RedFireHorizon

This indian spring is making way for an indian summer.

The internal battle of my intrinsic values:

I am 100% against the Chieftain Metals road and against development happening in the Taku Watershed. I am 100% for protecting my ancestral homelands and there needs to be a balance between the economy and the environment, something that neither the Conservatives nor the NDP fully understand. I hate to turn anyone off from this argument, and I don’t want to make this into a political debate because the issue I am about to discuss is larger than party politics, but everyone knows that I am a Liberal. So I am going to begin with this as my opening statement instead of the closing.

When it comes to development; we have a choice, and based on our own intrinsic set of values, we make a choice. The choice doesn’t need to be 100% for development or 100% for protection, unless our values really are far left or far right on the political scale and this is where we fit and feel comfortable. I believe that our choice needs to be one that we are ultimately responsible for and one that we end up content with. I hope for a choice that fits the status quo and a decision that is a happy medium that appeases the majority, instead of one side compromising too greatly for the other. For myself I want a balanced approach between development and the environment, respecting special places like the Taku and the Peel Watersheds, but still allowing development in other less controversial areas. Most importantly I know that the Liberal Party is about respecting processes and the mechanisms that protect our democracy and people.  Examples are: inquiries, public hearings and planning commissions. Further examples of these are things like the Peel Watershed Planning Commission and the Northern Gateway Pipeline Inquiry, things that stick to democratic processes and mechanisms to encourage public consultation and input.

People deserve honest answers and direct conversations instead of convoluted half-truths and misinformation to scheme and plot against the public. Now more than ever I think that people need straight-shooters: honest, ethical, smart and centered leadership. If you find yourself in a position of leadership: the electorate needs your mental brawn and fortitude to stand up for their rights. The electorate needs you to make smart, level-headed decisions that will propel our territories and provinces and ultimately this country forward to prosperity and pride. I want to see more gratification in what it is to belong as Yukoner (or British Columbian etc) and to be a Canadian, for people to stand up and be content and happy knowing that their views and beliefs are not being forgotten about or tossed to the wayside.  I don’t want to choose between the environment, the people or the economy. I want all three: respect for the environment, respect for the economy and respect for the people.

I find it is a constant internal battle living in two worlds: That of modern day society and that of my ancestral knowledge. Two sides and two different sets of knowledge and understanding coming together as one to make an impact as a modern first nations person. On one side I need my culture, my language, my song and dance and my connection to the earth and my first nation. I need that communal sense of belonging. On the other side I need my education, my career, money and the self-motivated individualistic properties that I carry to make my life better for myself and my family. It is a balance between two worlds, and needing to carry forward for my own self-interests, but also the interests of others.  I know that I cannot live one without the other. I need both sides to be working at an optimal level to feel complete and balanced as a person. I need both in order to not just survive but thrive. It is always a question of not just what I want, but a communal sense of what is best for my nation and finding a way to respect my ancestry and elders who are no longer with us while still doing what is best for our children tomorrow. It’s remaining grounded enough to consider myself grassroots but being able to articulate and rub shoulders with the ‘higher-ups’ to influence policy and have the views of the grassroots people properly represented.

As a First Nations person, I know that we are the stewards of our land. What is ‘our land’? It is the land that we have belonged to for millennia, the land that still sustains us today. If we live on our traditional territories, it is the land that is beneath our feet.  Regardless of where we are in the world, it is the heartbeat of our territory that runs within our blood and in our DNA.

As Indigenous peoples, we have been shunned, disregarded and belittled for our views. They are seen as subpar and are not held in as high of a regard as non-indigenous values. Modern Society puts little value on the sense of communal property which is a First Nations viewpoint. Today in modern day society, property has a sense of self-centeredness associated with it. It is not valued unless it can be bought, bartered and sold, unless it can be farmed, mined, drilled. Unless we can derive some sort of monetary value from bottling or polluting it’s water, cuttings it’s trees, genetically modifying, altering, changing to make them more beneficial for humankind, destroying natural habitats to make them ‘humanized’. Is this right and does this work? Is this sustainability beyond my own lifetime? Does it think past the present and 7-generations forward into the future? What kind of a world are we creating? What does our action, or in-action, create for those children of the future?  Are we leaving a legacy that they will be proud to inherit?

 

My hometown is Atlin. Home to some 400+ residents and it is the most remote community in Northern British Columbia with one road in and out. It is 2 hours away from Whitehorse Yukon. It has a very limited economy and is the home of the Taku River Tlingit First Nation (TRTFN). The lands of TRTFN encompass the watersheds of the Taku and the Whitling Rivers, as well as being the headwaters of the Yukon River. The heart of the Taku River Tlingit FN’s traditional territory is the transboundary Taku Watershed. This watershed flows through boreal, sub-boreal and temperate rainforests, from interior British Columbia to the coastal mountains of Alaska and is the largest wilderness salmon watershed on the Pacific Coast of North America.

Almost 19,000 square kilometers, the Taku watershed remains wild; fully intact without roads and other development.  The glacier fed waters sustain an abundance of life. The watershed is home to all five species of wild Pacific salmon, wolves, grizzly and black bears, moose, caribou, mountain sheep, goats, wolverine and lynx. Many migratory birds also live in this area including the trumpeter swan. The richness of this land and its rivers provides for the very foundation of Taku River Tlingit kustiyixh or ‘way of life’.

I don’t know why the most beautiful places on earth have to also be the most mineral rich. The creator gave us free-will and it seems as though he is almost giving us the greatest test our will, leaving us free to come to our own conclusions of values, and of importance.

The Taku River Tlingit FN is faced with a divisive issue. This issue has divided my community for the past 30 years and we will have to make a semi-final decision next month (Or if the governmental permitting process is delayed like the rest of the project, it will be in the coming year). I personally wonder how many times we can go back to this issue and how many more generations are going to be faced with the same dilemma: There is a 60 year old mine at the Tulsequah River in the Taku Watershed. Once this mining company was called ‘Redfern Resources’, now it is called ‘Chieftain Metals’ but is the same people, primarily lead by Terry Chandler. I feel further conflicted because I greatly respect and admire Phil Fontaine for the work he did for AFN, but he sits on the Board of Directors for Chieftain Metals. The mine is trying to find a way to get the resources out of the area. With no roads in the Taku Watershed, there was an idea to barge down the Taku River, which was subsequently declined by the Alaska Government because of the importance of the fishery of the Taku River. The only other method out is to build a 110km road right through the heart of the Taku Valley. Many want to feed their families and the prospect of the mine leaves options for economic growth of Atlin. Some want the road and the mine for the economic benefits they hope to reap for themselves, and for Atlin.

For the Taku River Tlingits: If we do not continue to work for the best interests for our traditional territories, it will not be a matter of ‘if’ the road will be built, it will be a matter of ‘when’. The only reason why there isn’t a road is because our Ancestors fought so hard for their not to be a road and because they protected our land. Now that many have passed away, it is up to us as the next generation to pick up that torch and protect our ancestral homelands. Not just for ourselves, but for the very heart of what it is to be a Taku River Tlingit. What would we be without the River? They would just call us the River Tlingits and we would be lost without an identity and without a purpose. The same battle between Aboriginal/Inuit/Metis people and development is fought all across the country for any other development happening. In fact, this immense conflict between development and indigenous rights wages on all across the world. Indigenous people are working to protect their traditional territories and protect them from ever encroaching capitalism.

With this junior mining company, there are so many loopholes for this to go horribly wrong for the Taku River Tlingit FN. There is always risk, and for the Taku River Tlingit: does the risk outweigh the benefits?

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation signed a Land Use Plan (LUP) with the BC Government. Many who worked on this LUP are proud of their progress. 26% percent of the land-use-plan area considered of exceptional conservation value and strong Aboriginal and community interest are recommended for protection. My objections are:

-          By signing the Land Use Plan TRTFN gave away their last legal card against stopping development in the area.

-          13% of this 26% was already Atlin Provincial Park.

-          BC Aboriginal Relations Minister Mary Polak said 90 per cent of the areas with the highest mineral potential remain available for exploration and potential development.

-          Furthermore and most disturbing: a thatched out portion basically stating TRTFN will consider a road in this area.

-          This road will open up the area to more development. Eagle Plains ‘Ringer Property’ is shown below and they are hoping to use the road I am referring to (The road is the thatched red line which is south of Atlin).

-           The new road alignment would come directly down Warm Bay Road to Atlin, then to Jakes Corner on the Alaska Highway then turn at Carcross Cut-off to Carcross then to Skagway (The trucks cannot go through Tagish because the bridge will not support the heavy traffic)

Those who worked on the LUP tell me that we ‘might’ consider a road from the Mine site to Warm Bay (behind the Warm Spring Grotto). The BC government and Chieftain Metals tell me that we ‘will’ consider a road here. It’s the whole debate that duty to consult is not duty for consent. Meaning to me that the BC government will ensure that we are properly informed of what is going to happen, and they will ensure that the mining industry will work to mediate adverse affects, but at the end of the day, it’s their say. Sure under the LUP, we as Taku River Tlingits could say ‘no road’ but then what are the implications? Do we go back to court for millions of dollars or is that not even an option? Hence the internal battle of my intrinsic values begins.

People need jobs to provide for and feed their families. I am not anti-development; I know that it needs that to be a resource based economy, we need to access and utilize our resources. Everyone wants to be self-sufficient with a good paying job being able to make ends meet. I just believe that there are special places that we should be protecting and the Citizens of TRTFN are not getting a good deal out of this.  I wish that TRTFN could open our own mine and develop our own resources on our own land instead of arguing over scraps from external corporations. Then we could choose who and where and when and why and what. I spoke to someone in leadership about this possibility (I know not an easy feat since it costs a lot of money to start a mining operation) and their response was “if we do this then we are hypocrites.” Well, I want to know what leadership IS going to do, where is the vision and the determination to boost our local economy and boost our Tlingit people and the people of Atlin up? I don’t think that anyone wants to wake up on welfare, we need to work on self-sufficiency and work to have a plausible industry in something. Expand on Tourism including hunting and fishing guides? First Nations Art? Building log cabins? Commercial fishing?  Leadership looked at me and said “Well if we solved the problem of jobs and the economy for our people then they would all be against the road.” Well then start planning for the future of our people and get busy finding ways to employ them. We need more direction, vision, accountability and transparency from our leadership at Taku River Tlingit FN, I hope that the election coming up in July will offer that.

Chieftain Metals has stated that they will have resource revenue sharing with TRTFN, but at 2-4% this is not true resource revenue sharing, like I said this is TRTFN left fighting over scraps at someone else s table. Chieftain Metals states that they will give jobs to TRTFN people, but who is actually qualified at TRTFN to take the high paying jobs? Cheiftain Metals tells TRTFN citizens that work at the mine that they will be rich in a decade. Well guess what? Sure the mining ventures will provide jobs, but how many of our people are going to be fully qualified to take the top paying jobs instead of the lowest paying ones? Sure in 10 years you might be qualified enough to have one of those top paying jobs, in 10 years you can do and be a lot of things: a lawyer, a doctor, go for your masters degree, be an entrepreneur. Again: do you really want to sit around waiting your turn for scraps at someone else’s table, waiting around while a bunch of outsiders get rich? Who do you think has money to fund for the mining operations anyway? It’s probably not the US, it’s probably not Canada, but we would be selling out to Foreign Interests. The countries with the big money like China and India. And what will be the outcome of the IBA (Impact Benefits Agreement)? The last I heard we were only getting 15% of what we had requested and also receiving between 2 – 4%. Is that a fair deal?  And Department of Fisheries and Oceans(DFO) is being gutted to allow more expedited development. What do DFO and the federal responsibility and federal obligations play into the picture? (Specifically because the LUP is signed between TRTFN and the provincial BC government and not the Federal government). With all of the changes to the CEAA how dependable is the process going to be? Sure a road can be changed to not cross the traditional trail of the Taku River Tlingit people, but is a few measly kilometers far enough away? What will we do about the alcohol and drug abuse that explodes in our community? How are we going to deal with that fall out? Road routes can be changed, some effects can be mitigated, but it’s more than that, it’s a decision we have to make knowing that our ancestors are watching us.  It’s a decision that we have been debating for 30 years and an argument that we initially took to the Supreme Court of Canada. How do you explain that to the CEAA and the environmental assessment process and submit these comments on the project? How do you tell them: “Hey this land is my lifeblood and my culture. it’s my spirit and my faith, the land is like my church that I go to get sustenance and healing from. Please don’t alter our way of life and allow a company to destroy it for a 9 year mine site”. The environmental assessment process cannot understand or mitigate these effects because this value system is not easily understood or given significant value by society. How are you supposed to mitigate the effects on a way of life and set of indigenous values?

We say it’s our land, but is it really? Or is that all a façade? We don’t have full control over who and where and when and why and what. The government does. We are left questioning ourselves, selling out our values, and compromising out our hakustiyi (way of life) as Tlingit people for the all-mighty dollar.

As First Nations people we value our Elders and the leadership that they provide. Things that my elders and people have said live on in my memory.

I think of my Great-Auntie Jenny Jack who went down to fight alongside the warriors at OKA for the protection of the traditional territory of the Mohawk people and my Mother Lucille who was also there.

“They showed us where that road is going through, and I thought to myself, if my Dad [Taku Jack] were alive, he would fight. There would be bloodshed on that ground before they took it over from us”.  – Great-Grandmother Antonia Jack on the Redfern Resources Road.

“You have no land to give me, this land belongs to me.” – Chief Taku Jack (June 17th, 1915) on the establishment of reserves in Atlin.

A fight for First Nations rights, for our land to be protected for future generations and working “Together today for our Children tomorrow” – Elijah Smith (*)

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(* Elijah Smith is not my direct relation, but still someone who I greatly respect)

Demand Evidence and Think Critically

I probably wasn’t the best person to deliver the boycott letter since since Krysta Meekins and John Thompson both have some sort of personal issues with me. But this isn’t all about me, IdleNoMore – Yukon had a meeting and we all decided on #J28. At the time it was brought up that there could be some negative repercussions from such a boycott. IdleNoMore – Yukon has accomplished its goal it’s challenged people to examine their biases and their prejudices. It’s gotten the general populace to talk about racial inequality, to talk about injustice and think critically.

I have never denied being a Liberal, but I am, by no means, a Liberal Party official. I am at best a glorified volunteer. Most of Midnight Sun News and their creators: Martin Lehner, Loren Maluorno, Krysta Meekins and Conrad Tiedeman all sit on the Yukon Party Executive. Some, like Martin Lehner even WORK in the office of our Conservative MP Ryan Leef! Furthermore, Conrad Tiedeman sits on the National Constitution Committee for the Federal Conservative Party (for the territories). Goodness knows how this group is further associated with the territorial/federal Conservative Parties and also their ‘advertisers’ aka the businesses who sponsor their political flyer.

Yukon Party Executive:

http://yukonparty.ca/?page_id=12

Image

Photo Caption for Midnight Sun News (from twitter) “Some of the team @ meeting tonight: Spokesman Conrad, Editor Martin, Columnist Kate, Ads Loren, Publisher Krysta.”

Does this mean that their actions and opinions in Midnight Sun News are a direct reflection of the Conservative Yukon Party or the Federal Conservative Party? No, that is by far a stretch of the truth. One could simply respond “Show me the official press release from the mentioned Political Party”. Is there one? No, I didn’t think so. All the power to Dean Skoreyko in his lame attempts of self-justification. Free speech is a beautiful thing and I hope that Dean continues to voice his opinions and let people come to their own conclusions based on fact.

The boycott was aimed at getting people to avoid organizations that encourage intolerance. It was not aimed at preventing Dean or anyone else from expressing their intolerant views.

To condemn hateful speech or call for a boycott against those who promote it, is itself a form of free speech. Announcing that you are offended when someone insults something you believe in is not an act of censorship. What person would refrain from issuing a retort against those who insult on the grounds that the right to insult precludes the right to defend?

I’ve had enough of this public debacle, Idle No More – Yukon has successfully brought this issue to the forefront, the issue of discrimination, bias and ignorance. Is this the type of country that we want to bring our children up in? If some Yukon businesses want to be supporters of this type of messaging then that’s their choice, just like it is a personal consumer’s choice where they want to spend their money.  Long live free speech and a free market economy.

Letter to the editor #2

http://yukon-news.com/opinions/editorial/31966/

This is an open letter to John Thompson in response to your editorial ‘Cool the rhetoric on First Nations reforms’ [Yukon News. 25 Jan 2013]. Idle No More – Yukon has never participated in any ‘nefarious motives’ nor are we dealing with ‘bland and benign reforms’. I have never heard of any Idle No More supporter, or any Canadian, oppose fiscal accountability, nor have I called anyone a ‘Racist’. Unfortunately, when racial inequalities are brought to the forefront in any country, tempers may flare and ignorance can come from both sides of the spectrum. Especially if they fail to interpret the larger strategy and acknowledge the history behind the current motives at play. It’s shoddy journalism to proclaim that outspoken women challenging stereotypes and society are simply emotional. I believe it’s best to rely on strategy and intellect and abide by logic and reason.

Idle No More is not asking for a radical new relationship. Check the statistics on Indigenous people across Canada, and this is what we are working to improve. Idle No More is asking for the same things that have been requested for generations: for Canada to abide by the treaties and agreements it has with Indigenous people. Agreements of mutual respect, understanding and a sharing of the land. The government has a duty to consult and accommodate with Indigenous people. They signed the UNDRIP which calls for free, prior and informed consent. This is already the law, the government needs to abide by it.

I am a Liberal, something that I have never hidden, and if I had been alive in 1969 I would have worked to stop the Federal Liberal White Paper. The White Paper was vehemently opposed by First Nations and thus was never adopted. The White Paper had 4 main components: privatize reserves, offload Indian services to the Provinces, use economic development as an interim measure, and do away with Indian Affairs. It has been described as a policy of assimilation and is the same document that the Conservative government is currently adopting its First Nations legislation upon. Never in the history of Canada have there been so many pieces of legislation regarding First Nations before the House of Commons and the Senate. We are regressing almost 50 years on Aboriginal Issues, and the answer to paternalistic and unilateral legislation isn’t more of the same. If Stephen Harper was so adamant on reforming aboriginal accountability, housing, health, clean water, education and economic development then why did he not adopt the Kelowna Accord in 2006? A process that didn’t come out of a 1 day meeting, but instead an 18 month process agreed upon to by Provincial/Territorial, Federal and First Nation, Inuit and Metis leaders.

Democracy can be loud, ugly and messy, but it’s about bringing together all voices. Something that the current government has somehow forgotten. People shouldn’t be pushed to resorting to protest, which is a last resort when all else has failed. There have been so many groups under the current government who have been forced to protest: doctors, scientists, environmentalists, and now aboriginal people in partnership with non-aboriginal Canadians who are appalled  at the 3rdworld conditions, lack of consultation and impending environmental degradation. There’s a better way forward, hopefully the current government embraces all voices across the country, instead of trying to silence them. If the government doesn’t change its ways and begin to view Indigenous people as partners, then this battle will be fought in expensive court battles. Court battles in which First Nations are primarily winning, not the government.

What INM means to me on 01/11/13

I wanted to post this List of Chiefs attending Meeting with Harper: (supplied by PMO/Abo Affairs Min Duncan’s office) so our prayers are with them:

Grand Chief Shawn Atleo
Nova Scotia-Nwfdl: Terry Paul, Debora Robinson;
NB: Roger Augustine, George Ginnish;
Quebec: Ghislain Picard, Matthew Coon Come
Saskatchewan: Leo Omani, Norma Johnston, Marcel Head;
BC: Jody Wilson-Raybould, Ed John, Doug White;
Yukon: Mike Smith; Eric Fairclough;
Alberta: Charles Weaselhead, Ronald Twinn; Mervin Yellowbird

_____________________________________________
[My speech from the Rally today]

Our ancestors are here with us today.

Today is monumental. It is a day that will go down in history and a day that we will look back on in remembrance

It is a day that we will tell our grandchildren about.

It is a day that we stood united and proud and stood up for our rights and for the rights of future generations and for the rights of all Canadians. It’s a day we stood up for Democracy.

A day that we stood with the world for indigenous values and for solidarity and respect.

I am happy to see you all here and we are all part of a catalyst that is bigger then ourselves as individuals.

It is when we stand together, unified with dignity as a collective that we are the strongest.

We stand as a collective with not just individual powers, but collective powers.

Collective powers that are recognized and reaffirmed in the UNDRIP, in the constitution. They are the very fabric of what our country was built upon. They are signified in the earliest numbered treaties. They are signified in the wampum belt, they are in the UFA here in Yukon. These collective powers cannot be denied or dismissed.

Our collective rights are in the ashes of our forefathers and the dreams of our youth.

We stand for Justice, for the inequities that have existed for centuries. The pain and anguish of the governmental policies of the Indian Act, of residential schools, still exist today in our lives.

There are children who lie in unmarked graves. Whole communities were left without the laughter of children. Children who’s tongues were pierced with needles dare they speak their own language. Children who were shamed away from their culture and identity. The government ultimately tried to belittle us, assimilate us, eradicate us.

Some people might think that it wasn’t their fault, what happened in the past, and that bygones should be bygones, but it was illegal for First Nations people to hire a lawyer until 1951, the last residential school closed in 1996.

This history the True history of First Nations, Inuit and Metis people is Canada’s largest untold history, it is not of the past, especially when you look at how current legislation, although less barbaric on the surface, still serves the same purpose as it did in the past: To assimilate and eradicate the Indigenous people in Canada.

The current suite of legislation: Bill C-45, Bill S-8, Bill S-2, Bill C-428, Bill C-27, Bill S-6, Bill C-48, the FN Education Act and First Nation Property Ownership Act all still exist and are in the process of becoming law within this year with little to no consultation.

Clearly the government thinks that the answer to paternalistic and unilateral legislation like residential schools and the Indian Act, that has ultimately destroyed many First Nations communities and people, is MORE paternalistic and unilateral legislation and they ignore their duty to consult and accommodate as laid out in the constitution. They ignore being signatories to UNDRIP which calls for Free, Prior and Informed Consent!

They IGNORE our voices, but we will be heard, we will rise up, we will be IDLE NO MORE!

We stand for Justice because we know these inequalities still exist today and the legislative onslaught clearly continues today. We see these inequalities and the injustice, we see it etched in the faces of our people and rippled into the lives of our unborn. We stand for Justice! We say today is the day we have our voices heard, today is the day we stand united, today is the day we remember that we are honorable and noble people.

We see the systemic underfunding of child welfare, education, health, housing, access to housing and clean water. Basic human rights denied and things that were promised to us, we see that the government has ultimately failed us. When a government fails it’s people, It has failed its country.

But we still prevail, we as indigenous people are still are here today and we will always be here. We belong in this country just like every Canadian does. We are a resilient and strong people!

The government issued an apology to us, but this apology is but a hallow vessel that we need to fill with all of our hopes and dreams for the future.

There is a lot of division within our communities. We must cast aside our personal differences. United we stand, divided we fall. We must believe that both the grassroots people and the leadership are working for the best interests of our communities.

Indigenous and non-indigenous people, all races, creeds, belong here within Idle No More.

And we all need to respect each other’s differences and listen with open minds and hearts, with a willingness to accept each other’s differences. This is how the war will be won, from a spiritual place of love with peaceful intent and compassion.

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