The Columbia River is the largest river in North America’s Pacific Northwest. The sprawling watershed has been used as a primary hub of transportation and trade linking many different Indigenous peoples since ancient times. The river is known as swah’netk’qhu (the big river) by the Sinixt people of the Arrow Lakes area.
The decision to exclude the Ktunaxa, Secwepemc and Syilx Okanagan Nations from direct participation in the Columbia River Treaty (CRT) renegotiation is a direct betrayal of any commitment to reconciliation and to the implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
These three Indigenous nations from Interior BC –the rightful title and rights holders of the Upper Columbia Basin –have been informed by the federal government that they will be excluded from directly participating in the renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty with the United States, despite being directly affected by the current Treaty. These nations report that the CRT has had massive, negative impacts on their Territory including:
- the desecration of sacred, village and burial sites
- the loss of fish populations and harvest areas
- and the turning of a vibrant river into industrial water storage reservoirs
The Columbia River Treaty (CRT), originally signed in 1964, is the largest international water storage agreement between Canada and the United States. Three dams were constructed in Canada, with reservoirs hundreds of kilometres in length. It has had a significant impact on Indigenous peoples in the area, and residents of the Columbia River Basin continue to live with the devastating impacts of the CRT and its destructive legacy. The Treaty dams and reservoirs inundated 270,000 acres of Canadian ecosystems and displaced more than two thousand people, with inadequate-to-no consultation.
The impacts of the Columbia River Treaty dams on the communities and environment of the Columbia Basin cannot be overstated. These nations have been leading the work to restore ecological function to the Columbia River system, including the restoration of salmon. This is not only a question of respecting Indigenous rights; Indigenous leadership and knowledge would be invaluable at the Treaty table from an ecosystem and habitat restoration perspective in order to move toward establishing more natural flows of water.
On June 26, Sierra Club BC sent a letter to Minister Chrystia Freeland of Global Affairs Canada, urging her government to include First Nations at the table for the Columbia River Treaty renegotiation.
The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states governments can’t approve projects that affect Indigenous territory without their “free, prior and informed consent.” Ottawa has pledged to uphold the principle of the UN declaration, but there is a disappointing lack of follow-through, in this case as well as other energy projects in Canada such as the Trans Mountain pipeline and tankers project, or the Site C dam.
It is crucial that the Canadian government include the Ktunaxa Nation, Syilx Okanagan Nation and Secwepemc Nation in the CRT renegotiation on a government-to-government basis and that this be remedied before the next formal negotiation session in August 2018. Trudeau spoke highly of a nation-to-nation relationship on the world stage, but we have yet to see this promise in action.
To read Sierra Club BC’s full letter, please click here.
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By Bob Peart
January 30, 2017
“What do you think? Is that a small grizzly or a wolverine?”
There were five of us from the Flathead Wild team backpacking along the BC-Alberta border when we saw this animal race across a high ridge in the distance. Our hike was taking us along the high mountain ridges overlooking the Flathead River Valley in southeastern BC.
The Flathead River Valley is in the unceded traditional territory of the Ktunaxa Nation. These lands and water are Ktunaxa and they form a critical part of the treaty process that is underway to clarify and define Ktunaxa title and rights.
The Southern Rocky Mountains of BC are internationally known for their abundance and diversity of wildlife; and the waters of the Flathead River remain free-flowing and exceptionally clean, clear and cold. Endangered and sensitive species such as grizzly bear, wolverine and bull trout still thrive in this beautiful landscape. The Flathead Valley is unmatched in North America for the variety and density of carnivores and its extraordinary diversity of plants and animals. It remains one of the last wild river basins in southern Canada.
However, there are no legislated wildlife sanctuaries in the Southern Rockies. With constant threats from coal mining, highway and railway expansion, logging and off-road vehicles, there is less and less space where these wild animals can roam freely and find the food and conditions they need to survive.
To this end about 10 years ago, Sierra Club BC joined with 5 other conservation groups to form Flathead Wild. We are a collaborative international effort coordinating the campaign to designate an International Wildlife Corridor all the way from the Waterton-Glacier park complex to Banff National Park, as part of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative. Our goal is to have this wildlife corridor include a Flathead National Park Reserve and a provincial wildlife management area that would be designed to work with the interests of the Ktunaxa.
Thanks to your support we have managed to get a ban on mining and energy development in the Flathead Valley, yet the region remains under threatened by development.
We need your continuing support so we can remain an active member of Flathead Wild, to support the Ktunaxa achieving their goals, and to ensure the Flathead Valley will remain a natural jewel. Please donate today.
For more information please go to the Flathead Wild website and sign our petition to complete Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park.
Incidentally, we never did agree whether the animal we saw was a small grizzly or a wolverine.
Feature image by Joe Riis.