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 James Davis, Education Program Manager
Spring has arrived in full force here on Vancouver Island! I hope you’re getting some sunny days in whichever part of the province you live. Things are rolling along here in the Education Program, with just over four weeks of workshops before we wrap things up for the school year.
I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity I recently had to participate in a blanket exercise with other Sierra Club BC staff, and members of our board. The exercise was an adapted version of the KAIROS Blanket Exercise and was facilitated by board members Valine Crist and Jackie Larkin. It was a profound experience for me and I highly recommend taking the time to find out about similar offerings in your area and participating in one.
Over the past few years, I’ve learned about many aspects of the damaging history of colonialism and of the terrible impacts on Indigenous communities across Turtle Island, but hearing about them all together in the space of a couple of hours was staggering and made me realize how much work we have to do as settlers to heal broken relationships with Indigenous communities and move forward in a good way.
I’ve also been inspired yet again by the leadership that many First Nations communities are showing not only by protecting their territories from damaging resource extraction projects, but also in demonstrating alternatives to heavy dependence on fossil fuels. Check out this video about how the Skidegate Band Council on Haida Gwaii installed the largest community-owned solar project in British Columbia.
Another Indigenous group that are blazing a solar path are the Tiny House Warriors, who are building a series of tiny houses to stop the Kinder Morgan pipeline from passing through unceded Secwepemc Territory. They have already installed solar panels on some of the houses with support from Lubicon Solar and are working towards solarizing all of them.
Here in Coast Salish territory, the T’Sou-ke Nation has an impressive solar program with their own huge array, solar hot water heaters, and a conservation program. You can find out more here or join one of the tours that our friends over at the Wilderness Committee organize from time to time, including this Saturday.
I hope these examples and the sunny days ahead will inspire you to think about how you can commit to supporting renewable energy projects in your community!
Feature image by Brynne Morrice.