Case Study: As long As the Rivers Flows Tour 1991
In 1991, a year after some major uprising in “Indian Country” (Mount Currie, James Bay, Lonefighters, Oka Crisis), Milton Born-With-A-Tooth of the Peigan First Nation of Alberta organized an event to draw attention to the “illegal and immoral damming of waterways”. The tour began in Mount Currie, British Columbia and ended in Kanesatake, Quebec, yet other people on the tour also went to James Bay Cree settlement in Northern Quebec.
Throughout this thousands of miles journey, participants would choose to fast (go without food or water or both) and pay homage (offer tobacco, prayers and songs) to the water spirits. The participants of the journey were housed and fed by various First Nations and church organizations across the country. They would stop at various dams along the way and would march across the structure and then have Elders and the medicine man and pipe carrier from Peigan First Nation bless the waterways. The participants believed that they needed to bring awareness to the issues regarding the protection of Mother Earth and her water ways. Today’s rivers are no longer controlled by Mother Earth rather they are controlled by human choices. Humans determine how much water the rivers will contain and where these waters will go. Damming the veins of Mother Earth is akin to blocking major arteries of a human being, nothing good can come out of it. Damming rivers has effects such as mercury poisoning and flooding threats. The As the River Flows Tour 1991 provided an opportunity for Aboriginal people to come from all over Canada to go to Kanesatake on its one year anniversary and reflect upon uniting all Aboriginal people in the cause of protecting the environment.
In 1990 in Mount Currie, British Columbia the Lil’Wat Nation had a stand off with the logging companies; they put up a barricade in support of the Mohawk at Kanesatake. They were also bringing to attention their solidarity as a nation that would not allow Mother Earth to be raped. On May 20, 1911 “We claim that we are the rightful owners of our tribal territory, and everything pertaining thereto. We have always lived in our country; at no time have we ever deserted it, or left it to others. We have retained it from the invasion of other tribes at the cost of our blood. Our ancestors were in possession of our country centuries before the whites came. It is the same as yesterday when the latter came, and like the day before when the first fur trader came." Stl’atl’imx Nation Chiefs, 1911 (Declaration of the Lillooet Tribe). In the 1920s the headmen of Lil’Wat traveled to Ottawa to the parliament to make their concerns known. The traditionalists of the Lil’Wat Nation ascertain that as a sovereign nation they have never given up that sovereignty. Furthermore that the Canadian and B.C authorities were forcibly occupying their lands. Lil'Wat Elder Lahalus (Loretta Pascal), testified with great dignity at the Ts'peten (Gustafsen Lake) trial April 9, 1997. "I am Lil'Wat, one of the people of the land. Canada came after us. We have our own laws... the people are our constitution," Lahalus said. "We are spiritually, emotionally, and physically connected to Mother Earth -- one of our laws is to protect Mother Earth and all her children... It isn't just an environmental issue; the survival of our nation is in jeopardy. We are connected to the land in all ways.” Participants of the 1990 standoff joined “As The River Flows Tour” to bring their message to other Aboriginal participants on the tour, everyone learned from each other. The tour began in Mount Currie, and then went to the Peigan Nation.
In 1990 the Peigan Nation through the Lonefighters society opposed two issues: the illegal logging on traditional territory, and the damming of the Old Man River. Active resistance on the Oldman River Dam came from a group of Peigan men, the Peigan Lonefighters Society, who in August 1990 began to divert the river using an excavator to render the multi-million dollar dam useless. The claim was simple, the government of Canada was intruding on sacred Native land, land owned by the Blackfoot Nations. According to Milton Born with a Tooth, "the Oldman River is located in Blackfoot Nation's territory, something we have always taken as being within our own domain. We all grew up by the river, and that's how the river has a personal attachment to myself and the people. So that's what drove us to do what we did on August 3, to let the people know we still had this connection to the river." In August 1990, resistance turned violent when Peigan Lonefighters shot at the dam construction workers. Milton Born with a Tooth was later arrested for trespassing, and endangering lives, he spent three years in jail.
Yet in 1991 Born with a Tooth arranged this tour to draw attention to the blatant enforcement of environmental disasters that could have been averted. Canadians must realize that our water cannot be forgotten, protection must happen so our water remains pure and drinkable.
Case Study: James Bay I & II
The James Bay Cree hold traditional territory in Northern Quebec and much of their traditional territory has been flooded due to the Quebec government’s hydro projects. The Inuk (Inuit) also have substantial territory in the James Bay I & II dam sites and they, (particularly the women) are very concerned about the impacts. A study was done by Suzanne Hawkes entitled “Unheard Voices of the James Bay II and the women of Kuujjuarapik.” This hydro project was the largest in North American history. The traditional ways of life and territories have been changed forever, while the James Bay Cree and Inuk have been monetarily compensated, that compensation does not make good the damage that the northern environment has been subjected too. This project was developed without environmental impact assessment studies. If it had been developed according to today’s standards it would have never been authorized to proceed. Quebec launched their hydro development with James Bay I in 1971 and within four years the James Bay Cree were uprooted from their traditional land base, they were provided with modern houses, a hospital, a hockey arena and other such material advantages. With those advantages came a cost that future generations of James Bay Cree would pay dearly for, the mercury in the waters which is caused by flooding forests, and alcoholism plagued the people.
Mercury occurs naturally in the environment and is especially abundant within the Canadian Shield. Mercury contamination has turned the water undrinkable and the fish inedible. When the rivers were dammed, the greatest impact was the mercury contamination. Vast forest tracts were flooded and the byproduct of this was the subsequent biodegradation of a massive quantity of organic matter, this resulted in methylamines and release of dangerous high levels of mercury into the ecosystems. The microbe of methyl mercury accumulates in the food and becomes concentrated in the flesh of predators, including humans. Mercury has a number of effects on humans, they can be simplified into the following symptoms: disruption of the nervous system, damage to brain functions, DNA damage and chromosomal damage, allergic reactions: resulting in skin rashes, tiredness and headaches, negative reproductive effects, such as: birth defects and miscarriages. In the years between 1982 and 1987, mercury levels doubled among the Cree who continue to practice traditional fishing for consumption. Methylmercury contamination can accumulate in fish and in the food chains that they are part of. The effects that mercury has on animals are kidney damage, stomach disruption, damage to intestines, reproductive failure and DNA alteration. We probably will not know the full extent of the effects of mercury poisoning in the James Bay area for a few more years. In the 1990s the James Bay II project was beginning, one inhabitant of Fort George, Margaret Cromarty commented “God promised He wouldn’t flood the Earth again, but Hydro Quebec went ahead and did it anyway…” The transplanted inhabitants of Chisasibi struggle with their traditional value systems while Euro Canadian and non-Aboriginal philosophies encroach.
In 1991, the James Bay Cree took their protest to New York which was to have a contract with Hydro Quebec, (Quebec was making more power than it needed and was exporting it to the various northern states). Environmental protection groups placed a full page ad in the New York Times with a picture of 10, 000 drowned caribou that died because of the James Bay project. With pressure mounting from environmental groups both internally and internationally, Quebec opted out of the Great Whale or Phase II James Bay project. Hydro Quebec is exploring other options and damming in a smaller level, giving some consideration to environment. The effects on the northern environment will never be reversed. Though we can look at the advantages brought to us by electricity, we must remember what has happened and how we can prevent future environmental disruption. We are the caretakers of the land, Mother Earth deserves respect. It is only when one recognizes the impacts and the environmental effects of the Hydro projects that one is able to make a sound decisions and that decision should not be made based on monetary benefits. Rather the focus should be what are the environmental effects and how can we ensure the earth for future generations. When waters become contaminated then what can we do to replace this precious natural resource?
Case Study: Yellow Quill First Nation
A year before the Walkerton incident in July of 1999, an Environmental Health Officer (EHO) from the Saskatoon Tribal Council began investigating the large number of serious health issues in the community and she was concerned it was attributed to the water. The EHO learned that Yellow Quill got its water from pumping water into a reservoir from a stream that only ran for a few days every spring. The EHO also learned that in that same stream, a town upstream dumped its sewage lagoon into the water each spring when the Yellow Quill reservoir was filling. “You could turn the tap on before and you could smell the sewer. That’s how bad it was. Our houses smelled like that, sometimes the inside, it smelt like that for days because of the water. Even when we didn’t turn on the taps you could smell it” Said Chief Whitehead in an interview with Saskatchewan Sage Magazine. Water quality on this First Nation was so bad that the residents were under “boil water advisory” from 1995 until 2004. Unfortunately this is not unusual; in fact it is the “norm” in many First Nation communities, yet for Yellow Quill it was something that had to be changed. Yellow Quill citizens banded together, they were concerned and they were also motivated to affect change. Their persistence, combined with that of the EHO and the help of scientists from the Safe Drinking Water Foundation slowly impacted the decision of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) representatives to endorse the first water treatment project of its kind.
On April 11, 2005, the UN declared that (Ranked 7th) Canada's high ranking on the United Nations' human development scale would dramatically drop if the country were judged solely on the economic and social well-being of its First Nations people. According to the 2005 UN report, Canada would be placed 48th out of 174 countries if judged on those criteria. "Economic, social and human indicators of well-being, quality of life and development are completely lower among Aboriginal people than other Canadians," said Rodolfo Stavenhagen a United Nations representative. 20 percent of British Columbian Aboriginal people reported having inadequate water and sewer systems. There are no clear numbers regarding the condition of water services on Aboriginal communities and while there are guidelines regarding water treatment, these are not enforced by government departments. This would be the same as having a guideline of 100 km/hr on the highway but people drive at their own speed and were never fined. Imagine how dangerous a highway would be if people drove at their own speed from 20km/hr to 180 km/hr.
Canada is the only developed country that does not have regulations governing drinking water. In 2004 Canada was the only country to vote “no”, declaring that water is “NOT” a basic human right. Canada voted against all other countries on this issue at the United Nations.
There are often problems because First Nation reserves are under federal jurisdiction whereas environmental concerns are under provincial jurisdiction. Yellow Quill should not have happened. Yet within many First Nation communities this is a reality every day of their lives, often they have complained, but those complaints are not dealt with appropriately! Yellow Quill had to wait nine years before their boil water advisory was rescinded. Yet this is the reality in many First Nations; it is this dual jurisdiction and the lack of response that may cause irrevocable damage to the community and its members. In 1999, the EHO repeatedly requested Dr. Hans Peterson, Volunteer Executive Director of the Safe Drinking Water Foundation (SDWF), to become involved with Yellow Quill. In 2002 he moved to Yellow Quill and lived on the reserve for almost two years. He was instrumental in the development of a new water treatment system. It was an innovative approach to water treatment and was developed, piloted and implemented by Associated Engineering and WateResearch Corp. of Saskatoon.
The Yellow Quill First Nation bio-membrane water treatment plant is the first of its kind in Canada. The bio-membrane process has a number of advantages including the fact that no chemicals are used in the biological process, which takes advantage of naturally occurring microorganisms to remove contaminates. A minimum amount of chemicals are required for the membrane process. Yellow Quill water quality is probably better than anywhere else in Canada right now.
There is a Water Keeper rather than a Water Treatment Operator, paying attention to the spiritual and traditional well being of everyone in the community. This innovative approach is now being implemented in other A boriginal communities, presently Hans Peterson is working with Saddle Lake First Nation in Alberta and other Aboriginal communities who would like to safely drink their water without boil water advisory, and without unnecessary chemicals being added to the water and to the environment.
Case Study: Natural Resource Transfer Agreement
Under the terms of First Nation numbered treaties signed throughout the prairie provinces in the late 1800s, crown land was set aside to be used by the Indians for traditional hunting, fishing and gathering. The Natural Resource Transfer Agreement which took place in 1930 transferred control over natural resources from federal jurisdiction to provincial authority. Treaty First Nations have difficulty with the 1930 NRTA that was passed without consultation of Aboriginal peoples. This gave the province jurisdiction over crown lands that were formerly under federal legislation. There has been apathy and mistrust of government departments, because much has been done to exploit our natural resources. Treaties were agreements that were signed between two nations and those agreements never stated that the crown lands would be transferred to the provincial control.
One of the provisions of the treaties was that land would be set aside to accommodate Status Indians based upon their population at the time of reserve surveys (1890s- 1930s). Many reserves were shortchanged lands and it was only after the 1990 Oka uprising/Crisis that Treaty Land Entitlement (TLE) Framework Agreement began within the Prairie Provinces, it was also at this time that it became important to make amendments to the NRTA to ratify and accommodate the TLE. If the NRTA had not taken place then First Nations would have control over the natural resources in their territories. Rather than the provinces getting money from uranium and other mining endeavors, these monies would be that of the First Nations whose territory was mined. In November of 2004 the Supreme Court of Canada made a decision regarding the provincial crown having a legal duty to consult with First Nations regarding land and resources. Amendments to the NRTA must take place to accommodate co-management of natural resources by the First Peoples and the federal/provincial governments.
A large portion of a "prime woodlot" within Alberta is undergoing some controversy since the government wants to give forestry companies cutting rights located within the traditional territory of the Lubicon Lake Indian Nation. "Rather than concluding a settlement with the Lubicon Nation," Lubicon Chief Bernard Ominayak said in a letter published in the Edmonton Journal (Spring 2005), "Alberta is once again trying to unilaterally assert jurisdiction by selling off the very lands and resources under dispute to oil, gas and forestry companies."
Aboriginal groups have long maintained a claim to the land for traditional uses, but also want to explore economic benefits associated with any plans for industrial development such as forestation, oil revenue, uranium mining and other acts which takes resources from Mother Earth. Aboriginal groups have also maintained that they have never given up the rights to their ancestral lands and rather it was the federal government without their consent that passed jurisdiction over the lands to the provincial authority.
If the NRTA was repealed or challenged the rights of Aboriginal people would change forever, with significant economic impact. The fact is that without the NRTA the traditional lands of Aboriginal people would go back to the first peoples for economic development. If the NRTA is determined to be null and void since Canadian Aboriginal people were neither consulted nor approved, Aboriginal people would get their land back. Canada is not the only country that has taken away economic benefits from natural resources for the indigenous peoples.
The United Nations declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, section 12 states “Indigenous peoples have the right to practice and revitalize their cultural traditions and customs.” Although the declaration will not create any legal obligation, it also pertains to return of cultural articles and intangible cultural property which was taken without their consent. Huge land bases were taken from Canadian Aboriginal people without their consent.
The NRTA works for provinces providing them with revenue to maintain programs and institutions. Natural resource revenues represent the sale of natural capital assets. Natural resource endowment belongs to all provincial residents, including those who are not born yet. It should be treated as capital, and reinvested, so as to confer benefits on each province's citizens over a long period of time; an establishment of a heritage fund is a good idea. The provinces should invest the capital, and only spend the interest it generates. It is important that every province be able to wisely invest and spend the money made from natural resource revenue. It is also important that provincial governments ensure that Mother Earth is protected and the resources are sustainable for future generations.