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REPORTING · 6th October 2011
Walter McFarlane
Kitimat held an Educational Forum on the Northern Gateway Project on September 20th at Mount Elizabeth Theatre. The theatre was packed with people. Ron Poole, Municipal Manager for the District of Kitimat Moderated the Event. The presenters had an hour present, 15 minutes was allotted to Ellis Ross, Chief Councillor for Kitamaat Village, Mike Mike Bernier, Mayor of Dawson Creek, Greg Brown, from the Northwest Institute for Bio Regional Research, and John Caruthers, President of Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, who presented in that order.

Ross explained the Haisla expected the forum not to count as official consultation for the grounds of the Joint Review Panel. He explained the Haisla were closely connected to their territory and even more so in the past fifty years.

“In the past, when it came to industrial choice of development, the Haisla have always got the dirty end of the stick. We do not want history to repeat itself in the terms in terms of marginalization or outright disregard for our interests. Processes that date back 50 years ago have one thing in common: Haisla interest does not matter,” said Ross.

He explained promises were not upheld and at the time, First Nations were not allowed legal representation. When the processes were changed, legal representation was still out of the reach of the First Nations.

While they were promised the environment would not be damaged, the Oolichan disappeared from the Kitimat River, wild salmon was replaced by hatchery salmon and the Village itself was controlled by corporations and municipalities.

“But it was legitimate back then because it followed process. Process back then did not mean talking with First Nations openly and honestly. It was process like this that allowed the Kitimat River to become a dumping ground for sewage and for the river to be dyked to a point where our villages were washed away. It was processes like these that allowed effluent to be dumped into the Kitimat River that tainted and, in my opinion, contributed to the near extinction of the Oolichan ,” said Ross.

He pointed out there were lost kelp beds and sea beds. Crabs were contaminated. He added the First Nations will be interested in this area long after everyone else is gone. “If it is of serious nature, Haisla can expect one thing and that is to fight the unfair process on our own,” said Ross.

They took Eurocan to the environmental appeal board and to court twice with no support from the District of Kitimat or anyone else. While they protect the environment, others receive taxes and benefits. When Eurocan could not meet its minimum amount of effluent to be dumped, they were permitted to dump more.

He stated out right all this was done for the environment, not for more money. He invited people to compare the Haisla community to Kitimat. Non Haisla members were made very wealthy during this time while the village spiralled into poverty. However, now the courts have ruled the Haisla the have rights and title to the land, consultation must be meaningful and honour of the crown must be upheld.

He expressed issue concerning the Joint Review Panel not having a BC member or a representative of the First Nations. It is built not to engage in dialogue but to hear evidence. He pointed out the National Energy Board has never disapproved of a project and suggested they might be going through the motions and the discussion has already been made.

He concluded by saying the work the Haisla have done to create fair processes have benefited the region and Canada will not come to the table to consult with the Haisla which is a breach in their obligations under the constitution. If they breach the rights of the Haisla, they will fight back.