“Dear Sir and Father, We take this opportunity of your visiting Kamloops to speak a few words to you. We welcome you here, and we are glad we have met you in our country. We want you to be interested in us, and to understand more fully the conditions under which we live. We expect much of you, as the head of this great Canadian Nation, and feel confident that you will see that we receive fair and honourable treatment. Our confidence in you has increased since we have noted of late the attitude of your government towards the Indian rights movement if this country and we hope that with your help our wrongs may at last be righted.”
~Extract from letter written to Sir Wilfrid Laurier by Chiefs of the Shuswap, Okanagan and Cocteau Tribes of British Columbia, presented at Kamloops, BC August 25, 1910.
The recent visit of Britain’s Prince William and Kate to Bella Bella BC immediately reminded me of Thomas Highway’s play, Ernestine Shuswap gets her Trout. This story takes place in Kamloops, BC, and shows us the preparations of four First Nations women as they get ready for the arrival of Sir Wilfrid Laurier (the Big Kahoona of Canada) to their Reserve. During the course of the play, we learn firsthand about the harmful impacts of colonial laws and settler society on the culture and well-being of the Shuswap First Nation. The sad conclusion to the play results in great loss and disappointment as Laurier drives right on by the Reserve without ever stopping. Despite profound efforts to make his arrival perfect, the special feast prepared for him goes untouched. Nothing has changed, and the women are left with trying to make sense of it all. In the words of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, it was a “tale…full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.
While Britain’s “Big Kahoonas” did in fact stop in Bella Bella recently, their whirlwind tour of BC seems reminiscent of Highway’s tale. The Heiltsuk First Nation claims Bella Bella as the central part of their traditional territory. Bella Bella is found on the west coast of BC, about 500 km north of Vancouver.
Heiltsuk territory is also centred in BC’s Great Bear Rain forest – a protected coastal area which was integral to the Royal Family’s visit. This unique temperate rain forest ecosystem covers more than 6.4 million hectares between BC’s Discovery Islands and the southern extent of Alaska. 85% of the forests in this region are currently protected from logging activity. (http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2016/09/26/royal-tour-bella-bella-bc_n_12201336.html)
I have been closely following the preparations of the Bella Bella community for the Royal visit over the last two weeks. During this time, the Heiltsuk have been extremely busy planning feasts, ceremonies and construction to get ready for the event. It was the hope of the community that everything would be ‘perfect’ for the big day. Despite the pouring rain on the day of the big visit, the Big Kahoonas did arrive, and the welcoming ceremony did take place. Things may not have been perfect, but Prince William, Kate and their children were still honoured.
William and Kate were presented with honourary paddles, witnessed traditional dances and songs, met with hereditary chiefs, and even had the opportunity to walk along the newly constructed board walk on a rain forest trail. While the planned helicopter and boat tours failed to happen, the Heiltsuk provided a beautiful cultural welcome to the Royal couple. Several media images also featured BC Premier Christy Clark – wearing clothing adorned with coastal First Nations’ artwork. Her choice of dress suggested an alliance with BC First Nations, which belied her stance on resource projects which negatively impact the same groups, especially with government announcements yet to come! Several news sources suggest that, while the arrival of the Royal family was met with cheers, Clark was booed as she made her appearance.
Source: www.huffingtonpost.ca (Photo: Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)
The Royal visit was a historic event, despite the pouring rain and a rainforest walk marked – as one party member remarked – “putrid with the smell of rotting fish”, as the group encountered many dead and dying salmon along the river banks. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/) It would seem that the Royal family does not often encounter the annual salmon cycle in their daily lives!
Much like Highway’s play, the “Great Kahoona” soon moved on, and the Heiltsuk community was left to contemplate the divide between them and a colonial government who pays little attention to the rights and needs of First Nations peoples. It remains to be seen whether or not the Royal inclusion of the Great Bear Rain forest into the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy Initiative will make a difference in Canada’s desire to protect unique resources and to strengthen its relationship with its First Nation communities.
During their visit, Prince William made a speech about the importance of the Great Bear Rain forest to the world, in which he stated:
“The Commonwealth has at its heart always been about the values that bind its people,” he said. “This project, focusing on our shared natural heritage, is no different. The establishment of the Canopy is a loud and unambiguous statement that the citizens of all Commonwealth countries believe that nature is fundamental to the health of our societies. When we protect our rivers, oceans, atmospheres, or like today, our forests, we are telling our children that their future prosperity cannot be disconnected from the health of the natural world.”
He concluded, informing the gathering that the Queen was “immensely grateful to Indigenous people and the people of Canada, for the leadership they have shown”. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/)
The Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy (QCC) Initiative was created in 2015 during a meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Malta. This initiative includes 53 countries which are a part of the established Commonwealth. The key objectives of this initiative include, (1) raising awareness of the value for preserving Indigenous forest systems, (2) creating a network of forest conservation projects, (3) improving the capacity of commonwealth members to work collectively toward forest conservation, (4) enable best practices for sharing knowledge and innovation in forest conservation, and, (5) “create a physical and lasting legacy of the Queen’s leadership of the Commonwealth”. (http://queenscommonwealthcanopy.org/)
BC Premier Christy Clark was quick to unveil her own support of the royal announcement. According to Clark, the Great Bear Rainforest is:
“A jewel in the crown of British Columbia’s magnificent landscape…(and) has been largely protected from logging in a landmark agreement between First Nations, forest companies, environmental groups and the government… It is proof of what we can do if we decide to find a common purpose.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2016/02/01/great-bear-rainforest-bc-logging_n_9133798.html)
Clark went on to proclaim that she had established a $1,000,000 trust to protect the rainforest and commemorate the Royal Family’s visit to BC. (https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2016PREM0113-001799)
This… despite the fact that Clark has, and continues to, support resource extraction projects which put both environment and communities at risk in the Great Bear Rain forest ecosystem. These efforts include annual Grizzly bear hunts, oil pipelines, and LNG refinery projects. It might seem that Clark’s love and support of the coastal rain forests is “full of sound and fury… signifying nothing”!
The Royal family soon completed their whirlwind tour of BC and the Yukon. During this time, the Heiltsuk and many other communities made special preparations to make the visit a ‘perfect’ one. Prince William and Kate were wined and dined, and treated to unique ceremonies and local delicacies. As soon as they had left, however, the royal hype quickly became a distant memory. The negative relationship between the Canadian Government and First Nations is so severe that some Indigenous leaders refused to meet with or acknowledge the Royal couple ( Despite the inclusion of the Great Bear Rain forest in the Commonwealth Canopy Initiative, Canadian policies regarding its land and resources became ‘business as usual’. To paraphrase Hamlet, “Something is rotten in (the State of Canada)” – and it is more than dead and dying salmon!
Governmental resource policies which threaten both the Great Bear Rain forest and the livelihoods of First Nations and resource communities continue to be enacted and approved. BC continues to allow its annual Grizzly Bear hunt in sensitive rain forest areas (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/bc-grizzly-bear-hunt-to-include-great-bear-rainforest/article29506503/). Logging, mining, hydroelectric projects, open-net salmon aquaculture, and pipelines are allowed to continue – despite the objections of scientists, activists, and First Nations alike.
Despite Trudeau’s campaign promises to First Nations, the Liberal government has approved the Petronus LNG project – a controversial natural gas pipeline which runs directly through the Great Bear Rain forest. For more on this project, check out my previous blog-post: https://spatialintegrity.co/2016/05/21/first-blog-post/ This project, which has been contested by several First Nations communities and environmental scientists, has been championed by BC Premier Christy Clark for several years. Check out this news report: http://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/trudeau-government-approves-pacific-northwest-lng-project-1.3091447
Let’s approve those conflicted projects as quickly as possible, people!
The Great Kahoonas have ‘left the building’!
Once again, it seems that the promises made by Trudeau’s Liberal Government to Canada’s First Nations are taking a back seat to unsustainable resource extraction policies for the future – policies which benefit only a few, and do little to help First Nations communities. Trudeau – whatever happened to #RealChange?!
Until next time, this is Spatial Integrity – Making the Invisible, Visible!