Genes that protected coastal First Nations from ancient pathogens brought “catastrophic” vulnerability to European diseases

The immune system genes that protected north coast First Nations from possibly dangerous local pathogens thousands of years ago likely increased their vulnerability to European diseases in the nineteenth century, resulting in the disastrous population crash, a new genetic study has discovered.

The study which included members of the Lax Kw’alaams and Metlakatla First Nations at Prince Rupert “opens a new window on the catastrophic consequences of European colonization for indigenous peoples in that part of the world,” the study authors said in a news release.

The study, published today in Nature Communications, looked at the genomes of 25 individuals who lived 1,000 to 6,000 years ago in what the study calls PRH—the Prince Rupert Harbour region– and 25 of their descendants who still live in the region today.

The study is a follow up to one published in 2013 that used DNA to prove that the remains of a woman from 5,500 years ago was tied directly through the maternal line to members of today’s Metlakatla Nation.

“This is the first genome-wide study – where we have population-level data, not just a few individuals – that spans 6,000 years,” said University of Illinois anthropology professor Ripan Malhi, who co-led the new research with former graduate student John Lindo (now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Chicago) and Pennsylvania State University biology professor Michael DeGiorgio. Both studies were carried out with the consent and cooperation of the Coastal Tsimshian people.

The new study analyzes the “exome,” the entire collection of genes that contribute to a person’s traits.

The ruins of a Haida longhouse at Tanu. Smallpox and other diseases brought a catastrophic population crash among coastal First Nations in the nineteenth century. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
The ruins of a Haida longhouse at Tanu. Smallpox and other diseases brought a catastrophic population crash among coastal First Nations in the nineteenth century. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

“Oral traditions and archaeological evidence to date have shown that there has been continuous aboriginal occupation of this region for more than 9,000 years. This study adds another layer of scientific data linking the actual ancestral human remains to their modern descendants through their DNA over a span of 6,000 years,” said Barbara Petzelt, a co-author of the study and a liaison to the Metlakatla community. “It’s exciting to see how this tool of DNA science adds to the larger picture of Coast Tsimshian pre- and post-contact history – without the taint of historic European observer bias.”

In the new study, the team found that variants of an immune-related gene that were beneficial to many of those living in the region before European contact proved disadvantageous once the Europeans arrived.

The genes, the human leukocyte antigen gene family, known as HLA, helps the body recognize and respond to pathogens, or disease causing bacteria and viruses.

The authors say the “the immunological history of the indigenous people of the Americas is undoubtedly complex.”

As people came to the American continents about 15,000 to 20,000 years ago “indigenous people adapted to local pathogens.”

Statistical analyses revealed that the ancient genes were under “positive selection” before European contact. Natural selection meant that those ancient people with genetic resistance to those local diseases had an advantage that resulted in the genes becoming part of the population.

But the study indicates “those adaptations would have proven useful in ancient times but not necessarily after European colonialists altered the environment with their pathogens, some of which may have been novel. Existing genetic variation as a result of adaptation before European contact could thus have contributed to the indigenous population decline after European contact.”

The “positive selection” genes found in the remains of ancient members of the Coast Tsimshian people, has been replaced by another gene among the modern descendants that “has been associated with a variety of colonization-era infectious diseases, including measles and tuberculosis, and with the adaptive immune response to the vaccinia virus, which is an attenuated form of smallpox,” the authors wrote.

One of the genes is “64 percent less common today among the Coast Tsimshian people than it was before original European contact, which is a dramatic decline,” Lindo said.

The modern Coast Tsimshian show a “reduction in ‘effective population size’ of 57 per cent,” the researchers reported.

“’Effective population size’ is a population genetic concept that is different from what we normally think of with census population size,” Malhi said in an e-mail to Northwest Coast Energy News. “It basically means that there was a large drop in genetic diversity after European contact that could have been due to disease, warfare or other things that would result in this large population decline.”

The dramatic die-off occurred roughly 175 years ago, about the time that European diseases were sweeping through the First Nations of British Columbia.

While some members of the Coast Tsimshian community have intermarried with people of European descent over the past 175 years, the genetic changes cannot be solely attributed to what geneticists call “admixture.” The timing coincides with the documented smallpox epidemics of the 19th Century and historical reports of large-scale population declines. A majority of the “European admixture in the population likely occurred after the epidemics,” the study says.

To guard against what the study called “false positives” the genomes were also compared to individuals in the 1,000 Genome Project including 25 Han Chinese from Beijing as well as other indigenous peoples in the Americas including the Maya, the Suruí do Pará people of Brazil and a sample of Anzick DNA from the 12,000 year old remains of a child found buried in Montana.

“First Nations history mainly consists of oral stories passed from generation to generation. Our oral history tells of the deaths of a large percentage of our population by diseases from the European settlers.
“Smallpox, for our area, was particularly catastrophic,” said Jocelynn Mitchell, a Metlakatla co-author on the study. “We are pleased to have scientific evidence that corroborates our oral history. As technology continues to advance, we expect that science will continue to agree with the stories of our ancestors.”

The same vulnerability for smallpox, measles and tuberculous likely also contributed to the vulnerability to influenza, Malhi told Northwest Coast Energy News “It is important to note that any of these infectious diseases (measles, tuberculosis, smallpox, flu) could have resulted in the patterns that we are seeing. We just provided a few possibilities but not all possibilities.”

The study says the project was made possible through the active collaboration of the Metlakatla and Lax Kw’alaams First Nations.
The first collaborative DNA study began in 2007 and 2008. The scientists visited the communities each year “to report the most recent DNA results and obtain feedback on the results.”

“The two communities agreed to allow DNA analysis of ancestral individuals recovered from archaeological sites in the region and currently housed at the Canadian Museum of History. During and after community visits and extensive consultation, a research protocol and informed consent documents—agreed on by the indigenous communities and researchers—was approved by the University of Illinois Institutional Review Board. All individuals signed an informed consent document.”

These results were reported to the community and the scientists continue to visit the First Nations to report on this and related studies.

The study is titled “A time transect of exomes from a Native American population before and after European contact” and appeared in the Nov. 15, 2016, edition of Nature Communications.

NEB indefinitely suspends any consideration of Northern Gateway

The National Energy Board has indefinitely suspended its consideration of the $7.9 billion Northern Gateway pipeline project, including the request by Enbridge to extend the deadline for starting the controversial project. The Joint Review Panel conditions had set December 31, 2016 as the time that Enbridge had to start the project.

In a letter to John Carruthers, president of Northern Gateway Pipelines, Sheri Young, secretary to the Board said that suspension came after the Federal Court of Appeal quashed the permission certificates for the project.

As a result of the decisions quashing the Certificates, the Board is suspending indefinitely its consideration of the application to extend the sunset clauses of the Certificates and is not accepting any further comments on it, including comments from Northern Gateway and AEP. The Board is also suspending indefinitely its consideration of all filings related to the conditions attached to the Certificates.

In May the NEB had told Enbridge that is would consider a request by Enbridge to extend the deadline and accept comments from the public until June 27, 2016 and reply comments from the applicants by July 18, 2016.

Cover of JRP ruling
Cover of Volume 2 of the Joint Review ruling on Northern Gateway

In a decision released on 30 June 2016, the Federal Court of Appeal quashed Order in Council P.C. 2014-809 which is the order directing the Board to issue the Certificates for the Project. The Court also quashed the Certificates.

 

The original Joint Review Panel report in December 2013 had set 209 conditions for the construction and operation of the pipeline, which would have carried oil sands bitumen from Bruderheim, Alberta, to Kitimat, for shipment to Asian customers.


Letter to Northern Gateway-Suspension of the sunset clauses-A5D7Z9
(PDF)

Federal Court of Appeal overturns approval of Northern Gateway

In a two to one decision, the Federal Court of Appeal has overturned the Harper government’s approval of the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, finding that the federal government’s consultation process  with First Nations on the BC coast that occurred after the NEB decision and the Joint Review Panel Report was inadequate, saying:
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We conclude that Canada offered only a brief, hurried and inadequate opportunity in Phase IV—a critical part of Canada’s consultation framework—to exchange and discuss information and to dialogue. The inadequacies—more than just a handful and more than mere imperfections—left entire subjects of central interest to the affected First Nations, sometimes subjects affecting their subsistence and well-being, entirely ignored.

The dissenting judge found that the federal government under Stephen Harper had adequately consulted the First Nations. The split decision means that one of the parties, either the federal government, Enbridge Northern Gateway or the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers may seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Read the decision
Northern Gateway decision  (PDF)

Other Media
Globe and Mail
Appeal court overturns Ottawa’s approval of Northern Gateway pipeline

CBC
Northern Gateway pipeline approval overturned

Prepare now for drastic climate change, UBC study warns First Nations’ fishery, other stakeholders

Fewer salmon; many more sardines.

That’s one of the predictions from a new study from the University of British Columbia, looking at the future of the fishery on the coast.

The study concentrates on the First Nations fishery and warns that aboriginal people could face a catastrophic decline in the harvest of traditional species, especially salmon and herring roe on kelp over the next thirty years, a decline that will also have an equally devastating effect on commercial and recreational fishing.

The main cause of the decline is climate change and the warming of the coastal waters. The study projected “modest to severe declines in catch potential” for all current commercial fisheries along the coast.

The study says that for the First Nations the between $28 million to $36 million in revenue they got from fishing between 2001 and 2010 could fall by up to 90 per cent depending on how the climate changes.

A chart from the UBC study shows possible decline in fish species under different climate scenarios. (PLOS1)
A chart from the UBC study shows possible decline in fish species under different climate scenarios. (PLOS1)

One scenario calls for a decline of up to 40 per cent in chinook and pink salmon.

If there is any good news, if you can call it that, the decline will be not as bad in northern coastal waters as it will be the warmer waters near the Lower Mainland and southern Vancouver Island. The range of some species, including salmon, herring, halibut and possibly oolichan will move to farther north along the BC Coast and into Alaskan waters.

That means in time the warming waters will also encourage an increase in other species, including sardines and some clams.

The changing oceans mean that “an increase in the relative abundance of warmer-water species was projected to lead to new or increased opportunities for commercial harvests by 2050.”

The study is urging the First Nations and other stakeholders in the British Columbia fishery to start long term planning immediately to  anticipate changes in the coming decades.

The team of scientists led by Lauren Weatherdon, a graduate student at UBC, noted that while previous studies have looked at the impact of climate change on large-scale commercial fisheries, “few efforts have been made to quantitatively project impacts on small-scale subsistence and commercial fisheries that are economically, socially and culturally important to many coastal communities.”

The study Projected Scenarios for Coastal First Nations’ Fisheries Catch Potential under Climate Change: Management Challenges and Opportunities is published in the online journal PLOS One

The study was conducted in cooperation with the BC First Nations Fisheries Council and looked its seven coastal administrative regions “forming a sample of groups with diverse marine resources, geographical locations, territorial sizes, and treaty statuses.”

Within those regions 16 First Nations participated in the study, some under their treaty councils, including the Council of the Haida Nation, the Tsimshian Nations Treaty Society (including the Gitga’at at Hartley Bay and the Kitselas and Kitsumkalum near Terrace) and the Maa-nulth First Nations. The Heiltsuk First Nation at Bella Bella participated as an independent group.

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The FNFC’s administrative regions intersect with five distinct ecological regions: the North Coast, comprising the Hecate Strait and Dixon Entrance; Haida Gwaii, which includes the waters surrounding the islands; the Central Coast, including Queen Charlotte Sound, Queen Charlotte Strait, and the southern tip of Hecate Strait; the Strait of Georgia; and the west coast of Vancouver Island (WCVI) .

The study says First Nations are likely to be exposed to different climate-related impacts on fisheries due to the differing ecological and biogeographical characteristics of these regions and to differing traditional and commercial harvests.

The study used a “dynamic bioclimate envelope” computer model to look at the changes to the distribution and relative abundances of the BC coastal species under two climate change scenarios, a high greenhouse gas model where society can’t curb emissions and a low greenhouse gas emission scenarios, depending on how society is able to curb the increase.

The study looked at ocean properties—including sea surface temperature, sea bottom temperature, salinity, oxygen concentration, surface action, and net primary production—using data from the US National Ocean and Atmospheric Administrations’  climate-related earth system model.

Climate change will mean that current species on the BC coast will “shift polewards.”

The study showed that by 2050, there could be declines in 87 of the 98 species in the study.

Greater losses in  what the study calls “species richness” is likely to occur towards the southern coast of British Columbia, falling primarily between 48°N and 51°N. But, overall,  species richness along coastal BC will continue—only with different species.

Most significantly the study projects a decline in the overall salmon catch from 17.1 per cent to 29.2 per cent, depending on the region and climate.

All aspects of the herring fishery, including roe herring, spawn-on-kelp, and the food and bait fishery could decline between 28.1 per cent and 49.2 per cent depending on the region.

The future of the oolichan is the most uncertain. One of the models studied projected a further 37.1 per cent decline in the oolichan, while other models called for for a decline between 5 per cent and 6.8 per cent. That will depend on how well, the oolichan already threatened in most regions of British Columbia are able to adapt to warmer waters or find a way to move their range northward.

The study says white sturgeon and Pacific sardines were projected to increase in abundance under both climate change scenarios, while manila clams were projected to increase in abundance by 14.5 per cent in one of the models. The eight remaining species showed little change.

The study suggests that the southern territories (Tsawwassen, Tla’amin, and Maa-nulth First Nations) will likely see a reduction in catch potential between -15.2 per cent and -27.8 per cent depending on how the climate changes.

On the north coast. The Haida and Tsimshian First Nations and those situated along the central or north-eastern coasts of Vancouver Island (Heiltsuk and ‘Namgis First Nations)  would likely see smaller reductions in relative catch for each territory, with estimates falling between -3.2 per cent and -8.2 per cent.

The study shows that for the First Nations along the North and Central Coasts of British Columbia (Gitga’at and Haida, and Heiltsuk and ‘Namgis) there will be neutral or positive shifts in catch potential for white sturgeon, kelp greenling, and two species of perch under both scenarios.

While varying regionally, both scenarios also suggested either a slight cumulative decline or negligible change in catch potential for clams, rockfish, lingcod, and sculpins across the North and Central Coast.

One potential problem the study suggests is that fishers in southern British Columbia may, in the future, try to move north to follow the harvest, leading to potential conflicts.  The cost of travel, may, however, discourage that.

One of the recommendations from the study is that First Nations revive the traditional clam gardens.

Traditional clam beds serve as an ideal example of a method that could be applied to offset climatic impacts through internalized mechanisms, using local cultivation to generate increased productivity by enhancing native habitat rather than redirecting extraction efforts towards other regions or species. Clam gardens constructed in a manner akin to those situated near ancient settlements of the Northern Coast Salish and Laich-kwil-tach First Nations have been found to generate higher clam densities, biomass, and growth rates than non-walled beaches . These benefits were observed for Pacific littleneck clams and butter clams , two clams that are of cultural, economic, and ecological importance to the region Reinstating clam beds in First Nations’ territorial lands has been suggested as a means of simultaneously achieving local conservation and cultural objectives and may thereby provide a politically and ecologically viable option for mitigating climate-related impacts.

The most important recommendation is that the First Nations and other stakeholders start cooperating immediately to offset how the changing climate with affect the fishery:

Management of salmon and herring stocks has been highly contentious due to the myriad of stakeholders who depend upon them, which include First Nations, recreational fisheries, and commercial fisheries….

Aside from fulfilling societal needs, salmon serve as key ecological components of the Pacific Northwest Coast, functioning as the mechanisms by which nutrients are transferred from the ocean to freshwater and terrestrial ecosystems

It says the projections show that a “redistribution of fishing effort” will not “fully offset declines in salmon and herring”

attaining a state of collaboration between First Nations, DFO, and other sectors has the potential to yield beneficial ecological and political results, if implemented correctly. Parallels exist between First Nations’ traditional fisheries management approaches and “modern” approaches (e.g., spatial management, mariculture, selective fishing, fishing closures), with differences arising primarily due to diverging worldviews.

It recommends local application of First Nations’ traditional management strategies to “provide opportunities to collaboratively engage in adaptive ecosystem-based management and to coordinate efforts to attain conservation objectives.”

They give an example of how the Nisga’a Nation have ensured their equal partnership in management by employing traditional fish wheel technology to monitor and assess stocks and by leveraging traditional ecosystem-based management practices that could be applied to plan long-term objectives and management approaches.

It concludes by saying that joint-management will not only work to reduce the impact of climate change but also head off potential conflict.

Through such joint-management regimes, traditional fisheries management strategies could be applied to advance localized research directives and to reduce impacts on stocks under unprecedented environmental change. Moreover, the risk of conflict over declining resources underlines the need to establish common and equitable ground to ensure successful joint management of fisheries, and to leverage collective expertise.

Chart from the study showing which fish species will move north up the coast as the climate changes. (PLOS1)
Chart from the study showing which fish species will move north up the coast as the climate changes. (PLOS1)

BC Supreme Court rules province failed to consult First Nations on Northern Gateway

The B.C. government acted improperly and “breached the honour of the crown” when it signed away a provincial review and gave the federal Joint Review Panel for responsibility for assessing the environmental impact of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, Madam Justice Marvyn Koenigsberg of the Supreme Court of B.C. ruled Wednesday.

In a largely technical decision,  Justice Koenigsberg ruled that British Columbia must come to its own decision on Northern Gateway. That’s because what is called the “equivalency agreement” that handed the decision over to the federal agency was not “was reasonable or correct for the Province to exercise its discretion.”

She ruled the equivalency agreement “is invalid” and said the project cannot begin until a provincial environmental assessment certificate has been issued.

“The province is required to consult with the Gitga’at about the potential impacts of the project on areas of provincial jurisdiction and about how those impacts may affect the Gitga’at’s aboriginal rights, and how those impacts are to be addressed in a manner consistent with the honour of the Crown and reconciliation,” Koenigsberg ruled.

Read the judgement (pdf)

Justice_Koenigsberg_Coastal-First-Nations-v-British-Columbia-Environment

That may be the final nail in the Northern Gateway’s coffin. The province opposed the project at the JRP because the Northern Gateway had not met the five conditions for heavy oil transport that was set down by the government.

The court ruling comes shortly after British Columbia told the National Energy Board that it also opposed the $6.8-billion Kinder Morgan TransMountain pipeline because, at this point, that project cannot meet BC’s five conditions.

B.C. Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said the province is reviewing the Supreme Court decision.

There are 19 more court challenges to the Northern Gateway and to the Joint Review process, most  before the Federal Court of Canada.

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The Gitga’at First Nation and Coastal First Nations which brought the suit in January 2015 say that the ruling means Enbridge pipeline must now face provincial environmental assessment decision, which includes consultation with First Nations across the province.

“Approval of the project falls within federal jurisdiction and this decision from the B.C. Supreme Court does not change that approval or the project’s environmental assessment,” said Ivan Giesbrecht, communication manager for Northern Gateway, in a statement to the CBC.

Northern Gateway says the federal decision stands, and its still working to meet the 209 conditions set out by the NEB, along with the B.C. government’s conditions.

“Northern Gateway and the project proponents, including Aboriginal Equity Partners, remain committed to this essential Canadian infrastructure,” Giesbrecht told the CBC.

But among the 209 conditions attached to the approval by the  Joint Review Panel  Condition 2 said that construction must begin before December 31, 2016.  Under Conditions 20 and 21, Enbridge must have secured commitments for at least 60 per cent of the pipeline’s capacity at least six months before starting construction.

Enbridge still doesn’t have any customers and with the world price of oil below $40 US a barrel, the chances of getting customers are slim.  In its most recent NEB filing on December 21, 2015, Enbridge stated, “Further to its filing of June 29, 2015, Northern Gateway has not executed firm [transportation service agreements] with its prospective shippers.”

Koenigsberg ‘s ruling doesn’t official stop the Northern Gateway as some are celebrating.  Rather the decision means that  British Columbia must  set up its own review process and then come to a decision.  That decision could, in theory, approve Northern Gateway with  conditions just as the Joint Review Panel did.

The news release from the Coastal First Nations goes on to say:

The ruling, which is a major victory for the Gitga’at First Nation, means the equivalency agreement is invalid, that the government must now make its own environmental assessment decision regarding the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, and that it must consult with and accommodate First Nations along the pipeline route about potential impacts to their Aboriginal rights and title.

“This is a huge victory that affirms the provincial government’s duty to consult with and accommodate First Nations and to exercise its decision-making power on major pipeline projects,” said Arnold Clifton, Chief Councillor of the Gitga’at First Nation.

“This ruling is an important victory for our communities and presents another hurdle to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline,” said Chief Marilyn Slett, President of the Coastal First Nations. “It means the province must now sit down with First Nation communities across BC and find ways to address the severe and irreversible impacts of this project.”

The constitutional challenge was brought by the Gitga’at First Nation and the Coastal First Nations, and was argued by Joseph Arvay, Q.C., (and his colleagues Catherine Boies Parker and Tim Dickson at Farris LLP ) one of Canada’s pre-eminent constitutional lawyers and an expert in Aboriginal and administrative law.

“The province has been talking a lot about its opposition to oil pipelines in recent days,” said Art Sterritt, a member of the Gitga’at First Nation. “Now it must put its money where its mouth is and apply the same rigorous standards it advocated for during the Joint Review Panel process, while consulting with every single First Nation who would be affected by this project. We’ve said it before: The Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline is dead.”

The ruling means that, until the province makes a decision on the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and issues an Environmental Assessment Certificate, none of the approximately 60 permits, licenses and authorizations necessary for the project to proceed can be issued.

Haisla celebrate incremental treaty pact with BC, see more traditional lands returned

The Haisla Nation celebrated the signing of an incremental treaty agreement with the British Columbia government Tuesday at the Haisla Recreation Centre in Kitamaat Village. The treaty will see the return of Haisla lands on the shore of Douglas Channel of Lots 305 and 306 south of the Kitamaat Village, designated Indian Reserve #2 and Indian Reserve #3, also known as the Walsh Reserve, thus connecting the two reserves.

In a news release, the BC Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation said that under the agreement, approximately 120 hectares of Crown land will be transferred to the Haisla Nation.

The land lies in the heart of the Haisla Nation territory and will support the community’s goal of expanding housing, commercial and public space for its members, and opening new business opportunities.

The release went on to say, “The agreement continues the productive relationship between the Haisla Nation and B.C., which is furthering economic development opportunities and improving social conditions.”

Map from the treaty agreement showing the lands transferred back to the Haisla Nation. (Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation)
Map from the treaty agreement showing the lands transferred back to the Haisla Nation. (Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation)

It took decades for the land to be returned to the Haisla.

At the ceremony, Allan Donovan, the Haisla’s lawyer said, “We are here to celebrate the achievement of something that should have happened when the Haisla reserves were set aside in 1889. At that point, the reseve commissioner noted the Haisla reserves were the smallest and least desirable in the whole nation.

Allan Donovan began working for the Haisla as a young lawyer and is still representing the Nation. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Allan Donovan began working for the Haisla as a young lawyer and is still representing the Nation. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

“But he left it at that, but in the years and decades afterward, the Haisla sought to extend their reserve holdings and their lands and have done so with an increasing degree of success.

“The actual negotiations to see the lands returned actually started over 60 years ago with limited success. But the Haisla are always persistent when it comes to issues of land, when it comes to issues of justice.

“In the 25 years since then there have been a number of attempts over the years This time with Haisla leadership and cooperation from the government of British Columbia, that dream has become a reality. The land has been returned to the rightful owners, joining up these two reserves.

Building goodwill

The ministry said the British Columbia introduced incremental treaty agreements “to help speed up the treaty process by building goodwill among parties and bringing the benefits of treaty faster to First Nations. These agreements also provide increased certainty on the land base and with natural resource development.”

At the ceremony, John Rustad, the Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation said that so far the province has signed 18 incremental treaty agreements with various BC First Nations.

“This is a relationship building step between the Haisla Nation and the province, to lay foundations for things we can continue to do in the future,” Rustad said, “Over the past number of years now the Haisla and the province have made great strides and have a very good relationship (at least I believe a very good relationship, … As we move forward in developing our relationship.”

BC Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation John Rustad presented Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross with a certificate commemorating the incremental treaty agreement (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
BC Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation John Rustad presented Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross with a certificate commemorating the incremental treaty agreement (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Rustad noted that representatives of the Shell-led LNG Canada project, Chevron and AltaGas were at the Recreation Centre to witness the ceremony.

“It’s about embracing those opportunities and ways to find a balance between environment and economics. No one has been better than the Haisla in being able to do that, working with the companies working with the province, working with their neighbors to create opportunity.

“It is through hard work and through partnerships that is truly a path forward toward building a prosperous future.

“We are very proud as a province to be working with the Haisla as a partner,” Rustad said. “We have our difference, we have things we may not agree on but I also believe very strongly that as we work together the steps to ensure prosperity for all of British Columbia but also especially for the prosperity of the Haisla nation This agreement between the Haisla and the province is an example of some of the things we can do right and we can try to correct the situations that have existed for such a long period of time, to find a way to build a prosperous future.”

Stop dwelling on the past

Ellis Ross, the Haisla elected Chief Counsellor told the Haisla and their guests. “It’s time to stop dwelling on the past and start building the future. All the pieces are there Everybody wants to help us get to a better place. Our partners from LNG Canada are here.Chevron is here. It’s everyone working together for the future, to bring the pieces of the puzzle to ensure our future generations.

“We don’t have to beg to be part of the BC agenda. We should be equal particpants.in everything in our territory. That’s what we should be focused on Stop getting distracted with the minor little differences, where infighting stopped us from the promises that have been promsed us for the past forty or fifty years.”

He said the Haisla started working with the Christy Clark government in 2009.

“We both took different approaches to our relationship We both agreed there is a common goal to be achieved if we just put aside our differences. I am not sure how many people know this but the provincial government actually helped us acquire the hospital lands (the site of the old “pink lady” hospital across from the City Centre mall)

“In terms of the water lot that the Haisla own, we’re the only First Nation in Canada that owns water lots and that ‘s because of the provinical government support for us.”

Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross presented BC Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation John Rustad with a painting of two paddles, representing how people have to work together to accomplish goals. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross presented BC Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation John Rustad with a painting of two paddles, representing how people have to work together to accomplish goals. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

He also thanked the province for helping the Haisla lease land with an option to purchase near Bish Cove (Beese in traditional Haisla terminology) and worked with the federal government so that the Minette Bay lands could also be added to the reserve lands. He said Haisla staff consult on a regular basis with provincial officials.

“Our staff are working on permits for the benefit of the Haisla as well as everybody else. I think the Haisla are a working definition of what reconciliation actually means and it matters to the average Haisla citizen…

“There are different definitions out there about what reconciliation means. Everyone has a different definition Right how BC and the Haisla are proving that reconciliation is possible without getting into politics.

“It’s agreements like this what we’re talking about today that truly set the stage for the future of the Haisla people.

“We’re not going to be around in a hundred years but in a hundred years the future if Haislas are still talking about the same issues they talked about 50 years ago, we as leaders failed today.

“This is only one of the many agreements that we sign with the provincial govt and with LNG Canada and with Chevron and everybody else that’s willing to sit down and work out some sort of agreement with us.

“In fifty, a hundred years I am sure our descendants won’t be talking about poverty, they won’t be talking about unemployment, they wont be talking about extra land so we can build more houses. they’ll be talking about issues we can’t even understand yet but they won’t be dealing with the issues we’re trying to deal with today.

“What is the next agreement? The only thing that makes this possible is two parties sitting down and saying ‘let’s get an agreement for the betterment of all.’”

The incremental treaty ceremony begins at the Haisla Recreation Centre (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
The incremental treaty ceremony begins at the Haisla Recreation Centre (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)


Quick Facts:

    • Haisla Nation has approximately 1,840 members, with 700 people living in Kitamaat Village, at the head of Douglas Channel, about 10 kilometres south of Kitimat.
    • The incremental treaty agreement provides for the early transfer land to Haisla Nation, ahead of a final agreement with the Haisla.
    • The Province and Haisla Nation have collaborated on a number of initiatives, including facilitating negotiations for the Haisla to purchase former District of Kitimat hospital lands; the purchase of MK Bay Marina; and transfer of foreshore lots in the Douglas Channel
    • In 2012, Haisla Nation and the Province signed the Haisla Framework Agreement allowing for the purchase or lease of approximately 800 hectares of land adjacent to Indian Reserve No. 6, intended for LNG development. The framework agreement also commits the parties to land-use planning around the Douglas Channel, helping to create certainty and allowing other projects in the area to proceed.
    • Haisla is a member of the First Nations Limited Partnership, a group 16 First Nations with pipeline benefits agreements with the Province for the Pacific Trail Pipeline. Haisla and the Province also have a forestry revenue sharing agreement and a reconciliation agreement.
    • Haisla Nation is a member of Marine Planning Partnership for the North Pacific Coast, which provides recommendations on stewardship and sustainable economic development of the coastal marine environment.
    • Over the past decade, the Haisla Nation has engaged in 17 joint ventures with industries seeking to support economic activity for the region

(Source Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation)

Text of the incremental treaty agreement (Pdf)

Haisla chief counsellor Ellis Ross on the dilemma of climate change and development

Haisla Nation Chief Counsellor spoke at Mt. Elizabeth Theatre on June 9, 2015, introducing David Suzuki who was on a speaking tour. This is a lightly edited report on his remarks that outline some of the dilemmas facing the Haisla and the Kitimat valley in an age that needs development but faces climate change.

Good evening.

Among chiefs, I am elected, not hereditary, you are born into that position, I wasn’t born into it.

I am basically a regular commoner just like you guys with a high school education and one year of college and a lot of experience outside my community that I bring back.

These topics about climate change locally, provincially, nationally and worldwide, they’re complicated topics.

Haisla Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross speaks at Mt. Elizabeth Theatre,  June 9, 2015 (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)
Haisla Chief Counsellor Ellis Ross speaks at Mt. Elizabeth Theatre, June 9, 2015 (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

There’s no one true fix for all of it. The problem is that the Haisla have been thrust into the middle of it and we have to answer it, which is very unfair.

So when we’re talking about what really is a Haisla value, a west coast, a British Columbia value. I must tell you I value the Haisla people, my people, that land, the territory, I think about the Haisla people because I don’t think anyone has given the Haisla people a priority in the last 40 to 50 years.

All the decisions that were made about Haisla territory, that affected out people, were made without us.

The result was that we ended up with 80 per cent unemployment, historically over the last 40 years we have ended up with cancer and we can’t get rid of it.

Poverty, people couldn’t get enough money to fix their bathrooms when the floor was rotting out.

The saying is that you can always tell when the reserve starts is when the pavement ends is true. Unless there’s a political agenda to actually pave the road to the village. The environmental questions that have been raised over the past ten years are not new to the Haisla.

In the 70s it was the Haisla alone who tried to battle emissions when nobody even knew what emissions meant. They tried to stop the effluent dumping into the river that killed off the river they tried to stop the diking of the river so parts of the land could be protected, parks.

When the Haisla knew that the oolichan that was estimated to be hundreds of thousands of tons, were dying off quickly in the span of five years. Nobody listened.
Now the DFO and Canada is realizing that the demise of the oolichan is a signal that something is wrong with the ecosystem.

I would love that someone would come around to the idea of thanking the Haisla people for all the work that they did and went and unheard even in meetings like this today.

And we’re not even talking about salmon.
In all this time, I’ve read all the documents, all the speeches and listened to all the promises of a better tomorrow for all the people but nobody delivered it.

Countless academic papers have been written about Indian poverty.

Nothing was done.

Non-profit organizations used the Haisla to further their cause and left town when they had achieved what they had achieved.

At the same time all the decisions continued to be made without us. And everybody benefited except us.

What happened in the end and the corporations made their billions and made enough money to pay off the mortgage and move down south, the Haisla were left with the mess to clean up. Today we’re still battling to get some of these sites cleaned up and we’re still not getting help.

I don’t blame anyone for this. Whether you’re am environmental organization, a government or a corporation or a non-profit organization, I don’t blame you for this because you have a mandate, you have a special interest. That’s what you’re trying to achieve.

I have a mandate. I do have an organization now that is fully equipped to look at every single permit that comes from the provincial government and the federal government and try to mitigate it given our capacity and our lack of funding.

But some of that benefit has to flow to the Haisla people. It’s our territory.

When you think about what has happened to us, the Haisla, we think about residential schools and I’ve been reading the debate on whether or not it’s genocide or not and I think people are missing the point.

Residential schools were only 10 per cent of a larger program to get rid of the Indian.

The ninety per cent was what was stolen from us as well. The land was taken away and we were put on a chunk of land across the Channel, that was described by the Indian Agent as worthless, it’s not even good for agriculture so give it to the Indians. We had to get permission from the federal government to leave that reserve. We had to get a piece of paper that said he’s allowed to leave the reserve and go pick berries.

We also have had no help other than some academic programs and some sort of study to deal with our suicides. I’m not just talking Haisla here. I really thought that one suicide every five years was really a bad thing. But finding out that my neighbors down the road from here to Prince George are dealing with ten suicides in the first quarter of this year.

It breaks my heart.

Who is responsible for that? If it’s not the government, if it’s not the non-profits, if it’s not corporations, who is it?

I stepped up and said I’ll take full responsibility for this but that means I have a hard message to deliver and I will deliver it on behalf of the Haisla people.

When it comes to climate change, we are living at a very unfortunate time, because finally we’re accepted at the provincial table, at the federal table, the corporate table.

We’re being included but unfortunately, we have to look at climate change as well. It’s a very tough position to be in when you’ve got a Grade 12 education from 1984 and one year of college education in 1985.

It’s a very tough topic, I can tell you. I’ve been to China, I’ve been to Korea and no matter what you say about the emissions there, Canada and BC have no problems with emissions here until you visit China.

They’re not going to get off crude oil, they’re not going to get off diesel fuel, they’re not going to give up coal because a billion people there want the same standard of living that you have in Canada. And I’m talking about India as well. They want the same standard. They want good houses; they want to own a car. They are not going to stop their thirst for energy.

I don’t have the answers.

I still believe that natural gas is a lot cleaner than coal and even if you put a small dent in it, it’s not enough to get these guys off nuclear power.

And the solar power you’re talking about, they do it for show but that’s not going to meet the energy needs of China. We’re not even talking about India; we’re not even talking about Korea.

You say can you help get China off dirty fuel, but all their pollution keeps getting dumped on South Korea.

I represent 1700 people, how am I going to do that?

We’re being asked to do a near impossible task while I’m trying to dig my people out of poverty. At the same time, when we get this opportunity we’re giving our members very mixed messages, including our young people which is heart breaking for me.

Because we’re telling them get an education, don’t be a burden on society, get a job, but by the way there are no jobs here, there’s no way to get into existing industries so you better go to the oil fields of Alberta to get a job. A lot of our people head over there or to Vancouver.

I’ve been following this debate on climate change for quite a while now, for over six years. I’ve been listening to everybody, I’ve been listening to corporations, being listening to governments, been listening to non-profits, but on behalf of the Haisla Nation Council, I’m here to tell you, that when it comes to the future of the Haisla I have very little patience with this. I don’t want to see another essay about what to do about Indian suicides.

I believe that our people are being sick and tired of being left out and left behind, while everyone else is moving on with their lives. I do want to what’s best for the region I do want to do what’s best for the province and Canada and the world. But I will not do it at the expense of the Haisla people. We’ve been at the dirty end of the tick for the last 40 years. It’s going to stop. Thank you very much and enjoy your evening.

Why the media coverage of the Tim Hortons boycott is a double double failure

The headline on Thursday’s CBC.ca coverage of the sudden controversy over a boycott  in British Columbia of Tim Horton’s over the Enbridge ads sums up everything that’s wrong about media coverage not only of the boycotts, but of northwest energy and environment issues overall.

“Tim Hortons yanks Enbridge ads, sparks Alberta backlash.” The anger at Tim Hortons across northwest British Columbia over those Enbridge ads, the calls for a boycott have been building for more than two weeks but no one in the media noticed despite widespread posts on Facebook and other social media.

CBC.ca

As usual, the concerns of the northwest didn’t really become a story until Alberta got involved and  the story has become the “Alberta backlash.”  Now, there’s a backlash on social media to the Alberta backlash, with northwestern British Columbians tweeting and posting their displeasure, angry at the usual blinkered views of Alberta-centric coverage of energy issues.

Let’s make one thing clear– despite the outraged cries of the usual suspects like Defence Minister Jason Kenney, Conservative MP Michelle Rempel, who represents Calgary Centre-North and Kyle Harrietha, the Liberal candidate for Fort McMurray-Cold Lake that the boycott was aimed  at Alberta’s entire energy industry and the province’s views of a manifest destiny as an energy super power, the doughnut boycott was really aimed specifically at Enbridge, and the company’s arrogance and incompetence.

This morning Wildrose party leader Brian Jean has joined the Alberta boycott and is demanding the Enbridge ads be reinstated. “I’ll pick up my Tim’s coffee again when they decide to apologize for taking jabs at our industry, which is so important to Albertans,” Jean is quoted on CBC.ca.

Of course Jean, like most Albertans, isn’t  looking at the bigger picture. The question that Jean should really be asking, is the continuing unquestioning support for Enbridge actually harming the rest of the Alberta energy industry by increasing the resistance in northwestern BC to other energy projects? When are Alberta politicians, whether federal or provincial, ever actually going to show even a Timbit of respect for the issues in northwestern British Columbia?

Look at what Enbridge is doing

There is strong support (with some reservations) for the liquified natural gas projects. There is a level of support for pipelines that would carry refined hydrocarbons to the coast, something that the new premier of Alberta, Rachel Notley is seriously considering.  But it is so typical of Alberta, the Alberta media and most of the Canadian media, to believe that the boycott was an attack on the entire energy industry.

Ask any executive of an energy company that wants to do business in northwestern British Columbia and they’ll come  up with the a joke that is now so old and so often repeated that it’s become a cliché, “We look at what Enbridge is doing and then do the exact opposite.”

timmysamos

The fact is that Enbridge has been dealing with northwestern British Columbia for more than ten years and they still can’t do anything right. Shell, Chevron, Petronas (and before them Apache) and even TransCanada make more efforts to listen to the people, First Nations and non-Aboriginal residents alike, than Enbridge ever has or ever will (despite their claims in their PR campaigns).

While these energy giants may not agree with what they hear, they are respectful and depending on their corporate culture are making genuine efforts to come up with ways to make their projects work. After a decade of blunders, however, Enbridge still hasn’t shown that much respect for anyone here. Those touchy feely ads that appear on television and at Tim Horton’s are just another example of how not to run a public relations campaign.

There are those who oppose any bitumen sands extraction who signed the online petition, but the core of opposition, as always, comes from northwestern BC and the issue is an ill-conceived pipeline.

Enbridge has been successful in one area of its public relations strategy. They’ve convinced Albertans that Enbridge and the Northern Gateway pipeline is an essential part of not only the Alberta economy but Alberta culture. Any attack on Enbridge becomes an attack on Alberta. Hence the unreasoned anger when after Tim Hortons pulled the ads.

The big blame America lie

The other Big Lie we keep hearing from the Harper Government, is that this all orchestrated by American NGOs and activists. Again this shows Alberta-centric contempt for British Columbia. It’s very easy and convenient to keep believing that everyone in northern British Columbia are dumb and stupid and are being led by the ear by those nasty green Americans who have it in for the efforts to make Canada an energy superpower. That idea, promoted by the more conservative Canadian media has always been animal waste. The battle to protect the environment of northwestern British Columbia while at the same time attracting resource projects that have recognized and obtained social licence to operate has always and will always in BC on a case by case, community by community basis.

Macleans

The only media that so far has managed to get it half right is Jason Kirby writing in MacLean’s who notes that the trouble began on May 18 when Enbridge put up the Tim Hortons ad on their own website. (Did I mention that Enbridge is both incompetent and arrogant?) and it was immediately noticed by those individuals and activists that monitor the Enbridge website.

A morning shock with your morning coffee and Timbits

Social media across northwestern British Columbia, mostly Facebook, began spreading the news within hours of the ads appearing in the local Timmys. There were angry posts from individuals who had walked in Tim Hortons and saw the ads.

Post in the Kitimat Politics Facebook group.
Post in the Kitimat Politics Facebook group.

Why didn’t the media get the story?

So why wasn’t the story covered by the media at least ten days ago?

That’s because in this age of tight budgets, it’s considered easy and economical to try to all of northern BC cover from either Vancouver or Calgary; that means covering from far away both the coast where the pipelines and tankers may or may not operate to the east near the Rockies where the natural gas extraction is on going

If you look at map of northern BC, and the two federal ridings Skeena Bulkley Valley and Prince George–Peace River–Northern Rockies, the population is about 200,000 spread over an area about half the size of Europe. Both ridings in this region are supposedly vital to the future of the Canadian economy, but you wouldn’t know it from most of the media. (The Globe and Mail is an exception, with more ongoing coverage of northern BC than you will find in either The Vancouver Sun or The Province).

Elections Canada map showing just how big the two northern BC ridings are.  (Elections Canada)
Elections Canada map showing just how big the two northern BC ridings are. (Elections Canada)

As for CBC, there are just eight radio staff, two in Prince Rupert and six in Prince George to cover all the apparently vital issues across half the province. ( Almost all the staff work mostly for the Daybreak North morning show which dominates the regional rates but it looks like with the latest CBC cutbacks that at least one of those positions will be eliminated). CBC TV and Global cover the region from Vancouver.

At least the Vancouver based media make efforts to cover the north from time to time. The Alberta media, however, especially the Calgary Herald, is hopeless, and so biased against British Columbia and so dismissive of the issues here, that the coverage across Alberta is completely unreliable about 90 per cent of the time—it’s no wonder that the majority of Albertans have no understanding of British Columbia culture and issues.

Then there are the punditi, pontificating from their cubicles in Ottawa and Toronto without a clue, without doing the basic journalism of picking up the phone (or writing an e-mail) to actually find out what’s going on.

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coyne2

Andrew Coyne, for example, made these rather silly two tongue-in-cheek tweets Thursday night. While Coyne’s tweets do often exhibit a sense of humour, his excellent coverage of the decline of our democratic parliament has to be compared with his blind, unchecked ideological assumptions about the issues of the northwest, which are simplistic, cubicle bound and far off the mark. The same can be said for Jeffrey Simpson in his occasional writing about this region. Neither the view from the Hill, where you can see as far as the Queensway, nor from Bloor Street, where you can see part of the Don Valley, are vantage points to understand what is going in northern British Columbia.


Update: Rex Murphy, writing in the National Post,  has now joined the fray, no longer making a secret of his absolute disbelief in climate change and support for Enbridge. However, if you read his column, it is scathing in its contempt for the working men and women of British Columbia who want sustainable environmentally safe resource projects. It appears that to Murphy the only people in this country who actually work for a living in Canada are in Alberta and Newfoundland and no where else.   Kitimat has been an industrial town since it was founded in the 1950s, Kitimat rejoiced when former Mayor Joanne Monaghan succeeded in bringing a Timmys to Kitimat and the majority of Kitimat residents voted in the plebiscite against Enbridge.  But, of course, all those facts are irrelevant to Murphy and the other conservative pundits who never come within a thousand kilometres of northwestern BC, who believe we can’t think for ourselves and are easily misled by American environmentalists.  No wonder journalism is in a death spiral.


Error checks

So let’s look at the specific errors in the media coverage of the Tim Horton’s story.

globetimmys

Both Shawn McCarthy in the Globe and Mail and Kyle Bakyx on CBC.ca seem to accept without question that SumofUs, was the instigator of the petition. Like many issues in northwestern BC, the Lower Mainland or US based activist groups follow the lead of northwestern BC and jump on the bandwagon, not the other way around. Jason Kirby in MacLean’s says the boycott movement began a week ago. Here in Kitimat, it began within hours of the ads appearing in the local Timmys and was picked up on activist social media groups before the SumofUs petition site.

McCarthy repeats the conventional wisdom: “The Conservatives and oil industry supporters have been waging a public relations war with the environmental groups that oppose expansion of the oil sands and construction of new pipelines.”

When is the media ever going to learn that opposition to Enbridge is widespread across most of northern British Columbia, from First Nations to city and regional councils to a plurality of residents? When is the media going to drop the stock phrase “First Nations and environmentalists”? Does anyone remember the vote in Kitimat last April against the Northern Gateway project?

CBC.ca quotes Alan Middleton of York University “Enbridge, of course, is not just pipelines and oilsands; they are a whole range of products including heating people’s homes. Tims should have thought about that.” Again a mistake. I lived in Toronto for many years. A company called Consumers Gas supplied natural gas to homes until it was taken over by Enbridge, so Enbridge does heat the homes in Toronto. But what has that got to do with northwestern British Columbia? Why didn’t CBC.ca call the University of Northern British Columbia? Easier to call York (which by the way is where I got both my BA and MA)

McCarthy quotes Rempel as saying, “One has to wonder whether head office talked to their franchise owners in Alberta before making the decision. I imagine those calls are being made this afternoon – certainly there are a lot of people voicing their displeasure.”

The question that should have been asked whether or not Tim Hortons consulted their franchise owners in British Columbia before ordering them to play the ads. People here were “voicing their displeasure” from the moment the first Kitimatian walked into the local Timmys for an early morning coffee and had to stand in line while being told how wonderful Enbridge is.

Of course, if Albertans force Tim Hortons into reinstating the ads, that will only trigger a bigger boycott in British Columbia.  As Maclean’s asks, “what were they thinking?”

Jason Kenney, flying in, flying out

As for Jason Kenney, who is quoted by the CBC as tweeting:  “I’m proud to represent thousands of constituents who work for Enbridge & other CDN energy companies,” if Kenney aspires to be Prime Minister one day, he had better start thinking about representing more Canadians than just those employed by the energy industry—a mistake that his boss Stephen Harper keeps making.

Jason Kenney did visit Kitimat for a just a few hours in February 2014  for a tour of the Rio Tinto modernization project and an obligatory and brief meeting with the Haisla First Nation council. If Kenney had actually bothered to stick around a few more hours and talk to the community, everyone from the environmentalists to the industrial development advocates, he might not have been so quick on the trigger in the Twitter wars.

Not one of the major media who covered this story, not The Globe and Mail, not CBC.ca, not MacLean’s, no one else, once bothered to actually call or e-mail someone who lives along the Northern Gateway pipeline route in British Columbia, the area where the boycott movement actually began to ask about Enbridge’s track record in this region. The media still doesn’t get it. This morning’s stories are all about Alberta. As usual, my dear, the media doesn’t give a damn about northwestern British Columbia.

That is why the coverage of the Tim Hortons boycott is a double double failure of the Canadian media.

timmyskpoljune4




Where else the media is failing northwestern BC

Full disclosure. Since I took early retirement from CBC in 2010 and returned to Kitimat, I have worked as a freelancer for CBC radio and television, Global News, Canadian Press, The National Post, The Globe and Mail and other media.

However, largely due to budget cuts, freelance opportunities, not only for myself, but others across the region have dried up. The media seems to be concentrating more on the major urban areas where there is larger population base and at least more of the ever shrinking advertising dollar. I am now told more often than I was a couple of years ago that “we don’t have the budget.”

Now this isn’t just a freelancer who would like some more work (although it would be nice). If the media these days actually had environmental beats for reporters the boycott of Tim Hortons in northwest BC would have been flagged within a couple of days, not almost two and half weeks and later only when Alberta got hot under its oily collar.

So as well as the Tim Horton’s boycott here are two major ongoing stories from Kitimat that the media haven’t been covering.

100 day municipal strike

-Kitimat’s municipal workers, Unifor 2300, have been on strike since February 28. Three rounds of mediation have failed, the union has refused binding arbitration, the pool, gym and community meeting halls have been closed since February, the municipal parks and byways are now returning to the wilderness. Only essential services are being maintained (but residents still have to pay their property taxes by July 2, taxes that are skyrocketing due to increased assessments for home values based on LNG projects that haven’t started) By the time most people read this the strike will have been on for 100 days. There is no settlement in sight and both sides, despite a mediator ordered blackout, are fighting a press release war on social media. Can you imagine any other place that had a 100 day municipal workers strike with no coverage in the province’s main media outlets, whether newspaper or television? Local CBC radio has covered the strike, as has the local TV station CFTK.  (Update: District of Kitimat says in a news release that the mediator has now approved the DoK news releases.)

Of course, in the bigger picture the media concentrates on business reporting. There haven’t been labour reporters for a generation.

Kitimat air shed hearings

-The environmental hearings on the Rio Tinto Alcan proposal to increase sulphur dioxide emissions in the Kitimat Terrace air shed, after two weeks in Victoria, where there was no media coverage, are now continuing in Kitimat, where again there is little media coverage. CFTK is covering the hearings; otherwise the main coverage comes from the activist group DeSmog, hardly a credible or unbiased source. I made the decision not to cover the hearings either. I can’t afford any longer to sit around for two weeks, unpaid, no matter how vital the hearings are to the community.

So if most Canadians were surprised that there was a boycott of the unofficial national symbol, Tim Hortons, it’s because of that double double media fail and as the media continues to decline, as budgets are cut, as “commodity news” disappears, expect more surprises in the future. Oh by the way Kitimat is vital to the national economy but we can cover it from a cubicle in Toronto.

Final disclosure: I am not a coffee drinker. When I go to Timmy’s I prefer a large steeped tea and an apple fritter.

Photo op or engagement? How the Harper government failed in the northwest

Bear totem at UNBC
The bear totem at the University of Northern British Columbia, one of the backdrops considered by Natural Resources for an announcement by Joe Oliver. (UNBC)

If anyone wanted a snapshot (or for younger folks a selfie) of why the Harper government grounded out at home, never even getting to first base  with northwestern British Columbia on Northern Gateway and other resource projects, it can be found in about sixty pages of  documents, obtained by Northwest Coast Energy News under the Access to Information Act, documents that outline the planning for former Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver’s first visit to Terrace in March 2013

  • The documents reveal the priority for Natural Resources communications staff was mainly finding an appropriate First Nations visual backdrop for Oliver’s speech announcing the appointment of Douglas Eyford as special representative to First Nations, the Harper government’s attempt to smooth relations as it dawned on the government that opposition to Northern Gateway wasn’t just going to disappear.
  • Despite years of media coverage from both those opposed to and even those who support the Northern Gateway project that highest priority issue was preventing oil spills whether from tankers or pipelines, the Ottawa-based communications planners in Natural Resources Canada were talking about how aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities could respond to oil spills.
  • For an event that was supposed to engage the First Nations of coastal British Columbia and gain their support for resource projects, all the economic examples are about Alberta First Nations who are working the extraction of bitumen in Alberta, there are no example of how BC First Nations might profit from Northern Gateway (that is if any BC First Nations actually wanted to do so)
  • A visit to Kitimat, the centre of the debate, wasn’t even on the radar in March, 2013, as Joe Oliver, then Minister of Natural Resources, even though Kitimat is just a 40 minute drive from the site of the announcement at the Terrace campus of Northwest Community College.

When Natural Resources Canada started planning Joe Oliver’s announcement they created what was called a “Message Event Proposal” which even in its title shows how the government and the communications staff think. The message is more important than the event.

Northwest Coast Energy News
Finding a background with a First Nations focus was a high priority for Natural Resources Canada in choosing Northwest Community College in Terrace for an announcement by Minister Joe Oliver on March 19, 2013. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

The planning documents from Natural Resources, starting on March 5, 2013, indicate that from the beginning the announcement was being treated as a photo op. Invitations to or participation by “stakeholders” are listed as N/A “not applicable,” which meant that meetings, even private meetings, with representatives of northwestern First Nations and other communities either weren’t considered or the communications staff weren’t informed. (If there were such plans they were not part of the access documents released and as far as Northwest Coast Energy News can find out no meetings took place since Oliver left for Ottawa immediately after the announcement)

The documents show that there were no plans to involve "stakeholders" in Joe Oliver's announcement.
The documents show that there were no plans to involve “stakeholders” in Joe Oliver’s announcement.

The Natural Resources communications staff were working on multiple angles in March, as part of what the planning documents call “a suite of events in Vancouver on marine and pipeline safety.”

The first set of those events would eventually take place on March 18, 2013, in Vancouver, and included the announcement, without consulting either Rio Tinto Alcan or the District, that Kitimat’s private port run by Alcan since it was first built would be turned in a federal public port.

The announcement of Eyford’s appointment  would eventually take place at the Waap Galts’ap community long house at Northwest Community College in Terrace on the morning of March 19.

That location certainly wasn’t clear at first. The first documents suggested the announcement take place in Vancouver, and then a day later on March 6, the proposed venue, according to the staff, was in either Prince Rupert or Prince George.

According to the internal e-mails, sometime that week what Ottawa bureaucrats call MINO — the minister’s office– decided that the venue should be Terrace. On March 11, e-mails among Natural Resources staff show that the choice had changed to either Terrace or Prince George.

Since the “special representative” whom we now know would be Douglas Eyford, would report directly to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the political level was involved.  MINO took over writing Oliver’s speech and the arrangements were copied to the Privy Council Office, the civil service branch that has overall supervision of the federal bureaucrats and works directly with the Prime Minister. So the speech that the communications branch had drafted for Oliver became “can please turn the one we had done for him into the remarks for the new guy?”

Plan B in Prince George

The choice of Terrace left the Natural Resources Ottawa staff hedging their bets, looking for a “potential plan B” in Prince George. The e-mails indicate that Ottawa asked  Natural Resources west coast communications officer for a list of suitable locations in Prince George.

The communications officer replied with three locations at the University of Northern British Columbia “a moving bear totem on campus” the main administration building which the e-mail said “ has a strong First Nations focus,” adding  “Environment Canada has done…events there. Strong FN visuals.” The third choice was “a new bio energy facility that looks industrial.”

Backups were The College of New Caledonia trade centre and the Prince George industrial park.

UNBC adminstration building
Natural Resources Canada also considered the “strong First Nations visuals” at the University of Northern British Columbia administration building. (UNBC)

NRCan email

 

UNBC bioenergy lab
The University of Northern British Columbia’s bioenergy facility. (UNBC)

E-mails from the staff on Wednesday, March 14 and Thursday, March 15, showed while they were now aware the event would be in Terrace, and probably at Northwest Community College, there was still a lot of uncertainty. “We haven’t been able to contact them to confirm, but as soon as we do, we will let you know the exact details as well as what is required in terms of logistics.”

Remembering that Natural Resources and Transport Canada were also planning the Vancouver event on Monday, March 18, it appears that even as Oliver arrived on the morning of March 19, the minister’s staff both political and bureaucratic were still scrambling.

On March 19, the NWCC staff on site were complaining that as soon as the Ottawa delegation saw the standard arrangements for an event at the Waap Galts’ap community long house they ordered the NWCC staff to immediately rearrange the room, so that the podium was in front of one wall with what Oliver’s staff thought was a better First Nations painting. That rearranging was still going on when I arrived to cover the announcement.

Joe Oliver
Joe Oliver tries out a heavy equipment simulator at Northwest Community College on March 19, 2013, prior to his speech. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

Even after the furniture was rearranged, the start was delayed as Oliver and his staff disappeared into an upstairs room for a meeting before the news conference began, and Oliver announced Eyford’s appointment.

During the question and answer session with the media during the news conference, the students that had essentially been brought in as props for the photo op and to help promote Northwest Community College’s industrial training program, began to ask questions.

news conference
Joe Oliver listens to a question from a student at the Northwest Community College news conference. (Robin Rowland/Northwest Coast Energy News)

One student asked Oliver if Eyford’s appointment was going to replace “all talks” with First Nations about resource projects. The Natural Resources public relations staff tried to cut off one student, since the national media were waiting on a telephone conference call. To his credit, Oliver did answer the student’s question, saying Eyford’s appointment was not intended to “replace the independent, regulatory review.” He went on to explain the Northern Gateway Joint Review would continue its work and report at the end of 2013.

What was Ottawa thinking? You too, can respond to an oil spill.

If the aim was to engage the First Nations and other residents of northwestern BC, it is clear that the concerns of this region hadn’t reached out Ottawa.

It appears from the planning documents for Joe Oliver’s trip to Terrace, that a main concern of everyone in the northwest, aboriginal and non-aboriginal, opponents and supporters of the Northern Gateway pipeline, preventing oil spills also wasn’t on the government radar, rather it was preparing and responding to oil spills.

Guess who would respond?

As part of the measures to strengthen Canada’s Marine Oil Spill Preparedness and Response Regime, the Government of Canada will strengthen the engagement and involvement of Aboriginal and non-aboriginal communities in preparing for and responding to oil spills.

oilspill

When it comes to a key section on benefits from the Northern Gateway and other resource projects, there is no mention of benefits to British Columbia; rather it appears all the examples of benefits for aboriginal communities come from Alberta, including $1.3 billion in contract work for oil sands companies not including construction, for the year 2010, and $5 billion since 2001. The Message Event Proposal also cites a joint venture between the Bigstone Cree and Bronco Energy, “the biggest oil sands project every undertaken on First Nations reserve lands.”

economicbenefit

Overall the plan was to “Promote Canada’s commitment to achieving its goals under its plan for Responsible Resource Development, including increased consultations with Aboriginal peoples.”

The “media lines’ issued by Natural Resources also outlined the Harper government’s attitude to the Northern Gateway, noting that Eyford’s appointment was independent of the Northern Gateway Joint Review, and went to indicate that the JRP was “conducting a rigorous, extensive, open, science-based assessment.” It adds that “we will continue to rely on the integrity of this process,” again showing how out of touch Natural Resources was (at least in talking points) since by March 2013, there was growing consensus in the northwest that the JRP had lost its credibility.gateway1
gateway2

The media lines also show that the Harper government believed that “Aboriginal consultations are fully integrated into the review process to ensure meaningful consultation occurs,” a position that most First Nations in British Columbia reject, insisting on meaningful consultations between the Crown and the First Nation.

consultation1

When Eyford presented his report to the Prime Minister in December, 2013, Eyford called for stronger action to engage First Nations opposed to new oil and gas pipelines.

“It’s never too late to engage and do so in a process of good faith negotiations… “This won’t be an easy process. I hope my report is perceived as providing objective and blunt advice to all the parties engaged in this process.’’

The 53 page report contained dozens of recommendations mainly concerned with a more open and principled dialogue with First Nations.

“The development of West Coast energy infrastructure provides an opportunity to forge partnerships and build relationships. There is a strong interest and real opportunity for Canada and aboriginal Canadians to more effectively collaborate to address their respective interests.’’

Editor’s note:  On the port issue, an RTA spokesperson noted that talks with the federal government are continuing. He noted that all the Kitimat port facilities are privately owned, by Rio Tinto Alcan or by LNG Canada and there are “multiple stakeholders” involved.

Documents

Natural Resources Media Lines  (pdf)

Natural Resources Message Event Proposal  (pdf)

Forging Trust Douglas Eyford’s final report  (pdf)

Related Links

Joe Oliver makes flying visit, meets Haisla, snubs Kitimat (almost)

Harper government to District of Kitmat Drop Dead

BC orders Prince Rupert air shed study with wider scope than the Kitimat report

The province of British Columbia has posted a request for bids for an extensive air shed study for Prince Rupert, a study that has much wider scope that the controversial Kitimat air shed study. The maximum cost for the study is set at $500,000.

The BC Bid site is asking for 

a study of potential impacts to the environment and human health of air emissions from a range of existing and proposed industrial facilities in the Prince Rupert airshed, further referred to as Prince Rupert Airshed Study (PRAS) in North West British Columbia.

The “effects assessment” should include the “prediction of effects of existing and proposed air emissions of nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and fine particulate matter (at PM2.5, called dangerous by Wikipedia ) from “an existing BC Hydro gas fired turbine, a proposed oil refinery, and seven proposed LNG export terminals (Pacific Northwest LNG, Prince Rupert LNG, Aurora LNG, Woodside LNG, West Coast Canada LNG, Orca LNG, and Watson Island LNG).”

In addition to “stationary sources” of nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter, “the impact assessment will also include rail and marine transportation sources of these contaminants in the study area.”

Area of the proposed Prince Rupert air shed study. (Environment BC)
Area of the proposed Prince Rupert air shed study. (Environment BC)

The request for proposal goes on to say:

The identified sources will be used for air dispersion modelling to determine how the contaminants in various aggregations (scenarios) will interact with the environment, including surface water, soils, vegetation and humans. Interactions of interest will include:

– water impact mechanisms related to acidification and eutrophication;
– soil impact mechanisms related to acidification and eutrophication; and
– vegetation and human health impact mechanisms related to direct exposure.

Water and soil impact predictions will be based on modelled estimates of critical loads for both media, given existing and predicted conditions in the airshed. Vegetation and human health impact predictions will be based on known thresholds of effects, given modelled existing and predicted conditions (contaminant concentrations) in the airshed.

Although the documents say that the Prince Rupert study will be based on the same parameters at the Kitimat air shed study, the Kitimat study only looked at sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, and did not include particulate matter.

Environmental groups also criticized the Kitimat air shed study for not including green house gases. The proposed Prince Rupert study also does not include green house gases.

A draft report is due by March 15, for review by the province and affected First Nations and subject to peer review. The District of Kitimat was not asked for comment on the study  on that air shed study, even though scholars as far away as Finland were asked to review it. It appears that Prince Rupert itself is also excluded from a chance to review the study. The final report is due on May 15.

The province has issued a permit to Rio Tinto Alcan to increase sulphur dioxide emissions from the Kitimat Modernization Project. The Environmental Appeal Board  will hold hearings in January 2015.  Elisabeth Stannus and Emily Toews, from Kitimat,  have appealed against  decision to allow RTA to increase sulphur dioxide emissions.