This has been one interesting week in politics in BC. As many of us keep in touch with the issues that are facing First Nations in BC, the Prosperity Mine Project is getting a lot of press. The Tsilhqot’in National Government has been spearheading opposition to the project and the draining of Fish Lake and its use for the dumping of tailings into it. Interestingly, the provincial assessment processes said the project was okay but the Federal environmental processes were very clear: the project would significantly harm fish and grizzly bear habitats and undermine traditional aboriginal use of lands and resources. Amazing findings and one that should have the Federal Government sitting up and taking notice of and denying the project permits to develop the mine. Overriding such strong findings would undermine the environmental assessment processes and the federal government would have a hard time rationalizing such a decision. We await that decision.
The Globe and Mail on Monday, had as a headline “Ottawa red light for Prosperity Mine would be ‘wet blanket’ on industry. The headline reflects a statement made by current Minister of Mines and Energy Bill Bennett and how it will deliver a massive blow the province’s economy. The Minister is trying to persuade the Federal Government through public media to overlook strong findings of the Federal Environmental Assessment process by alleging financial ruin to BC and the subsequent negative effect on investors interests. The Minister is quoted as saying “the objectives of First Nations and Environmentalists cannot outweigh the economic benefits to the struggling central BC Regions communities… “ Whoa, those are fighting words. Does the Minister remember that First Nations have rights and title that are protected by the Constitution of Canada and this mine will abrogate those rights? Does he further forget that through decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada that First Nations must be properly consulted as the Honour of the Crown is at stake? Some of us wonder if the Minister even knows what honour is about. But what the Minister fails to see is that it was also the objectives of the Federal Government that were set out in their environmental assessment processes that guided their findings that played a role as well. The Minister mistakenly assumes that the only objective for BC is to make money and that simply is not true. For a government that is trying to lead the way in reducing green house gases and clean energy, allowing projects that destroy the environment should not be acceptable.
I think that the message it sends to the mining industry and their investors is that even though it may cost more, draining lakes and using them as tailing ponds is not an acceptable practice and new technology or methods must be used. This issue arises repeatedly in new mines and one day I hope that they will understand that they must use higher environmental standards and mechanisms to protect that which is important and constitutionally protected by First Nations.
The other big event in BC politics was the cabinet shuffle on Monday morning. The premier is trying to find ways to make government work better and to regain the confidence of the electorate in BC. There is another Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, Barry Penner. How many Minister of Aboriginal Relations has there been since this government came into power? Ministers Abbott, Christensen, Dejong, Abbott again and now Penner. Maybe others that I have forgotten. None are memorable, none of have made the kind of progress we need as First Nations people in this province. There is a new Deputy Minister as well, Steve Munro. Bob deFaye was short lived as the previous DM who was proceeded by Lorne Browney who held the role for 19 years and was very familiar with the issues and the people. We won’t expect anything earth shattering the way of changes in policies or in getting anything done of significance as the push behind the New Relationship and settling treaties seems to have put on the back burner. It would be a nice surprise if Minister Penner brought a new energy and impetus to resolve the many issues that are holding First Nations back in BC.
It is my day to single out Bill Bennett, one cannot help but laugh at Minister Bill Bennett’s whining over the fact that the Premier did not seek his advice on the cabinet shuffle. The man who sends insulting e mails and runs roughshod over First Nations concerns over mines and dams. Many of us wondered why the Premier would trust him as a Minister again after his last political blunders in several e-mails. All of us knew there was a cabinet shuffle in the works, why would Bill Bennett not approach the Premier and chat with him about it and offer his advice? Why wait in his corner and hope the Premier would approach him, what kind of leader does that? He states in the article of October 26th “We need to think about doing things differently. We are not well thought of by the general public…” . Well, why would Bill Bennett think that his running off to the media to complain about the way the Premier did things would make the public think any better of the government? Totally ludicrous thinking in my mind. If Bill Bennett is not a trusted adviser to the Premier, he should do something about it, not voice his dissatisfaction through the media. But this is the man who heads up Mines and Energy for the province and his attitudes and public statements do not bode well for First Nations peoples and mean that there will be disputes over his statements and decisions. Maybe he will follow the way of Bob Simpson…
I need to end this week’s entry with something positively empowering. Last Friday, I attended the BC Achievement Foundation Awards for First Nations Artists. The BC Achievement Foundation was the brain child of Premier Gordon Campbell. He wanted a forum to honour British Columbians for their outstanding contributions in many areas. For Aboriginal people, there are awards for artists and businesses (which will be held December 1st). There are also Community awards for everyone which many First Nations people have also been winners. First Nations artists that were honoured were Alvin Adkins, Lisa Hageman, Peter Morin, Tim Paul and Richard Sumner.(see Picture above) The Lifetime Achievement Award went to Rena Point Bolton. Visit http://www.bcachievement.com/aboriginalart/recipients.php to see the pictures and watch the videos on the accomplishments of these First Nations artists. You will be uplifted and inspired. Rena is the mother of His Honour the Lieutenant Governor of BC, Stephen Point. Stephen was powerful in his message, in order to achieve a dream, you must see it, talk about it and then do it. These artists wanted to preserve our culture, our symbols, our way of life and have used many mediums to do so and have excelled in their work. There are many others out there whose stories have not yet been told and hopefully next year, they will be nominated and showcased as role models for others and proof that anything is possible when you pursue your dreams.