Haisla Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross has posted a statement on Facebook, outlining his philosophy on energy development.
In 2003 I was first elected to Haisla Nation Council, and I was intent on opposing just about every economic development project coming our way, from fish farms to natural gas. Fortunately experienced councilors suggested that before I took any hard and fast positions that I consider unbiased facts and the community’s social situation.
It didn’t take long before the full extent of our community’s problems hit home, angering and saddening me at the same time. Before my political career I was one of those who applauded political speeches on unemployment, poverty, independence, and the relationship between First Nations and the Crown. But it was now clear that 30 years of speeches and government programs had changed nothing for the average Haisla person who just wanted a job. Unemployment was still at 60 per cent, housing was based on hand-outs from Ottawa, and, worst of all, substance abuse and suicides were commonplace and were destroying our people’s hopes for a brighter future.
I was fortunate to have found work outside of my reserve for most of my adult life but there are only so many jobs in depressed economies and the long term jobs were kept out of our reach by organizations associated with the corporations set up in our territory. The result was our young men and women either had to leave home for employment or stay home and accept seasonal work (UIC) or welfare. Leaving ancestral homes is a hard decision for First Nations to make. The land is connected to our protocols, our culture and to our past.
Many reasons have contributed to the demise of our peoples and communities but perhaps the foremost is the culture of dependence. Dependance in our case was from the top down; from council dependant on government funding to the individual band member being dependant on council or welfare. Our people are not lazy. The culture that preceded the non haisla culture was one of hard work to bring in food, resources and wealth. That culture has not merged so well with non haisla culture but our work ethic is the same as the non haisla culture.
If poverty is the only lifestyle you know, it is very difficult to know there is a way out, much less thinking of a way to get out of it. The individual band member that is watching development in their territory and watching the wealth being generated without having an opportunity to be a part of it is going to have resentment.
Those Nations which are succeeding — strong employment levels, healthy communities, few social ills — appear to have gained a level of independence and have done it mostly through economic development. The newer discussions are those concerning shiftwork, double time, new bosses and how paychecks will go towards the next hunting trip or holidays to vancouver or elsewhere.
We have many proposals put in front of us now that we have to sift through. When we look at these proposals we have to find accurate information in terms of impacts, benefits and feasibility. Sub topics can be right of ways, fracking, logging practices, financing, permitting, corporate structures, emissions, land ownership and the list goes on and on. We do have to consider the future but we also have to consider the present and the situation we know that our membership is in and try to put them in a position where they can help themselves.
So far, the outlook has been positive. Our people have jobs. They have hope. They are confident about their futures. The despair that comes with poverty is slowly disappearing but we have more work to do to ensure their confidence can be sustained. We know that to become a strong independent Nation, we need to have strong independent members.
We will continue to look at the contentious issues that are in front of us and will try as much as we can to resolve with both the crown and the proponent but we cant lose sight of one of the biggest reasons of why we’re doing what we do. Our members need a future.
By the way, the work we have done to date has not only assisted our members but has assisted the region and non Haislas in ways that we have not yet even started to measure yet.
Ross later posed two comments:
Ellis Ross: got some good feedback on this but also got feedback that it was unclear on the point I was trying to make so I rewrote it. the point was in light of all the issues we have to look at, we can’t lose sight of the social factor in that some Haislas (and non Haislas) deserve the employment/contract opportunity that comes with proposed projects.
Ellis Ross: fracking, emissions, land ownership, etc… are issues that are extremely important but our people living in poverty with no hope is also an extremely important issue.