Oil Sands Truth: Shut Down the Tar Sands

B.C. may face unprecedented native unrest if rights ignored

B.C. may face unprecedented native unrest if rights ignored

MARCH 3, 2011

In an article in The Sun Feb. 14, ("The Skeetchestn say enough already"),
Rich Deneault, the Skeetchestn Band chief served notice that the way
business and governments ride roughshod over native rights in British
Columbia has to come to an end, or face the consequences, which may not be

He says, very bluntly, "In the days ahead, those companies and agencies
that have not acted honourably will be receiving letters from us, advising
them to tell their customers to expect possible service interruptions
regarding their operations in our traditional lands. We're writing to the
six Liberal leadership candidates to advise them as well ... [to ask if]
... a first nations community should be shredded for the betterment of
forest companies, or railway companies, or energy companies, or tax

One might have thought that such a threatened disruption of B.C.'s economy
might have stirred some debate among the Liberal leadership candidates,
but none was noticeable. And that is too bad because I expect that Chief
Deneault's impatience might signal broader direct action in the native
community over the next few years.

Why, most B.C. people might ask, has it come to this? Is there not a
Treaty Commission charged with getting modern treaties arranged with
B.C.'s natives? Is not a lot of money being spent on this by the B.C. and
federal governments? Are there not a lot of negotiators working to resolve

The answer is, of course the machinery is in place, but it is all jammed
up for lack of political mandates to actually operate, to see progress
come out of the end of the spaghetti machine. One does not have to sit
around a negotiating table for long to realize the elaborate charade
taking place. Able government negotiators stall, fiddle, obfuscate,
redirect discussion, and come up with more questions requiring answers
than you could believe existed all in the name of delay, delay, delay.

The game is, a day of delay is another day the governments do not have to
pay for anything more than airfare and hotel rooms for negotiators,
another day of the native groups going further into debt to stay in the
game, another day of hopelessness for most on-reserve Indians and another
day B.C. and Canada avoid actually choosing to make difficult choices.
Frankly, what is taking place these days falls far short of meeting any
test of sincerity by either government, protestations to the contrary.

The negotiators have honed their skills in being helpfully not helpful
for, now, a generation since B.C. consented to being brought into the
modern treaty-making process after 150 years of shameful behaviour toward
its native population.

Can you imagine how frustrating and angry one becomes, sitting around a
"negotiating table," literally for 20 and more years and achieving, well,
nothing? All the while, you see members of your community, whom the
Supreme Court of Canada have ruled have aboriginal title to the lands and
resources, suffer Third World levels of unemployment and health outcomes,
the country's highest suicide, crime, and substance abuse rates? You see
those who take forest and mineral wealth from lands in which you hold
rights being exploited with scant regard for your welfare; sometimes a
penny or two is dropped to claim "accommodation," but there is no plan and
no commitment to actually address and improve native conditions by either

This is not to deny that some progress has been made by the Campbell
government, because it has shown a change of attitude and a willingness to
at least begin. But for lack of clear, strong direction from the top to
the whole government that this was a priority, and a regular rotation of
ministers, little real progress was made.

The province's native communities are very likely not going to be able to
restrain those who would be much more militant in the near future and it
will be up to the new premier to face this reality.

Through the regulatory processes we have seen native obstruction doom the
. Kemess For all large format and applications Prosperity mining
proj-(newspaper boxes, tents, etc.) ects over the past six years. We see
the . Enbridge Crop off tag line pipeline if it is too small facing to the
same sort be read, or too small to print of opposition. Any number of
governproperly. ment and private-sector projects over the past few years
much less newsworthy have been ground to a halt as well.

As Chief Deneault has said, it's going to get worse, much worse, because r
Height"between 20 the years logo and of other almost graphic elements. no
prog-ensure ress it's on placement most is land appropriate claims to its
relative is becoming importance. an issue around which to rally for a more
militant next generation that will look to recent events in Cairo and
Benghazi for examples of how to make change.

For premier-designate Christy Clark, this should indeed be a top of the
"in-basket" issue. It simply has to be. That it was not addressed by any
leadership candidate is a shame. But maybe Clark will recognize this and
make addressing it a lead item in a first Throne Speech, and very clear
new marching orders will be given to officials in the aboriginal affairs,
education, attorney-general and finance ministries. Or maybe the
expectations of the coming political change that now abound in the native
community will be dashed. And if Clark is smart, she will re-assign George
Abbott to the portfolio because he has shown evidence of understanding the
issues and wanting them resolved. Sorry, George. And Premier Clark will
have to tell Ottawa that it, too, had better get serious.

But if real progress on the native file is not a Clark priority, the
result could well be what Chief Deneault predicts.

And what Deneault foresees is more than a few days of inconvenience. It
could well be provincewide. It could be a signal to all sorts of putative
investment in B.C. that maybe somewhere else is better. This is
particularly true of the mining industry, which has not been as engaged in
the issues as it should have been. If B.C. and Canada do not take
seriously the warnings of Chief Deneault and others, the damage done to
our recovering economy could be serious, and our reputation as a fair and
progressive society very much harmed.

The ball is now in the hands of soonto-be-premier Clark. Every person in
B.C. that would like to see generations of wrongs done to B.C.'s first
nations will be watching. It will be a real test of "change."

- Tex Enemark is a public policy consultant, a former president of the
Mining Association of BC and an adviser to the Gitxsan Treaty Society.


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