve seen too many incidents like this of what happens when crude oil gets into the environment and how it’s impossible to pick up.
You have examples. You have thousands of pages of data that came out of Prince William Sound. You have more than that come from the Gulf of Mexico. You got more coming from areas like Kalamazoo and those are living examples.
There’s still crude oil that you can go study that came out of Prince William Sound. It’s still there. It’s still gooey.
You want to see the impact on nature, ask about their herring run that hasn’t returned yet; ask about the killer whale pod that lost half its pod and they haven’t reproduced since 1989.
You have all this information. If I can get it on Google, you most likely can get it a lot quicker than I can and in a better form and they’re coming from legitimate bodies such as yourself.
At the very least, I’d like you to understand that there’s options to get this product to Asia. There are options. Kitimat’s not the only option. Kitimat was never just the only option for a smelter mill, it was never the only option for a pulp and paper mill and so on and so on and so on. There’s always options.
At the very least, the very least, in assessing this project, please, just don’t regard Haisla as just this collateral damage ensuring that this product gets to Asia. Don’t just consider the economics. Take what you’ve heard here. Take their pain and their emotions and apply that to your decision-making. Apply it like it was happening to your own family. Apply it like it’s your heritage because, quite frankly, it is.
In closing, I’d like to say that there was two things that my people asked me to do when I took on the Chief Councillor’s position; stop using the word “hate” and be more patient.
Well, I stopped using the word “hate”. I did. I don’t use it any more. My patience is — well, that’s work in progress. I came into this meeting today thinking I was going to rant and rave about the comments made by Harper and Oliver and then I found myself basically trusting you guys to assess everything we said here and take it into consideration.
I hope I portrayed patience and calmness, but inside it’s not, and I really thank you for coming here and listening to us today. Thank you.