As is their habit, the Canadian government continues their policy of “benign neglect”; allowing the destruction of Indigenous territory while expressing great concern; in this case even flying in Crown Ministers to have their pictures taken – while not actually addressing the damage.
October 10, 2018 (Vancouver BC) – Two years ago, an oil spill rocked Bella Bella, a Heiltsuk community in the heart of what is known as the Great Bear Rainforest. Today Heiltsuk leaders gathered in Vancouver to announce they are taking legal action.
“This claim follows two years of independent investigation by Heiltsuk into the spill’s cause, response, and impacts,” announced elected Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett. “The preparation of this case itself is a major achievement, since Canada, B.C., and Kirby have denied or ignored our requests for information, consultation, and support. Our hope is that this case sets a new precedent for oil spill response for the province and the country. I wouldn’t wish these last two years on anyone.”
The American-owned tug and articulated barge, known as Nathan E. Stewart and operated by Kirby Corporation, ran aground in Heiltsuk territory on October 13, 2016, after the watchperson fell asleep. The tug eventually sank spilling 110,000 litres of diesel fuel, lubricants, heavy oils, and other pollutants into Gale Pass, an important Heiltsuk food harvesting, village, and cultural site. Since the spill, governments of Canada and B.C. as well as Kirby have left the Heiltsuk to fend for themselves, declining to do a meaningful post-spill environmental impact assessment to determine the extent of contamination and other impacts on the surrounding land, sea, and marine life.
“When the Nathan E. Stewart sank it took with it livelihoods, our clam fishery, and part of what makes this place home,” says hereditary chief and first responder Harvey Humchitt. “It was painful to watch the damage unfold as we waited for support and supplies. More painful still when the teams and equipment that did arrive were disorganized, ineffective and, ultimately, powerless to protect our waters and lands.”
Heiltsuk is seeking compensation for damages resulting from the grounding of the Nathan E. Stewart and the subsequent oil spill. These include loss of traditional harvest and associated cultural losses, and commercial losses, as well as costs associated with oil spill response efforts, Heiltsuk-led environmental impact assessment, and other remediation.
The case raises questions about the national and provincial oil spill response framework, Canada and B.C.’s duty to consult communities affected by spills, and constitutional questions, including whether aboriginal title applies to the seabed and foreshore. It is built on findings from the Heiltsuk adjudication report, a lengthy analysis of the spill in the context of Heiltsuk law released to the public today by Heiltsuk Tribal Council’s Adjudication Committee; an investigation report Heiltsuk released in 2017; and a study of various policies, including the Marine Liability Act, Ship Source Pollution Fund, and other precedents summarized in the Notice of Civil Claim filed today.
“Since time immemorial, we have followed Ǧviḷás, Heiltsuk traditional law. It tells us to balance the health of the water and land with the needs of our people and to ensure there will always be plentiful resources,” says Frank Brown, hereditary chief and member of the adjudication committee. “Today, Gale Pass is in jeopardy because of Canada, British Columbia, and Kirby’s actions. Our law has been violated and the legal action we are taking in the B.C. Supreme Court today is our bid to hold them accountable.”
Queen Victoria promised an annuity to each indigenous person around Lake Huron to use their territory. Now a legal case seeks to bring that treaty up to date
And yet, here I stand and write, vicious and vivacious. Appropriation hurts, it bears repeating, it’s the machine that reiterates settler colonial ideologies. Appropriation is the iconoclasm of colonialism; the image that you see when you think of “Indian” is how you’ve been programmed to see me, feel me, hear me, hate me. Appropriation is the stamp of approval that acknowledges and allows the rape of our women, the destruction of our land, the invisibility/inaudibility of our stories. Appropriation is what gifted you the very canon of CanLit.
My name is Brandon Gabriel and my ancestral name is Kwelexwecten from my mother’s side. I am a proud member of the Kwantlen Nation who lives in my home community in unceded and unrelinquished land in present day Fort Langley. The same Fort Langley where the proclamation of BC was signed- which we protested at the doors of the fort right from day 1.
That document was intended to not just thwart American interests of these unrelinquished lands, but to quell and annihilate the Indigenous assertion of these lands. It laid the groundwork for many years of tragic, violent, and forced removals of other indigenous nations that has established protocols, claims, and rights to these lands and waters from a time beyond our reckoning.
For many of us First Nations peoples our records of these claims lay in massive museum collections all around the world and are deemed “primitive” vestiges of a bygone era, and British Columbia was and is still considered to be a focal point of museum collecting. It is a contradictory business that on one hand purports to “preserve ” indigenous visual cultures, and conversely “forbids” and withholds the continued expressions of those cultures to be brought to light in contemporary and ongoing assertions of Indigenous rights in this country. The Canada we know is vastly different relationally to my community and that of those who continue to settle here, and that sentiment is reflected back by an ignorant and racist society that confusingly warns Indigenous people like myself to “get over it” and say things like “I cant take responsibility for what my ancestors did to you.” All the time!
The most contradictory part of those assertions are that these governments are part of the continuing suppression of Indigenous cultures by withholding these important visual assertions that have power to thwart dubious proclamations to the contrary; and the society itself seems to not be ready to get rid of its own past of violent and racist oppression. It wants to uphold its old structures of power.
So when you recognize a territory this is good. But take it a bit further and invite someone like me to speak to your audiences and dont take my space or the space of other community members armed with my knowledge.
Otherwise it is just more empty hub-hub.
The only plea that I have is that I hope more like you do the work you are doing- but that comes with a dire need for me to impart important facts:
The white man’s world is no longer fashionable for anyone to assert anymore. Be ready for people like me. I don’t care if I make friends. I have nothing to hide and nothing to lose.
The Calamity of Caledonia
“Indeed, much of the bitter criticism of Ontario’s attempts to negotiate out of the Douglas Creek Estates impasse has invoked “the rule of law” with apparently serene confidence that in Ontario the law will never include aboriginal rights. In her articles, Christie Blatchford’s strongest attacks were on the Ontario government for tolerating “two-tier justice” that indulged “natives who … played the victim.” It is probably still politically impossible today for any Ontario government to treat aboriginal rights with the kind of respect they have begun to receive in British Columbia. Ontario courts have not spent 40 years educating governments and citizens what the rule of law actually requires on aboriginal title and treaty obligations. The Nass Valley and Haida Gwaii seem very far away.”
Fragile Freedoms – First Nations and human rights
John Borrows is an Anishinabe scholar and expert in Indigenous law. He presents a lecture oJn the connections between First Nations and human rights. It’s from a series called Fragile Freedoms: the Global Struggle Human Rights presented at the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights, in Winnipeg.
Access dispute at Okanagan Falls
Clam gardens provide new perspective on First Nations history
“The number of gardens, their long usage, and the labour involved in rock wall construction indicate that individual and clustered clam gardens were one of the foundation blocks of Native economy . . .