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REPORTING · 11th January 2012
Walter McFarlane
The Spirit of the Kitlope drummed in the Haisla Elders. It was Tuesday, January 10th and the first Joint Review Panel (JRP) Hearing for Oral Evidence had begun. The proceedings began with a prayer for blessing the decision of Joint Review Panel.

Sheila Leggett, chair of the JRP, introduced the panel and explained why they were in Kitamaat Village.

“On May 27th, 2010, Northern Gateway Unlimited Partnership, applied for national Energy Board for approval to Construct and Operate the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project. That Project will include two 1172 kilometre pipelines between Bruderheim Alberta and a new marine terminal in Kitimat, British Columbia. In an addition to the review under the National Energy Board act, the application requires an Environmental Assessment pursuant to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. The review of this project has been ongoing since its filing. Today is the start of the community hearings, most of the review to date has been conducted in writing,” said Leggett. “All of the information that you share with us will be taken into consideration when we do make our decision.”

She explained they are looking at the impacts which the project has on the community or individuals, as well as how the impacts can be reduced. They were in Kitimat to listen to the oral evidence from registered interveners. Oral evidence is information relevant to the list of matters the panel will be looking at. “We are here today to listen to you,” said Leggett.

The speakers who provided evidence on Tuesday were all members of the Haisla Nation. They were sworn in, Marilyn Furlan, Clifford Smith, Rod Bolton, Samuel Robinson, Henry Amos, Kenneth Hall and Ellis Ross. Each of the speakers explained who they were and what their story was, how they were connected to the land.

The first speaker was Samual Robinson. He explained he is a fisherman who operates charter boats on the Kitimat River and the Douglas Channel. He explained how the Oolichan, a fish with important significance to the First Nations in Kitamaat can no longer be found on the Kitimat River, but the salmon still go up there and it is their last resource.

He shared legends of the Douglas Channel and how the Haisla use these legends to educate their children and teach them the ways of the past. One such legend is about a man who was turned to stone The stone man and his legend are used to teach youth the lesson not to run away from an enemy but to stand up to the enemy, or they will be turned to stone.

“Are we going to protect ourselves or are we all going to turn into stone? I don’t know. I‘m hoping that doesn‘t happen,” said Robinson.

He expressed he was concerned for the animal life, which the community of Kitamaat harvests for food and they want to continue living the way they have. Robinson explained they had been in this area for between 1500 and 2000 years. They traded with other communities by dugout canoe and over the mountains. They were self sufficient and utilized the territories resources, plants, animals and sea food.

The main source of food for the Haisla people during this time was the salmon and he was worried they would be lost or destroyed when there is a spill, “for experience” Robinson stated, “shows it will happen.” They have been taught to take only what they need and leave the harvest site in the same, or better condition.

“We have always been a peaceful nation that lived through discussion and negotiation. When all fails, we went to war to protect our family, our rights, our ownership of food, shelter and safety,” said Robinson.

Robinson reflected on an ancestral leader of the Haisla whose portrait was hanging on the wall behind the JRP table. His name was Chief Johnny Bolton. On September 1st, 1913, he was interviewed by a Royal Commission and Chief Bolton said: “We are troubled about our land. It is now strange to us some how. It is ours because we were born here. Our forefathers before us. We want you to understand it. We want you to know how government got the land outside the reserve.”

Robinson expressed the government was buying and selling Traditional Haisla Territory, bought and sold it and have done what they want with it. They want their voice and they will have their voice.

The second speaker was Rod Bolton. Bolton spoke about the pre-industry pristine condition of the Valley and explained how important hunting and fishing is to the Haisla Community and his family who he feeds with his trap line. He also explained the Pipeline would go over Anderson Creek where his trap line is.

“That’s what I fear, if they just put that pipeline in there, it will do damage to our environment. Eurocan just packed up and left what they had. The pulp and paper damaged our river. Now they talk about this. That is a big concern of mine. I don’t mind oil, not the oil we are talking about but this Oolichan oil. That’s what I want. Oolichan Oil,” said Bolton to loud applause from the audience watching.

He expressed the Federal Government had abandoned them. He expressed they are stewards of the land and if the land is gone, it will not come back again. They have seen examples of what happens in Mexico and Alaska.

“If we see a spill of oil in our area, it will never recover. There is no way to clean it up,” said Bolton. He spoke about a friend he has in Alaska and how Alaska has not recovered from the Spill in Prince William Sound.

Ken Hall was next. During his presentation, he explained how one spill would wipe out everything they have. “The Haisla are facing a double barreled shotgun,” said Hall. In their history, they never went hungry because of the resources in their territory. Their grand children will be the ones suffering. He stated Euocan polluted the river and then walked away without looking back.

He also said companies have lied to the Haisla nation in the past about the toxicity of their emissions. How they started getting sick after they were told tainted food and water was safe to eat. He expressed problems with Alcan and Eurocan.

Hall concluded his presentation by reminding the panel the other First Nations stand in solidarity with the Haisla First Nations.

The fourth speaker was Clifford Smith and he started off thanking his brothers and sisters who sat behind him, but standing along side him in speaking against the pipeline. He expressed he was receiving strength from the people of his nation to stand together in saying no to Enbridge.

Smith explained the First Nations were linked together through the resources from their land and see. They enjoy the recourses. “If there is an oil spill, whether it be from the pipeline, or the ship that is transporting Crude Oil, if there is any form of spill, all that we enjoy from the land and sea will be destroyed. Let us put our strength together and stand as one, and say no to Enbridge,” said Smith.

Like Hall, he stated the Haisla are facing a double barrel shotgun. “The proposed pipeline will come through our back door, and the ships will come here and transport oil. We are indeed facing a double barreled shotgun. The impact of any oil will mean disaster,” said Smith claiming the children will not be able to benefit from the resources they have today.

Furlan’s story was an emotional one about her childhood, her parents, the children of the Village and her grandparents. She told the JRP how she grew up in Butedale and focused on the traditional ways of the First Nations of the North; the recovery of traditional food. She expressed everything happens for a reason. She also stated how the Douglas Channel and Kitimat River were beginning to recover from the loss of Eurocan.

She stated she was concerned about the pipeline and how a spill would impact their territory. She did not want to accept the risk to their territory, lands and resources. She said her parents would not accept the risks nor would the other people who cared for her growing up. She told the panel Johnny Bolton was her great grandfather and she could feel them all watching the proceedings. She was concerned for the coming children and how important it is to teach them about the resources when she is gone. She asked them to keep their lands free from an oil spill.

The sixth speaker was Henry Amos who expressed honesty, accountability, responsibility and respect were the strongest words he were taught. He challenged the JRP to reflect on these words. He expressed a concern with the decision they are making on the project as the Haisla are at a disadvantage, they have no representative from the Province of British Columbia. They (the 3 JRP members) were appointed by the Federal Government, the same government who is telling the world the Enbridge Project should go ahead.

Amos stated on the record he depends on the resources of the land and water. He pointed out all three phases of the project are on Haisla Territory, the pipeline, the terminal and the tanker route. He reflected on the previous accidents, in Mexico and Prince William Sound. He stated he does not want to see this happen in the place he calls home.

He considered what would happen if there was a spill in the river, if a spill were to occur at the intake for the water system and how proponents of the pipeline do not take this into consideration. He said there was no where for the oil to go once it gets into the channel. He said he is familiar with winter storms that cover roads and cars, freezing rain on highways. ‘How do they expect to reach a spill if they can not get there because of winter conditions?’

“I don’t know how this pipeline is supposed to be coming through in rugged terrain in BC. This isn’t Alberta, this isn’t the prairies where you can see for miles,” said Amos.

Amos stated he worked in industry. He has seen a lot of accidents, not because of equipment, but because of human error. He pointed to the Queen of the north.

“We’re not dead set against employment. I’ve heard individuals: ‘Oh we’ll get jobs.’ My community has to fight tooth and nail to get employment,” said Amos. “I think the bottom line is, once this project, depending on which way it goes, will have 50 permanent jobs. From our experience, we’re lucky to get jobs for our people. I want to make it perfectly clear, those jobs, no matter how much money is put in front of me, I will always go against a project that I know can wipe out our whole resource.”

He stated the bottom line is to protect what the people want and not have the Enbridge Project in their territory. He received a standing ovation.

The final presenter was Ellis Ross, Chief Councillor for the Kitamaat Village, who tied all the presentations together. He welcomed the JRP to a historical event. He explained who he was and that he has stuck close to economic development and Aboriginal Rights and Title. He explained there is more happening in this Valley then Enbridge. There is forestry, natural gas and spin offs from these projects. They are also dealing with land and treaty issues and Enbridge is simply one of ten. He appreciated the JRP coming all this way.

He explained he was there to talk about the history, traditional knowledge and his personal experience and this event would be a part of his history, he would recount this story to his grandchildren and the results.

“It will become traditional knowledge. And quite frankly, I don’t have traditional knowledge in the same manner that Sammy Robinson does, or in the same manner as Henry Amos. I was too young to go up the Kitimat River before the Oolichan was wiped out. I missed out on that teaching. Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of Oolichans annually. These are the stories that are passed on to me now. This is now not about where you are going to fish or this is where your fishing camp is. It’s about what used to be, this is what we used to do. This is the traditional knowledge that has been passed on to me,” said Ross.

The Haisla roll is to protect the environment. Amos and Robinson got hands on teaching. They were told not to spill Kerosene and to keep these locations in pristine condition. Respect the Oolichan, the river and their neighbours for they will move into that spot when the fisherman is gone.

He remembered the last time they harvested Olichan in the Kitimat river. The grease from the fish smelled of Effluent from the Eurcan Mill. They thought it was the water and retrieved fresh ground water. The result was the same. Soon, a run which was estimated to be hundreds of thousands of tonnes was reduced to fifty fish. The Haisla struggle to find the fish so they could test them for taint.

He related a story from centuries ago, how the First Nations would not come to this valley because they thought there was a monster here. One hunting party was brave enough to investigate and what they found was not a monster, but thousands of seagulls rising and falling, flying in unison, to feed on the Oolichans seen at a distance of 7 miles. This was his traditional knowledge.

No one ever came to their aid. Now the Haisla are trying to make sure this never happens again. The tradition is broken, who can he blame, his elders who managed the resources? Ross explained he blames those who signed the permits and authorized the certificates to manage them on behalf of BC while bending to corporate interests.

They were trying to save the river. Eurocan could not meet its targets for effluent dumping so the provincial government made those targets larger. They did not demand the company reach its obligations, they just made the targets bigger. The First Nations took them to court. The Minister told the Haisla if Eurocan was forced to meet these permit applications, they would close and the Haisla workers would be out of a job.

“We said, go ahead and do it. I’m pretty sure for the 6 people out of 500 working in the Eurocan Mill, we can find other opportunities for them,” said Ross.

He expressed the Haisla are promised jobs, protection for the environment and they will listen to their wishes. Then the project is approved and 10 years later, they find out it was a lie to get the permit. The Oolichan were gone and the salmon were not far behind. He expressed there is a reason for the Hatchery to be built where it was.

All the traditions were taken away. Now he must pass the new knowledge of the devastation onto his children. He was relating the traditional knowledge to the panel. The earlier comments by Amos about his concerns about the panel were appropriate because this has become their traditional knowledge. The Haisla are weary of these processes.

“We see it all across Canada. People don’t trust the environmental assessments because they see the disconnect between the governments that mandate them and the actual bodies that implement them,” said Ross. “We see this example over and over and over for 60 years.”

His traditional knowledge begins 7 miles down the channel where the food has not been exposed to the toxins of the Douglas Channel. No one eats the crabs out of the harbour. They were told they could eat the crabs but not to eat the guts. The guts of crabs and seals are a delicacy to the First Nations. The crabs and the seals have to be harvested away from the effluent. He pointed out the First Nations use every part of the animal. He explained the First Nations use the animals to feed their friends and family.

Ross went into his history. He explained how he worked for the Department of Fisheries before starting up a business in the 90’s. He had four experiences of spill response. The first was when diesel was dumped in a creek. He felt helpless because no matter what he did, there was nothing he could do to stop the diesel. The diesel was spilled when an excavator tipped into the creek, a bulldozer was brought in to help get it out and the bulldozer went in too.

Another time, a tugboat sunk dumping its diesel into the water. Under optimal conditions working off the dock with every guarantee they could think of. They could not get the diesel up. They tried to get what they could. They found it hard to get rid of the material used to clean up the spill as well.

The last incident was at a settlement pond at Eurocan. The DFO told them the water was fit to drink after it came out of the pond but refused to drink a brown glass of it. Ross explained someone at the mill opened the wrong valve and dumped black liquor into the pond. He was called in to clean it. They walked around the pool trying to pick up the black liquor and they could not do it in the calm water. The person who made the mistake did it twice.

“So when we’re talking about projects like this, I’m fully aware of what can go wrong. And for the most part it always boils down to human error. It doesn’t seem to matter how idiot proof you make something because they keep building better idiots.” said Ross.

To be continued
Well said Ellis Ross
Comment by blocky bear on 11th January 2012
The plain truth. Thank you. Don Bruce