Environment: Current Problems

Environmental Impacts

February 6, 2023

Fed. Govt., MB

‘I don’t have a home to go to’: Peguis First Nation evacuees left in limbo 9 months after flooding

More than 900 evacuees still not able to return home, chief says

Arlene Spence, left, Amanda Flett, next to her, Lana Sutherland and Melissa Sanderson, right, are among hundreds of Peguis First Nation flood evacuees still unable to return to their homes nine months after flooding forced them out of the community. (Brittany Greenslade/CBC)

CBC News: More than 900 evacuees from Peguis First Nation still can’t return to their community nearly nine months after floodwaters ravaged the reserve.

Nearly 300 homes are uninhabitable and many have been given no timeline for when they may be able to go back, Chief Glenn Hudson said. At least 85 homes have already been condemned and nearly 200 are in need of major repairs before anyone can live in them again, Hudson said.

“The homes themselves are mould infested,” he said. “The furnaces, the hot water tanks, washers and dryers … the appliances are all damaged. They’re not functional.”

More than 2,000 people were forced to leave the First Nation last spring and around 1,200 have been able to move back to their community.

A home on Peguis First Nation is surrounded by a Tiger dam and floodwaters.
Melissa Sanderson’s home, which she inherited from her grandparents, was surrounded by floodwaters in spring. (Submitted by Melissa Sanderson)

However, many others are still in limbo. “I know some people are frustrated,” Hudson said. “We have elders that want to come home. They don’t want to remain in the hotels anymore.”

More than 500 evacuees are still living in hotels in Winnipeg and Selkirk, the Red Cross said. Another 398 have been moved into private accommodations, Hudson said.

Melissa Sanderson has been living in a hotel room with her family since the community was evacuated. “I’ve moved 10 times,” Sanderson said. “We’ve been to seven different hotels in nine months.” Sanderson, her husband, four daughters and two nieces have been sharing two hotel rooms.

The basement of a home filled with muddy floodwaters.
The basement of Melissa Sanderson’s home sits filled with floodwater in spring. It has now been condemned. (Submitted by Melissa Sanderson)

Peguis faced major flood events that required evacuations in 2006, 2009, 2011 and 2014. “We have evacuees here from 2009,” Sanderson said. “So does that mean we have to stay here this long? … That’s the hard part for me, knowing I don’t have a home to go to.”

She went back to Peguis last week for the first time since October. Her home, which was previously her grandparents’, has been condemned. “It’s the only thing we have left of them,” she said through tears. “So being told that you can’t go home is hard.”

A young woman sitting in a black hoodie with one hand up to her eyes as she cries.
Melissa Sanderson is overcome with emotion as she speaks about how difficult the past nine months have been, after she and her family were forced to leave Peguis First Nation as evacuees. (CBC)

Sanderson struggles keep the kids occupied. They try to go out bowling, to the park and museum and to a movie every now and then, but it can get expensive. “In the summer, we had a lot of things to do, and then now in the winter, there’s not very much activities for us to do and it is costly,” she said. “Two weeks ago I took seven children — I took three of my nephews and my four daughters — and it cost me over $200 to go to a movie.”

Lana Sutherland has three children and 14 grandchildren, with another due any day now. “Not knowing how long we were going to be gone, thinking we’ll be back by next week and still here nine months after … it’s a struggle,” she said.  Her son has seven kids and it’s hard having the them all cooped up in a hotel room every day, she said, especially during winter, and going out isn’t always an option.

Eight people, including seven young children, on one bed in a hotel room.
Lana Sutherland, who has three kids and 14 grandchildren, says it is difficult to keep them occupied all the time, and often they are cooped up inside the hotel rooms. (Submitted by Lana Sutherland)

“It’s very costly,” she said. “We do try our best to find all the little free things here and there. It’s a lot of work.”

Sutherland went back to Peguis recently to assess the damage to her home. While friends and family on the reserve helped clean up the best they could, it wasn’t enough to save it.

“It’s very heartbreaking,” she said. “We can’t take my grandkids back there. It’s not safe for them.” She misses making home-cooked meals and spending holidays together in their community. “We spent Christmas in Winnipeg. My family did take turns coming into my room and opening the presents and stuff,” she said. “We didn’t get to have our big Christmas dinner.”

Evacuees are given meals each day with help from the Red Cross. However, many would rather be able to cook. Some of the rooms have microwaves and Sanderson is one of the lucky ones with a stovetop. “Last weekend I went to Walmart … just to go get snacks,” Sanderson said. “We can get macaroni and spaghetti and stuff like that.”

Two children, fully clothed, playing a board game in an empty bathtub.
Lana Sutherland says you can often find at least a few of the grandkids taking up space in the bathtub and reading or playing games. (Submitted by Lana Sutherland)

But like Sutherland, she really misses being able to cook a nice meal.   “I can’t really cook meat, maybe hamburger or bacon … but it’s only a stovetop, right? I don’t have an oven,” she said. 

Sanderson also has safety concerns. She lived on Peguis First Nation her entire life and living in a big city makes her fearful. “I don’t have to lock my door when I’m at home,” she said. “I don’t have to worry about my kids going missing, you know? I have four daughters and I have two nieces, so I’m scared. It’s scary.”

She said her kids are also scared.  “They’re getting depressed,” she said.

Between COVID-19 and the flood, some of the kids haven’t been in a classroom for nearly three years.  Sanderson’s eldest daughter would be graduating this year if she’d been able to stay in school. 

Her younger kids are scared of going to school in the city. “They’re scared about the new adjustments, about making friends,” she said. “My girls were just crying, like, wanting to go home.”

The children are not enrolled in school in the city. Instead, many are given homework packages and teaching is left up to the parents. 

A teenage girl dressed in a t-shirt and shorts sits in the empty bathtub on her phone.
Amanda Flett says her daughter tries to find any small space with privacy, and sometimes that means sitting in the hotel room bathtub. (Submitted by Amanda Flett)

Amanda Flett has three children staying with her.  “My son, my 10-year-old, he likes doing his homework,” she said. “But my teenage son needs help in areas like math, and I’m no good at math.”

Flett tries her best and can help with the basics, but it’s not the same, she said. “They need a teacher. I’m a mom,” she said. “It’s not the same. In school, they have extra help if they need it.”

Flett’s family recently moved into a rental apartment and she is looking at schools in the area for her kids.

Arlene Spence spent most of her life living on the reserve but in the past few months, she has been moved into hotels in Gimli, Selkirk and Winnipeg. She worries about people from the community. “I see we are losing our young people to the demons here,” she said. “Like the drugs, the alcohol.”

She has started to feel those demons herself.  “I was never a drinker much but I’ve been dabbling lately,” she said. “What else is there to do?”


Brittany Greenslade, Reporter

Brittany Greenslade is an award-winning journalist who joined CBC in 2023. Prior to that she worked with Global News for 11 years, covering health, justice, crime, politics and everything in between. Brittany won the RTDNA Dan McArthur In-Depth Investigative award in 2018 for her stories that impacted government change after a Manitoba man was left with a $120,000 medical bill. Share tips and story ideas: brittany.greenslade@cbc.ca

March 8, 2023

Fed. Govt., QC

‘If we lose this fight, we lose everything’: Naskapi, Innu nations oppose Quebec mining project

‘This area is what’s left for us to find peace,’ says resident of Kawawachikamach

Napess Vollant, who lives in the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach, says he is ready to do whatever it takes to stop Century Global’s mining project. (Delphine Jung/Radio-Canada)

CBC News: A mining company wants to set up a large operation in Labrador, producing 2.5 million tonnes of iron annually and building a transportation corridor to help get the material from northern Quebec to Sept-Îles. Century Global says its venture, which has been in the works for several years, would bring in tens of millions of dollars and create hundreds of jobs. 

Napess Vollant wants no part of it.

Vollant, who is a member of the Naskapi Nation of  Kawawachikamach — located about 1,100 kilometres from Montreal —says the project would ruin Lake Joyce and its surrounding area. It’s a traditional hunting and fishing ground. Vollant says he won’t let anything happen to it. “I am ready to get arrested for it and a lot of my friends are as well,” said Vollant.

He’s printed T-shirts and created a social media group to spread the word about the project and make sure it never gets approved. “If we lose this fight, we lost everything,” said Vollant. “This area is what’s left for us to find peace. It’s our garden… I often think about our elders who lived there.”

A family is walking.
Many people in Kawawachikamach own cabins near Lake Joyce. (Delphine Jung/Radio-Canada)
‘They’re wasting their time’

Shane Vollant, who is both Innu and Naskapi, is one of many people who own a small cabin near Lake Joyce. “I spent most of my youth in that cabin. We’ve been hunting Canada geese every spring there for generations,” he said. “The mine would be right in front of our cabin.”

A potentially obstructed view of the lake isn’t his biggest concern, however. He’s also worried a new mine could affect the water quality in the region. “I don’t want a mine even if we’re promised work. We are the only Naskapis in the world and we only have one territory, we can’t let it go,” he said.

Theresa Chemaganish, the grand chief of the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach, says she shares some of the concerns from her community. “Since the beginning, we have said that the population’s opinion was important. And it’s because of this opposition that the council wants to be very transparent,” she said.

A person is smiling
Shane Vollant says he doesn’t want the mining project, even if it creates jobs in the area. (Facebook/Shane Vollant)

Réal Mckenzie, the chief of Matimekush-Lac John, which is about 10 kilometres away from Kawawachikamach, says Century Global might as well drop the project.

He won’t budge on the issue. “There’s not going to be a mine there, is that clear? That lake is sacred!” he told Radio-Canada. “They should stop giving permits to mining companies, it’s pointless… They’re wasting their time because for us, it will be a no.”

The council for the Naskapi Nation appears to be keeping more of an open mind. It says it wants to study the project’s potential effects on its territory and traditions. By law, the communities must hold public consultations. “We respect the position of the Innu and they respect ours. We just have a different approach. We will follow the process,” Chemaganish said.

After meeting with Century Global last november, the Naskapi Nation met with about 60 of its residents.

Century Global told Radio-Canada it wants to continue consulting with different Indigenous communities to “identify their concerns and come up with mitigation measures.”

A person is speaking.
Réal McKenzie, the chief of Matimekush-Lac John, says Lake Joyce is sacred and Century Global can forget about setting up a mining operation nearby. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)
Environmental impact

According to Century Global, the project — if approved — would last about 10 years, including two years of construction and seven years of production.

On the federal government’s website, the only external opinion about the project comes from a group of students from the University of Waterloo. The students wrote that the project should be categorically refused because of  “its biophysical consequences and socio-economic impacts.” Century Global has questioned the students’ methodology.

There is a sign on the side of a road.
The community of Kawawachikamach is located about 1,100 kilometres away from Montreal. (Delphine Jung/Radio-Canada)

Émile Cloutier-Brassard, a mining analyst with the Montreal-based non-profit organization Eau Secours, agrees. He says the study had some shortcomings in terms of accuracy and scientific method.

But he does support the students’ position that the mining operation would drain the lake, which would affect the environment. Century Global says draining the lake “is necessary to ensure the safety of workers in the open pit mine.” The mining company promises to refill the lake during the last two years of production.

Allan Gan, who is managing the project for Century Global, says this process will make Lake Joyce deeper, larger and a healthier living environment for fish. 

“I have my doubts about the fact that a mining company can bring improvements to a territory or its environment,” Cloutier-Brassard said. “That seems counterintuitive to me.”

Debate about this project is unlikely to end anytime soon. Last July, the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada gave Century Global a three-year extension to provide the studies needed for the project to be formally reviewed and, possibly, approved.


Delphine Jung,Journalist, Radio-Canada

Delphine Jung is a reporter for Radio-Canada who covers Indigenous issues, society, the environment and personal privacy.

January 20, 2023


‘Crush you like a bug’: BC Hydro’s Site C lawsuit targets farmers, First Nations

The suit brought against peaceful opponents of the most expensive hydro dam in Canadian history has the hallmarks of a strategic lawsuit meant to silence and intimidate critics, according to experts

Peace Valley farmer Ken and his wife Arlene are named in a BC Hydro civil lawsuit that accuses the couple and four others of conspiracy, intimidation, trespass and “intentional interference with economic relations by unlawful means.” The Boons, whose farmhouse and farmland were expropriated by BC Hydro, joined a two-month winter camp to demonstrate their opposition to the Site C dam project. Photo: Jayce Hawkins / The Narwhal

The Narwhal: In the basement of Yvonne Tupper’s home, in northeast B.C., sits a banker’s box filled with papers from a Site C dam civil lawsuit that BC Hydro brought against her seven years ago. 

Tupper, a Saulteau First Nations member, still gets upset when she speaks about the ongoing lawsuit that accuses her and five others of conspiracy, intimidation, trespass, creating a public and private nuisance and “intentional interference with economic relations by unlawful means.” 

The lawsuit puts a “target on our backs” and sends the message that “it’s okay to bully us,” Tupper, an environmental monitor and cultural Knowledge Keeper for Saulteau First Nations, told The Narwhal.

The civil lawsuit was filed after Peace Valley farmers and First Nations members set up a winter camp at the Rocky Mountain Fort heritage site on the banks of the Peace River — once home to the first European fort in mainland B.C. and now a Site C dam acid-generating waste rock dump.

The campers demanded work on the Site C project be stopped until court cases against the project were heard and independent reviews could determine whether the project infringed treaty rights and was in the best interests of B.C. ratepayers. 

In 2016, Peace Valley farmers and First Nations members camped for almost two months at the Rocky Mountain Fort heritage site on the banks of the Peace River, asking that Site C dam construction be halted
In 2016, Peace Valley farmers and First Nations members camped for almost two months at the Rocky Mountain Fort heritage site on the banks of the Peace River, asking that Site C dam construction be halted until court cases against the project could be heard. Photo: The Narwhal 

According to the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, the civil lawsuit bears the hallmarks of a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, also known as a SLAPP suit. SLAPP suits aim to intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with the financial and emotional cost of legal action. 

The Site C suit — which BC Hydro lawyers suggested in court could seek up to $420 million in damages from Tupper and other defendants — also names Jane and John Doe, meaning anyone can be added at any time.

The peaceful two-month camp was voluntarily dismantled the day after BC Hydro obtained a court injunction to remove people from the area so the old-growth forest around the designated heritage site could be clearcut before migratory birds returned to nest in the spring.

To collect evidence for the civil lawsuit and injunction application, BC Hydro monitored personal Facebook pages, Twitter and Instagram accounts, blogs, other social media and a GoFundMe page Tupper set up to raise money for the camp, which could only be accessed by helicopter or snowmobile. Dozens of people visited the encampment overnight or during the day to show their support, including scientist David Suzuki and Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. 

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, visited the Rocky Mountain Fort camp on the banks of the Peace River in northeast B.C.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, visited the Rocky Mountain Fort camp on the banks of the Peace River in northeast B.C. Around the camp was an old-growth forest that was subsequently clear-cut and is now an acid-generating Site C dam waste rock dump. Photo: The Narwhal

Tupper said she has been “psychologically affected” by the lawsuit and believes BC Hydro may still be monitoring her social media accounts. “All those bridges and construction — that they said we held up — were completed years ago,” she said. “So I don’t understand why this lawsuit’s still going on.”

In an email, Greg Alexis, Site C manager of public affairs and community relations, said BC Hydro sent a letter in March 2021 offering to discontinue the legal action “and it was not accepted by the counsel for the defendants.” “We also sent a follow up letter in May 2021 and BC Hydro has not yet received a response,” Alexis said. “We remain open to discussions to resolve this issue.” He said BC Hydro is not able to discuss the terms of the settlement offer.

Jason Gratl, the lawyer for five people named in the suit, said he could not discuss details about the settlement terms offered in 2021. He described the terms as “less favourable than the status quo” and “unacceptable.”

Lawsuit called ‘embarrassing’ for B.C. government 

According to Ga Grant, litigation staff counsel for the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, the hallmarks of a SLAPP suit usually include a significant differential in power between parties and their access to resources. 

They also include “weak evidence of actual harm to that party that has more power,” Grant said.  “Just because a case is filed against someone doesn’t mean it actually has merit. In fact, SLAPP suits are regularly used to quash dissent, even though they may be baseless.”  Grant said such suits can cause “significant devastating harms to the freedom of expressionand public debate that is very important to our democracy.” 

Site C dam construction
BC Hydro, the public utility building the Site C dam, launched a civil lawsuit in 2016 against farmers and First Nations members who opposed the project. Experts say the suit has the hallmarks of a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, also known as a SLAPP suit. Photo: BC Hydro 

Verena Hofmann, one of the people named in the suit, said she was so intimidated and “rattled” by the lawsuit that she feared speaking out against the Site C project and “took a step back.” She stayed very quiet on social media, hoping to “fly under the radar” lest BC Hydro take her back to court. 

At first, Hofmann only wanted to speak to The Narwhal if her name wasn’t used but as she shared her story she changed her mind. “I’m proud of what I did,” she said. “I used my voice. I stood up. And now I’m afraid to say that my name can be used? No. I don’t want to be afraid that way and I don’t want others to feel that way.” 

Hofmann said she joined the camp because Site C dam construction was “ramrodded” through by BC Hydro and the B.C. government even though there were legal challenges waiting to be heard by the courts — including a landmark treaty rights case that might have stopped construction of the hugely over-budget $16 billion project, the most expensive hydro dam in Canadian history. 

The B.C. government greenlighted the project after it changed the law to remove the independent BC Utilities Commission — which had previously rejected the dam on the grounds that it was too environmentally harmful and the energy wasn’t needed at the time — from oversight. While court cases were still waiting to be heard, and in the absence of an independent review, former B.C. Premier Christy Clark vowed to push dam construction “past the point of no return.” 

Hofmann said she was particularly stressed by BC Hydro’s claim of damages from the campers, which lawyers for the public utility suggested in court could total as much as $420 million. The claim for damages was “outrageously exaggerated,” Hofmann said. “It’s unfathomable and unimaginable that [I] myself could have made those damages.” 

Hofmann recalled a sense of panic as she worried she would lose her home and that other campers, too, would lose their homes, land and possessions. “Nobody had any money to fight this,” she said, adding that she had to ask friends for money to help cover her legal expenses. 

Hofmann spoke about the industrialization of the once-bucolic Peace River Valley for the Site C dam, expressing grief at how the closely knit valley community has been torn apart by the project. Many residents were forced to relocate or their property was expropriated by BC Hydro to make way for the future reservoir, which will flood 128 kilometres of the valley and its tributaries, roughly the same distance as driving from Vancouver to Whistler. 

Peace River Valley
The Site C dam will flood 128 kilometres of the Peace River and its tributaries. In 2016, farmers and First Nations members set up a winter camp to try to stop construction until court cases against the publicly funded dam were heard. Photo: Garth Lenz / The Narwhal
BC Hydro’s charges were ‘worrisome’ 

Ken Boon, a farmer who was named in the civil suit along with his wife Arlene Boon, said the civil law suit “basically weaponized what BC Hydro really wanted, which was the injunction.” “There’s no doubt that the actions BC Hydro took were meant to be a deterrent … We know first hand that there were people very concerned about getting involved because of the possible financial implications,” said Boon, whose third-generation farmhouse and farmland was expropriated by BC Hydro in 2016. 

The Boons now live in a cabin on a small slice of their former property, sandwiched between the future reservoir and a section of a provincial highway that was relocated out of the flood zone. Boon said he and his wife no longer worry about the lawsuit because “it would be virtually impossible and bizarre to the extreme” for BC Hydro to move ahead with it now. 

“At the time, it was a pretty concerning thing,” he said. “They were throwing around some big numbers that seemed pretty bizarre in the scheme of things. How they determined those numbers was never clear to us. Obviously when you’re up against a mega corporation like BC Hydro that has limitless funds at their disposal and you’re just a little guy it’s definitely worrisome. They could crush you like a bug.”

Peace River Valley
Most of the Boons’ family farm in the Peace River Valley was expropriated by BC Hydro for the future Site C dam reservoir and the relocation of a provincial highway out of the flood zone. Photo: Garth Lenz / The Narwhal

BC Hydro offered to drop the lawsuit in the spring of 2016 if the couple signed an agreement promising not to engage in any actions that would impede construction of the dam, said Boon, who is the president of the Peace Valley Landowners Association, representing landowners who are affected by the Site C project. 

“Seven years have gone by since this civil claim was initiated, and we have not done any action to physically impede the project in that time,” he said. “However, we have continued to protest against the project through peaceful and lawful methods while being respectful of those working on it. Under the circumstances, why would we want to sign any such document?” he said. 

“BC Hydro did not need our signature to slap this suit on us, so they can — and should — just drop it without our signature. Otherwise, they can leave it open as a reminder of their bully tactics.”

Esther Pedersen, another Peace Valley resident named in the suit, said she has ignored the civil lawsuit, calling it “embarrassing” for the B.C. government.  Pedersen didn’t stay overnight at the Rocky Mountain Fort camp, which was also a gathering place for Indigenous people. She only visited the camp once for 15 minutes when there was an extra seat in the helicopter that transported Suzuki and Phillip. 

Pedersen allowed access through her rural property to the public land where the helicopter picked up Suzuki and Phillip. She also used a freezer outside her house to collect food for the campers, which was dropped off by community members. “This is like somebody who’s playing Monopoly who doesn’t like the rules and says, ‘oh, yeah, okay, well, you have to pay a million dollars. Okay? No, two million,’’ ’ she said. “It’s stupid. It’s childish. Can I go to jail forever? Really? For what?”

“Are you telling me that I can be sued for $400 million for feeding 28 people [at] a traditional camp?”

Peace Valley farmer looks out over land impacted by the Site C dam
In the early stages of Site C dam construction, the Pedersen’s land provided access to a viewpoint for valley residents and to public land where a helicopter landed to pick up David Suzuki and Grand Chief Steward Philip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. Photo: Jayce Hawkins / The Narwhal

B.C.’s new premier David Eby, the former executive director of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, championed anti-SLAPP suit legislation when he was the province’s attorney general. In one interview, Eby described SLAPP suits as lawsuits “filed to silence somebody on a matter of public interest.” 

In 2019, the province passed the Protection of Public Participation Act. The Act allows defendants like Hofmann and the Boons to apply to the court to dismiss a lawsuit on the grounds that it impinges on the ability to speak freely on a matter of public interest. If the court agrees, it can decide the defendant’s costs must be covered by the proponent of the lawsuit.

But the Act applies only to lawsuits filed after May, 2018, exempting the Site C civil lawsuit. 

Grant said the purpose of anti-SLAPP legislation like the Protection of Participation Act is to ensure voices can be heard without the threat of expensive legal action.

She said it is very concerning the Act doesn’t cover cases like the Site C civil lawsuit that “essentially are still being used aggressively against people.”

August 30, 2022

BC, Fed. Govt.

‘Trying to save our fish’: B.C. First Nations appeal a court ruling in an attempt to restore the Nechako River

Saik’uz and Stellat’en First Nations have been fighting for the health of the watershed for over a decade. A dam operated by Rio Tinto Alcan and regulated by the province continues to devastate sturgeon and salmon populations

The Narwhal: Seventy years ago, B.C. approved a hydroelectric project that would irreversibly alter an entire watershed and forever change the lives of First Nations living along the Nechako River.

The Kenney dam was built in the early 1950s to provide power to an aluminum smelter on the coast, owned by the Aluminum Company of Canada, now Rio Tinto Alcan. The provincial government at the time openly and actively courted the development through an aptly named piece of legislation called, An Act to Promote the Industrial Development of the Province. 

Permits were issued, First Nations communities removed, construction completed and 890 square kilometres flooded to create the reservoir, reducing the natural flow of the Nechako River by 60 to 70 per cent. 

Decades later, the Saik’uz and Stellat’en First Nations took Rio Tinto Alcan and the province to court. They wanted to force the company to restore some of the river’s flow and salvage what little remains of vital habitat for endangered white sturgeon and struggling salmon populations. 

After three years of hearings, their case was dismissed by the B.C. Supreme Court in January — but it paved the way for an appeal process. The judge affirmed the two nations inhabited the land prior to colonization and therefore Saik’uz and Stellat’en members have a fundamental “right to fish the Nechako watershed for food, social and ceremonial purposes.” The court also confirmed the dam and ongoing provincial regulation of water levels continues to have a direct and negative impact on fish populations. Their appeal was filed in late July. 

“We’re not going to quit,” former Saik’uz elected chief and current councillor Jackie Thomas told The Narwhal in an interview. She explained how the fish provide both food security and spiritual and cultural connections. “We’ve taken a spiritual blow for 100 years here in B.C. … I will use every means necessary for my community to get what we need.”

Thomas, now a grandmother, is one of the named plaintiffs on the case which first went to trial in 2019.

“Truthfully, I think I’m the third generation on this file,” she said. “Before me, there was my uncle and before him, that was my grandma.”

Saik'uz and Stellat'en First Nations members in Vancouver
Members of the Saik’uz and Stellat’en First Nations pose on the steps of the Vancouver court house during 189 days of B.C. Supreme Court hearings on the impacts of Rio Tinto Alcan’s hydroelectric facility to the Nechako River watershed. Photo: David Luggi / Handout

A win for the nations could be ‘precedent setting’: lawyer 

It’s clear the government has a legal obligation to protect First Nations’ right to fish, Darwin Hanna, founding partner at Callison and Hanna law firm and member of the Nlaka’pamux Nation, told The Narwhal. The challenge, he said, is not so much agreeing the dam has an ongoing impact, it’s getting the government to do something about it.

“How do you provide for restitution and reconciliation for the interference with the fishery, the waterways and interference of Rights and Title?” Hanna said in an interview. “I think it’s going to require some real political shifting of how they approach these cases because really it’s a history of denial, denial, denial.”

While B.C. Supreme Court Justice Nigel P. Kent rejected the nations’ case, he acknowledged the “bleak and intractable” legacy of colonization, which includes B.C.’s approval of the project. The appeal centres on how the court ruling leaves Saik’uz and Stellat’en with no recourse, despite Kent agreeing with the nations on all the facts at hand.

“After 189 days of trial … the [nations] proved that the diversion of waters from the Nechako by Alcan is causing serious decline of the fisheries their Indigenous communities have relied on since time immemorial — to the near extirpation of sturgeon, and, with salmon now a ‘mere shadow of its former abundance’,” the opening statement of the appeal notes. “The identity, culture and way of life of the appellants — the very core of what … the Constitution promises to protect — are bound up and lost in the decline of the fisheries.”

First Nations fisher with white sturgeon
White sturgeon, an important food source and cultural resource prized by First Nations throughout the Nechako River watershed, are now critically endangered. B.C. Supreme Court Justice Nigel P. Kent acknowledged the ‘bleak and intractable’ legacy of colonization, including the impacts of the Kenney Dam.

According to the nations’ legal counsel, Justice Kent made a legal error by not requiring the province to order Rio Tinto to put more water back into the river, despite B.C.’s constitutional obligation to protect the nations’ rights. Kent said that if anyone is liable, it’s the Crown, but noted that Rio Tinto is operating under provincial permits so the court couldn’t hold the company responsible for the damage. In the same breath, he said that because the court couldn’t tell the company what to do, it was unable to make a “declaration” ordering the province to amend the permits.

“This reasoning is internally contradictory,” the appeal notes, pointing to the landmark 2021 Blueberry River First Nation decision on Treaty Rights which included a “declaration that the province may not continue to authorize activities that unjustifiably infringe the treaty right or breach the Crown’s duties.” 

That kind of declaration, the appeal argues, can also be made for Sai’kuz and Stellat’en.

Hanna said this case could chart a path forward for “all First Nations” that have been similarly impacted by past development, noting the underlying question is how to “decolonize these industrial complexes.”

“This case is precedent setting, and so there’s a lot riding on it,” he said.

Rio Tinto sells surplus energy to BC Hydro

Notably, the two neighbouring nations are not asking the courts to destroy the dam or restore the river to its original state. Instead, they hope to come to an arrangement in which Rio Tinto would work with the province to establish a flow regime that helps restore natural ecological functions.

To this end, Saik’uz and Stellat’en asked the courts for an injunction against Rio Tinto to ensure the company regulates the flow of water in a way that does not continue to impact downstream fisheries.

The hydroelectric facility reverses the natural direction of the water, sending it west via a 16 kilometre tunnel through the Coast Mountains to Kemano, where it plunges over a 790 metre precipice to waiting turbines. The Kemano power station produces more electricity than Rio Tinto needs to operate its smelter and the company sells its surplus to BC Hydro.

“Why can’t they just put that difference back down this side of the mountain?” Thomas asked.

B.C. Premier John Horgan at Rio Tinto Alcan smelter in Kitimat
B.C. Premier John Horgan visited Rio Tinto Alcan’s smelter in 2017, after the company completed a $5 billion expansion. Photo: Flickr / Province of British Columbia

Rio Tinto told The Narwhal the Kemano power station has a capacity of 896 megawatts, around 80 per cent of which is used to power the smelter. BC Hydro data on its agreements with independent power producers notes Kemano produces a total of 3,307 gigawatt hours annually, which means it sells around 660,000 megawatt hours to the public utility — roughly the annual amount of energy consumed by around 60,000 households. 

Neither BC Hydro nor Rio Tinto would disclose the dollar value of this surplus energy, which the public utility buys through an electricity purchase agreement, established in 2007 and locked in until 2034. According to provincial documents accessed through open information policy, BC Hydro pays the company between $64 and $88 per megawatt hour. A conservative calculation puts the revenue Rio Tinto earns from selling the electricity at upwards of $45 million per year. 

For Thomas, it’s not about the money, it’s about the fish. 

“Our ecosystem has value, our people have value. It’s not always about dollars and cents,” she said. “We’re not wealthy, we’re not well-off people. And we still depend on this hunting and fishing and gathering — that’s what supplements us financially.”

Saik’uz average income is less than half the provincial average, according to 2016 census data. Thomas said the community had to fundraise through the likes of bottle drives and bake sales  to cover travel expenses for members who wanted to attend the court hearings.

There is an urgent need to “start doing some remediation work now, before we actually extirpate the last three of the six fish stocks that we have left,” she explained.  

“Basically, that’s what it is: trying to save our fish.”

In a statement provided to The Narwhal, Rio Tinto noted it contributed $13 million to white sturgeon conservation, through a recovery initiative bringing together federal and provincial biologists, First Nations, industry experts, local and municipal governments and more. The company also said it committed $50 million to a fund set up in the late 1990s as part of an agreement between Rio Tinto and the province.  

“Improving the health of the Nechako River is a goal we all share and we are actively engaged with First Nations communities on this priority,” a Rio Tinto spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement. “We will continue to collaborate with First Nations, governments and other stakeholders to review all aspects of the Nechako Reservoir management process.”

But Thomas said support from the company has never come easy.

“They have not willingly done the right thing — they’ve always had to be forced,” she said. “This company’s really good at dividing and conquering. That’s why we can’t get this water over the line, getting more water for our river and our sturgeon, our salmon. Those are the two main ones right now but the whole ecosystem is needing rehabilitation.”

“We understand it’s not going to be the same river because it’s been through 70 years of friggin’ change,” she added.

March 6, 2023


A First Nation’s Quest to Know Why Their Cemetery Was Flooded

After water invaded Kwikwetlem burial grounds, the long journey towards a solution. A Tyee special report.

George Chaffee stands to the left of the frame in a blue T-shirt. He has a silver chain around his neck and is holding a pair of sunglasses. He is looking directly towards the camera with a neutral expression. He is standing in a grassy green gove surrounded by deciduous trees on a sunny day.
George Chaffee is a band councillor and knowledge keeper with the Kwikwetlem First Nation. He is leading a project to rescue the remains of his ancestors buried in a flooded cemetery. Image via the First Peoples’ Cultural Council.

The Tyee: George Chaffee walked to the burial site with his brother and a pair of shovels. Their choices for where to make the grave were limited, given the sprawling traditional territory of the Kwikwetlem First Nation had been reduced to two small reserves on the banks of the Coquitlam River. 

Chaffee remembers the day as it unfolded nearly three decades ago. The brothers started digging until they were four to six feet below ground level. They dug until they knew the space would hold their uncle, Kenneth, who had passed away recently. Whenever a member of the Kwikwetlem First Nation dies, Chaffee says, their life is not over. Their spirit lives on, so it’s important to give them a peaceful place of rest. 

The brothers hoisted themselves out of the grave. They collected their mother and other family members to help lower Kenneth’s casket into the ground. For Chaffee, in his mid-20s at the time, it was a moment of reflection. He wished he’d seized an important opportunity offered by his uncle.  Kenneth knew the nation’s ancestral language, hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓, and tried to teach it to his nephew when he was young. But Chaffee was a kid who got frustrated easily and was far more interested in video games. He only took note of the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm swear words.

Still, many of Kenneth’s teachings did live on in George Chaffee, whose mother Evie was the first female chief of the Kwikwetlem First Nation. He wanted to learn how to fish. Fishing is central to the history of the Kwikwetlem people. For thousands of years, sockeye salmon in the Coquitlam River sustained the nation; directly translated from hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓, Kwikwetlem means “red fish up the river.” 

It was Kenneth who shared those lessons, asking nothing in return. He merely instructed Chaffee to sit down and listen. Listen to learn how he strung together a web and hanging twine to form a net. Listen to which spots were best for catching fish along the Coquitlam River. “When I teach you this, you will never be starving again,” Kenneth said. And when it’s your time to teach the next generation, you will know what to say. 

Chaffee listened. Fishing would become a constant in his life, a means of support for himself and his family. Now Kenneth had died, and Chaffee needed to give him a proper burial. As family members leaned together to lift Kenneth’s casket into the grave, water started to seep into the hole. At first, it was a slow flow. Suddenly, when the casket was at the bottom, the dirt walls popped. 

Water gushed into the grave. The casket flipped over in the water. Chaffee erupted in tears. 

A forested waterway on a sunny day is surrounded by bushes, shrubs and tall trees. The sky is blue and rays of sunlight shine through tall trunks. This is the site of the Kwikwetlem First Nation’s cemetery, and it is not visible because it is underwater.
Flooding and diking has changed the distribution and movement of water in the Coquitlam River. The changes have caused flooding to the Kwikwetlem First Nation’s cemetery, which lies on this land. Photo via the Kwikwetlem First Nation.

The Kwikwetlem First Nation has for 10,000 years inhabited what is now called Coquitlam, British Columbia. Dozens of archaeological sites at Coquitlam Lake demonstrate that the nation was one of the first to arrive in the Lower Mainland.  However, in the mid-1800s, the Kwikwetlem First Nation’s traditional territory was stripped away from them. As part of the reserve formation under the Indian Act, the Kwikwetlem peoples were given Coquitlam Indian Reserve 1 and 2 near what is today Colony Farm Regional Park. 

The reserves were slivers of the nation’s original land, which stretched from Coquitlam Lake to Surrey. Before colonization, members migrated depending on the time of year. In the winter, families would head up to the mountains and have dancing celebrations. In the spring months, members would flock to lower elevations to fish.

Their graveyard was always in the mountains — where there was no flood risk. “Our graveyards were never in a floodplain,” Chaffee said. “It is disrespectful to put a graveyard where you know the water is going to flood it.” 

Under colonial rule, Kwikwetlem members weren’t allowed to visit their burial grounds up in the mountains. The nation had to move its cemetery to either Coquitlam IR 1, a 5,000-year-old fishing village, or IR 2, which used to hold the nation’s Big House. They chose IR 2, which is also known as setɬamékmən, for its size (about 80 hectares) and spiritual significance. Chaffee also says the Kwikwetlem Elders picked that spot because of their knowledge about the land: they knew the area never flooded, even though it wasn’t in the mountains. 

“Even when a 200-year flood will come, the area will stay above water,” Chaffee said. 

Years later, the Kwikwetlem First Nation asked hydrologic experts to simulate what a 200-year flood would look like at setɬamékmən. Results from their modelling showed that the cemetery stayed dry, while the rest of the land flooded. “That small little piece of land, where the graveyard is, turned into an island,” Chaffee said. “When you see that, it’s exactly what the Elders were trying to tell you.” 

The first recorded burial at the new cemetery was in 1881. In 1999, George Chaffee’s mother died. To the distress of her family and the nation she once led as chief, she too was laid in a water-filled grave.  Afterwards, the Kwikwetlem Elders gave Chaffee a question to answer: why was their cemetery flooding? 

Engineering a river

Chaffee, now 50, is a Kwikwetlem band councillor and a knowledge keeper, meaning it’s his job to share the history of the nation with newer generations. That history includes a series of projects built by settlers that have wreaked unintended effects, problems brought to light thanks to advocacy and scientific detective work. 

In 1904, the construction of a three-metre dam disrupted water flow on the Coquitlam River. Roughly a decade later, a larger dam was built to generate electricity for growing communities in Greater Vancouver. That second dam raised the level of Coquitlam Lake by 18 metres. To cope with fluctuating water levels, diking was established on the Coquitlam River to protect low-lying properties from flooding if the water level from the river rises. 

After all of that engineering of the Coquitlam River, Chaffee says, Kwikwetlem Elders noticed the flooding of gravesites.  “We went down four feet and started getting water,” Chaffee said. He remembers the water levels rising “year after year, especially from 1980 on.” For the deceased, there was no safe place to eternally rest. “We were losing people like every community does, and the water was getting really bad.” 

His mother made the case to municipal government officials and organizations that diking was changing the hydrology of the river, which was flooding their cemetery.  “She tried to put a spotlight on the cemetery to say, ‘You guys are flooding us out,’” Chaffee said. 

Nobody listened. 

With encouragement from his nation, Chaffee dove headfirst into understanding river hydrology and diking systems. He organized a couple of studies that confirmed development on the mountains above the cemetery had altered the natural course of water flow.  “This wasn’t all developed at one time,” he said. “What happens on a mountain, if there’s no cement on it, when the water hits it absorbs and slowly releases it down. When you [develop] it, water will come down streams quicker.” 

Over time, as well, dikes erected in the area around the cemetery were causing silt to accumulate in the river, which changed the water level. In 2003, a brief hydrogeologic study acknowledged that groundwater was seeping into the cemetery. It also offered two temporary solutions for the nation: construct drains on three sides of the cemetery and replace the ground with “suitable fill” to reduce water flow. 

The group estimated that it would cost the nation $75,000 to remove water from the cemetery.  Chaffee, however, wasn’t satisfied. He still didn’t have precise answers to where the water was originating, or why it was causing soupy groundwater.  He’d already travelled far on what he calls his “journey” to solve the riddle of his people’s flooding graves. But he was tiring on the path.

When he’d started his quest nearly a quarter century ago he didn’t have any knowledge about the river, the dams or how his culture had been assaulted. He hadn’t grasped how his ancestors had lived in the mountains and forests for thousands of years, used salmon in the Coquitlam River as the “food in their cupboard,” and lost it all because of colonization. “I didn’t understand until I was older that it was wrong, we shouldn’t have been like that,” Chaffee said.  “I went on the journey to understand why we were like that, and a couple times in hearing that, I went off track. I couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t handle it.” 

In 2009, Chaffee took a leave of absence from council, and work on the cemetery came to a halt. 

An digital map of the traditional territory of the Kwikwetlem First Nation uses grey and red colourways with two small colour digital photographs on the bottom right side of the frame.

The Kwikwetlem First Nation chose to house its cemetery on Coquitlam IR 2, also known as setɬamékmən, for its size and spiritual significance.
 Image via the Kwikwetlem First Nation.

On a rainy afternoon in November, at the Kwikwetlem band office, George Chaffee gives credit to the guidance he’s received from his nation’s Elders. They are the reason he returned as an elected councillor in 2019, and pledged to restart the cemetery project. “My Elders made sure that I never forgot where we were, who we are, and why we do what we do. 

“My Elders are humble, but they’re very strong. We have not that many left, but the Elders that I do have left, I’m honoured to fight for them. The passion I have comes from them.”  And so when they asked him to resume his journey, he agreed. “I always called it ‘banging the drum’ and I banged the drum again. I said ‘cemetery, cemetery, cemetery.’” 

Last summer, the research Chaffee collected from his studies in the early 2000s helped secure nearly $700,000 in funding for the nation. 

Centring Indigenous expertise

For about two years, Curtis Fullerton, strategic initiatives co-ordinator for the Kwikwetlem First Nation, has assisted Chaffee with hydrology research and funding for the cemetery project. Bit by bit, the answer to the puzzle is coming clear. The evidence shows damning of the Coquitlam River, urban sprawl and climate change have combined to alter the water pattern of the Coquitlam River. 

“With urban development, you have surface runoff from roads, sidewalks, parking lots,” Fullerton said. “Rainwater can’t penetrate through surfaces into the ground or make their way into the river.” Fluctuations due to climate change mean “less water is available to streams in the Coquitlam River during dry periods, and there’s more flow volume during storms.” 

Fullerton added that the early studies Chaffee conducted were “snapshots” that didn’t paint the full picture of why the cemetery was flooding. The funding has allowed the nation to address the gaps in those studies, and understand the movement in the water table below the cemetery through groundwater and surface water monitoring systems. 

Wells were installed in the cemetery over the summer to collect data on the relationship between surface water levels in the Coquitlam River and groundwater in the graveyard.  The funding will also go towards initiating more hydrology studies, finding permanent solutions for the cemetery and using ground-penetrating radars to identify unmarked graves. 

A short red structure stands in a sunny, grassy grove. It is a well that has been installed in the Kwikwetlem cemetery. It stands in the centre of the frame in a grassy patch, surrounded by green bushes. It’s a sunny day.
Wells like this one were installed in the Kwikwetlem cemetery last summer to collect data on the relationship between surface water levels in the Coquitlam River and groundwater in the cemetery.
 Image via the Kwikwetlem First Nation.

The Kwikwetlem First Nation received $300,000 from the First Nations Land Management Resource Centre and $387,000 from the First Peoples’ Cultural Council. The money from the FPCC came as part of a larger project that promised to allocate parts of $5.4 million to 16 Indigenous groups across B.C. looking to repair historical infrastructure. Fullerton notes that the funding allowed the nation to hire Northwest Hydraulic Consultants, a consultancy that provides solutions for water-related issues, to help with their project. 

He said the company has previously worked on flooding issues with the Fraser Basin Council and will provide ideas on how the nation can build a sustainable cemetery.  “They’re very knowledgeable and experts at the topic and the region,” Fullerton said. “The funding allowed us to have the right people at the table. It’s just added a lot of strength to the work we’re doing.” 

Karen Aird, heritage program manager at the FPCC, told The Tyee that the peer review committee selected Kwikwetlem’s application because of their dedication to recognizing their ancestors in a time when climate change is affecting burial sites.  “The peer review committee, they’re all Indigenous experts, and understand how important it is to care for their ancestors — even if they passed 1,000 years ago, or if they passed yesterday,” Aird said.

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How a ‘Perfect Storm’ Could Flood the Musqueam Reserve


Kristen Barnett is glad to see the research funding going directly to the Kwikwetlem First Nation. The assistant professor of Indigenous archeology at the University of British Columbia is a member of the Unangax Nation of the Aleutian Islands in southwestern Alaska.  Barnett says the cemetery project’s funding structure gives the nation more control over the future of its community. It means “the reclaiming of being able to create futures within your own perspectives,” Barnett said. “What that does is that it signifies, it highlights that the capacity to do this work is situated within the band.” 

Chaffee is eager to see what can be learned from the cemetery wells installed over the summer. After big fall and winter rainfalls, he expects this spring to know where, exactly, water is leaking into the ground.

Long sought answers finally appear close at hand. 

Chaffee maintains that his journey has never been about pointing fingers or casting blame. He just wants to give his Elders a safe place to rest. “I’ve had to bury my cousin, my mom, my uncle in water,” he said.  “This project is a way to give that respect back. It’s a way to give a voice to the people that are gone.” 

Josh Kozelj TodayTheTyee.ca

Josh Kozelj is the inaugural Hummingbird fellow with The Tyee.

February 15, 2023

Fed. Govt., ON

A new approach to flood mapping could be on the way for Manitoba First Nations

With floods affecting almost 90 per cent of Manitoba First Nations, new flood management could put Traditional Knowledge first

Manitoba has a large number of vulnerable, flood-prone communities. A plan to let those communities have a say in how flood maps are designed could save people, infrastructure and the environment from disaster. Photo: Aaron Vincent Elkaim / The Narwhal

The Narwhal: Before the flood waters overwhelmed Peguis First Nation last spring, local trappers noticed the beehives had been built much higher than in years past. The beaver dams looked different; the foxes and raccoons they usually snared had moved to higher ground.

For the trappers, these were sure signs a flood was coming, says William Sutherland, Peguis’s director of housing and emergency management. Not to mention, decades of experience had taught the community to expect a major flood every five or six years, and the last one had been in 2017. Expecting the worst, Sutherland and his team applied for federal funding to help shore up homes and businesses against the rising waters of the nearby Fisher River.

“My god, there’s an elevated risk there,” Sutherland says. “But they didn’t see it.”

Instead, the federal government fell back on provincial flood forecasts, which had predicted a low risk of flooding in the boggy interlake region where Peguis — Manitoba’s largest First Nation — had been forcibly located more than a century ago. The funding was denied.

When the flood came, it was devastating. More than 300 homes were damaged, thousands of people were evacuated and the cost of repairs were estimated to exceed $300 million.

A pool of water above ground among high green grass
Peguis First Nation has been recognized as one of Canada’s most flood-prone communities, having withstood five major floods in less than 20 years. Some community members have been evacuated for over a decade — the longest disaster-related evacuation in the country. Photo: Aaron Vincent Elkaim / The Narwhal

According to an estimate from Indigenous-owned Acosys Consulting, nearly 90 per cent of Manitoba First Nations have been affected by flooding, yet flood mapping and mitigation programs have repeatedly failed to adequately prepare, support and address the communities’ needs. In an effort to turn the tides as climate change spurs more frequent and intense floods across the province, Acosys has been commissioned by Natural Resources Canada to facilitate a project that would give First Nations a say in how flood maps are developed for their communities.

Last week, representatives from 34 Manitoba First Nations gathered in Winnipeg for an engagement session geared towards re-imagining flood maps with an emphasis on Traditional Knowledge and local community input. During a discussion, approximately 50 participants voiced concerns about the gaps in federal flood management programs that have left their communities out to dry — and how to design flood maps with their needs in mind.

Flood mapping traditionally focused on infrastructure, population density

Flooding is Canada’s most costly natural disaster, causing, on average, more than $1 billion in direct damage to homes, property and infrastructure, according to a federal government report. As climate change alters precipitation, weather and temperature patterns nation-wide, the scale of those damages is increasing.

To help manage the risks associated with flooding, provincial and federal governments are responsible for developing a series of flood maps used for emergency response, land use planning and flood mitigation. The maps range from “inundation maps,” which show the extent of real flood events, to hazard maps that show engineers what areas might be susceptible to floods, to flood-risk maps that show potential consequences of a flood.

Map displaying extent of flooding in the Fisher River watershed in spring 2022
A satellite map shows the extent of flooding in the Fisher River watershed during the 2022 spring flood. Map: Government of Manitoba

David Carrière-Acco, president of Acosys Consulting, says he had an “aha moment” when he learned flood mapping programs are traditionally designed for insurance companies. Though the maps are created and funded by government bodies, they typically prioritize urban areas with high population density and extensive infrastructure. “But when you look at it in terms of where the impacts are really happening, that’s along the river system where Indigenous people have lived since time immemorial, or where the Indian Act moved us into a flood zone,” Carrière-Acco says.

Indigenous communities, he adds, “do not fit the model,” and have been left behind by policies that fail to consider the unique characteristics, history and knowledge of each nation. “Flood management didn’t start 500 years ago … we were doing it right from the beginning,” he says. “What I’d like to see is the community actually informing and helping develop good legislation, good programs.”

At the engagement session, participants were asked to draw their own vision for flood mapping that prioritizes the knowledge and needs of their communities. The goal, Carrière-Acco says, is to help design a more “holistic” approach to emergency management that prioritizes the “downstream impacts” of flooding on the community’s way of life.

Community’s needs have been ignored: leaders, auditor general

Elder Theresa Bighetty of Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, also known as Pukatawagan, was the child of trappers, and grew up camping along the grassy river banks of northern Manitoba, near the Saskatchewan border. She remembers sleeping in teepees, playing in the water, running among the grass, listening to the music of birds, beavers and breezes. “It was a nice living,” she recalls.

But as the years went on, Manitoba Hydro and the Saskatchewan Power Corporation built dams along nearby rivers, changing the water flow to the community and prompting frequent floods.

Nowadays, Bighetty says, her old camping ground “looks so ugly.” Floodwaters washed away the sandy shores and thriving ecosystems, leaving something barren behind. “All kinds of medicines, they’re all gone. There used to be lots of fish in the river but now the fish are dying,” she says.

Ice and slush have destroyed docks and fishing equipment; the community’s ability to trap and fish has been severely hampered. Their way of life has changed. The community has been asking for help, Bighetty says, but their voices aren’t heard.

Farther south, in Peguis First Nation, Sutherland has seen the long-term effects of flooding, too. He’s noticed family breakdowns and rising rates of substance use that he attributes to the repeated and extended evacuations that have plagued the frequently flooded nation. There are still more than 700 people living away from their community as a result of last spring’s flood, and there hasn’t been enough money to rebuild their homes.

“I’m still responsible for bringing those evacuees back home,” Sutherland says. “I can’t do that if there’s no place for them to return to.”

A Peguis housing worker points to a map showing infrastructure damage from 2022 floods
Flooding in Peguis last year wiped out more than 300 homes, while damaging major roads, highways and other critical infrastructure. The community has been advocating since 2009 for a series of dikes and other investments that would reduce the impact of future floods. Photo: Aaron Vincent Elkaim / The Narwhal

Peguis has received millions in funding from the federal government to start home repairs and build new housing on higher ground, but the community is tired of only receiving reactive support. The community has been asking for capital investments in long-term flood mitigation strategies since 2009, but that support has never come.

A November report from Canada’s auditor general found Manitoba First Nations are right to be concerned their community’s needs have gone unnoticed.

The report found Indigenous Services Canada, which administers funding for emergency management, “did not provide the support First Nations communities needed to manage emergencies” like floods. In fact, the department was spending 3.5 times more on emergency recovery than it was on emergency preparedness and mitigation. More than 100 infrastructure projects that would help First Nations protect themselves from the impacts of natural disasters have been approved but not funded as the department works through a years-long backlog, the report found. All the while, the department failed to conduct risk assessments to determine and update emergency management plans for some vulnerable First Nations.

That audit has played “a major role” in the community’s fight, Sutherland says. “That’s a good sign. It’s going to make our case stronger, and it’s going to hopefully improve the changes going forward.”

New approach to mapping could put power back in First Nations hands

The silver lining to last year’s floods, Sutherland says, has been a new, open line of communication between the community and the government. Events like the engagement session, he says, are “setting up another learning system” to understand the impacts of flooding with the knowledge of Elders, trappers and other local experts.

Incorporating warning signs like animal habitat changes and historical patterns into the provincial and federal data systems would help communities validate their requests for better flood mitigation infrastructure, while helping to avoid costly and devastating disasters. “We can’t afford to get laughed at if we say: ‘There’s a beehive three metres higher,’ ” Sutherland says. “It’s got to be a convergence of all these things coming together that the government can take seriously, that can be verified by other communities.”

Communities that have lived on the land for many generations, Carrière-Acco says, have the foresight to know what their communities will need, and the expertise to develop their own datasets, maps and emergency management tools. Carolyn Smeltzer, who heads up the technical unit for the eight northwestern Manitoba First Nations that make up the Swampy Cree Tribal Council, has been putting that foresight into action, helping develop localized, real-time mapping tools for emergency management.

The maps — which community leaders can access and edit through phone apps — show topography, existing infrastructure and even current and past extents of emergencies, but they also allow communities to mark features that are locally important and track real-time changes in the land.

“Our viewpoint of the world, as Indigenous people, is that we think of the world as connected,” Smeltzer says. “If there was a change, even the slightest change, the animals and the birds’ behaviour would change. So we knew something was coming and we would be able to prepare for it. That’s what’s been missing all along.

a piece of paper reading 'flood application' sits in a wire rack
Rather than apply for retroactive funding when disasters strike, community-informed flood maps would help communities prepare and adapt to floods. Photo: Aaron Vincent Elkaim / The Narwhal

Real-time data, like fire maps that show how hotspots change with the wind, helps communities to adapt quickly with “the flow of nature,” she says. Having the power to develop their own visuals that illustrate those natural connections and changes gives communities the power to make their own decisions to protect what’s valuable on their land.

It’s that empowerment Acosys hopes the engagement sessions will facilitate as Natural Resources Canada re-imagines how it delivers mapping programs in First Nations. In a perfect world, Carrière-Acco says, the first-of-their-kind engagement sessions will help develop a collaborative emergency management process that meets the needs of Indigenous communities, as well as provincial and federal governments.

Acosys will present the results of their engagement to the federal government. From there, it will be in the government’s hands to decide how policy guidelines for flood mapping changes in the future, and how best to ensure Indigenous voices are front and centre in emergency management.

“It’s about mitigation, it’s about prevention, it’s about having foresight,” Carrière-Acco says. “I’d like to see a very powerful Indigenous voice within that.”

PUBLISHED BY; Julia-Simone Rutgers – Julia-Simone Rutgers is The Narwhal’s first Manitoba-based reporter through a brand new partnership with the Winnipeg Free Press. …

September 28, 2020


Attawapiskat First Nation opposes DeBeers Land Fill site

Attawapiskat First Nation – DeBeers Canada (DBC) is seeking Ontario Government approval for a third landfill waste site to be built and filled up at the Victor Mine Site, located in a vulnerable James Bay wetlands area, and in a place of critical importance to Attawapiskat. The Victor Mine is now in the closure phase, where decommissioning and remediation are supposed to leave the landscape in a clean and safe state. Much of the diamond mine waste that DBC would deposit into such landfill, is reusable and salvageable.

“DeBeers could and should be transporting that waste through the winter road it has maintained for the last many years, to markets and facilities south of us, where it can be treated and reused,” says Attawapiskat Chief David Nakogee. “We’re talking about 100,000 cubic metres of material that could be reused or recycled. DeBeers unilaterally cancelled the contract for the winter road project because they said they don’t need it. Of course, they don’t need it when they have the alternative of turning our lands into their garbage dump instead of building a winter road.”

DBC has applied for 97,000 cubic metres of landfill volume, which is just shy of the 100,000 cubic metres threshold which would trigger a Comprehensive Environmental Assessment. DBC very recently got approval for a demolition landfill of exactly the same size, and now they are asking Ontario to approve a second demolition landfill bringing the total diamond mine project demolition waste volume to almost 200,000 cubic metres. A landfill that big requires a Comprehensive Environmental Assessment,” says environmental consultant to Attawapiskat, Don Richardson. “But if Ontario agrees that DeBeers can split the demolition landfilling into two pieces of about 100,000 cubic metres each, DeBeers can side-step the time and costs involved in planning a big landfill project through a Comprehensive Environmental Assessment.

“DeBeers has profited a lot from the Victor Diamond Mine and will profit even more,” says Chief Nakogee. “These expensive diamonds come from my Nation’s homeland, in our backyard, and yet we continue to live in horrendous conditions where we can’t even drink the water here from the taps. We keep watching the wealth of our Traditional Territory, from the waters and lands to the wildlife, get industrialized. We keep watching others walk off with the profits of that industrialization, leaving us to bear the burden and the waste. When DeBeers has the money to transport, recycle and re-use materials, and to properly monitor the effects of the mine on the lakes and rivers, they must be required to do so.

January 20, 2023


B.C. announces cumulative impact agreements with Treaty 8 First Nations


NationTalk: Castanet – The B.C. government has reached four new agreements with Treaty 8 First Nations to address the cumulative impacts and future planning of industrial development in the northeast.

The agreements provide hundreds of millions of dollars for land restoration and resource revenue sharing, and lays the groundwork to develop new land use and wildlife plans and establish more protected areas in the region.

“Our shared work to co-develop these agreements represents a historic milestone for Treaty 8 Nations, for B.C. and for all of us who believe the path to reconciliation is through negotiation, not litigation,” Premier David Eby said in a statement. “The future lies in a partnership approach to land, water and resource stewardship, one that strikes a better balance to honour Treaty 8, while providing more stability for people and industry in the region.”

The four agreements were signed with the Doig River, Halfway River, Fort Nelson, and Saulteau First Nations. Work to finalize agreements with the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations, as well as the McLeod Lake Indian Band is “progressing positively”, government officials said.

The nations came to the province collectively following the landmark Yahey decision from the B.C. Supreme Court in 2021, which ruled the province had violated its treaty obligations by allowing extensive industrial development in the region without adequately considering the cumulative impacts to the land base and local First Nations.

“Doig River First Nation has been advocating for a meaningful role in decision-making in natural resource development in our territory for many years and we are looking forward to working with the Province in the months ahead to make this a reality,” said Chief Trevor Makadahay of Doig River First Nation.

“We are confident that through this important work, which includes developing a new fiscal relationship between Treaty 8 First Nations and the Province, we will create economic certainty, heal the land and our people, and create overall stability for the region for generations to come.”

The four agreements announced Friday are part of a larger set of initiatives set out in a “consensus document” following negotiations with the First Nations.

Announced was a new Treaty 8 Restoration Fund, which combined with a $200-million Blueberry River-BC Restoration Fund announced earlier this week, will provide more than $600 million over 10 years to reclaim areas of industrial disturbance.

The province also anticipates the First Nations will share more than $200 million in royalty revenues from oil and gas development this year. Further negotiations will set out a new fiscal framework for revenue sharing with the bands.

Meanwhile, the province has also committed to protecting another 250,000 hectares for land conservation to address the nations’ various interests for caribou recover, water quality, wildlife management, and cultural practices.

The province has also committed to developing plans to eliminate aerial herbicide use, supporting cultural land burning, and creating a regional wildlife working group with the nations and stakeholders to monitor animal populations, predators, and hunting regulations.

“The regional district is confident that this consensus agreement sets a positive path forward based on partner-centred leadership,” said Leonard Hiebert, chair of the Peace River Regional District, in a statement. “We are pleased that the Treaty 8 First Nations and the B.C. government have come to this point in the process through collaboration and mutual respect.”

Treaty 8 Consensus Document Technical Briefing by AlaskaHighwayNews on Scribd


November 22, 2021

Canadian Banks invest in oil and gas exploration in Arctic Wildlife Refuge

US Congress passed “Build Back Better Act”, which restores protections to Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit (The Sacred Place Where Life Begins), also known as the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. When more than 400,000 acres of the Coastal Plain were leased by the Trump Administration, not a single acre was leased by a major oil and gas company.

April 28, 2020

Canadian Banks invest in oil and gas exploration in Arctic Wildlife Refuge

Vuntut Gwitchin Government (VGG) and Gwich’in Tribal Council (GTC) – Despite movement by the majority of major U.S. banks – five of the top 6 – there has yet to be similar action from their Canadian peers to rule out financing new oil and gas exploration and development in the Arctic, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (Arctic Refuge). In December, 2019, representatives of Vuntut Gwitchin Government (VGG) and Gwich’in Tribal Council (GTC) were joined by representatives of the Yukon Chapter of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society on a trip to Toronto to meet with representatives of major Canadian banks to discuss the importance of the Coastal Plain of the Arctic Refuge and the role that banks can play in ensuring its protection.

VGG and GTC continue to regularly correspond with representatives from each of these banks and provide updates as it relates to the U.S. administration’s progression towards a lease sale, the continued unfavourable financial and social outlook of such a lease sale and the actions of their U.S. peers. Through these meetings and continued correspondence, Canadian banks have been provided a clear understanding of the immense human and environmental impacts and financial risks associated with oil and gas exploration or development in the Arctic Refuge.

VGG and GTC remain hopeful that Canadian banks will step up and acknowledge that the sacred land of the Gwich’in Nation is no place for drilling by updating their policies to refuse financing oil and gas exploration and development in the Arctic Refuge. Such an action would be greatly celebrated by the Gwich’in Nation and millions of supporters across Canada and the United States.

October 22, 2020

Canadian Banks invest in oil and gas exploration in Arctic Wildlife Refuge: BMO, RBC

Vuntut Gwitchin Government and Gwich’in Tribal Council – are celebrating news that the Bank of Montreal (BMO) has prohibited financing for oil and gas exploration and development activities in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. BMO has confirmed this new policy in an update to their Responsible Lending webpage. The move from BMO follows a similar action from the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) earlier this month. BMO and RBC have joined more than two dozen global financial institutions that have rejected drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge including five of six major U.S. banks which include Citi, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo.

December 16, 2020

Canadian Banks invest in oil and gas exploration in Arctic Wildlife Refuge: Scotiabank, CIBC, TDBFG

Yukon News – Scotiabank is the latest of five Canadian banks to reject drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. “Scotiabank will not provide direct financing or project-specific financial and advisory services for activities that are directly related to the exploration, development or production of oil and gas within the Arctic Circle, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.” A similar policy was issued by the Canadian Imperial Commerce Bank (CIBC) in October, joining the Bank of Montreal, Royal Bank of Canada and Toronto Dominion Bank (Nov. 10, 2020) in rejecting drilling in the area.

“Dozens of banks from around the world have also refused to fund oil and gas development there, meaning that oil companies may be unable to finance drilling in the Arctic Refuge, even if they are successful in acquiring leases before the new administration takes over,” said the CPAWS statement (Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society).

January 25, 2023

Fed. Govt., NT

Caribou summit asks a burning question: What’s the future of the Porcupine herd?

The Porcupine is ‘one of the biggest herds in the world.’ Will it stay that way?

Ken Kyikavichik, the grand chief of the Gwich’in Tribal Council, speaks at the inaugural caribou summit in Fort McPherson, N.W.T. ‘The collective power and the collective knowledge we have in this room really is astounding.’ (Tony Devlin/Gwich’in Tribal Council)

CBC News: The Porcupine caribou is one of the few barren-ground herds in the circumpolar world that remains strong and healthy — and the communities who rely on it want to make sure it stays that way. 

This was the key takeaway from a three-day Caribou Summit held in Fort McPherson, N.W.T., last week. Organized by the Gwich’in Tribal council, it was the first event of its kind for the region.  “These types of gatherings … bring out the best in our people,” said Ken Kyikavichik, grand chief of the Gwich’in Tribal Council, in an interview on the summit’s first night. “The collective power and the collective knowledge we have in this room really is astounding.”

The herd has gained international attention over the years because of ongoing debate in the U.S. over development in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, where the herd’s calving grounds are. 

Caribou from the Porcupine herd migrate onto the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in northeast Alaska. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Associated Press)

The Porcupine caribou stand as an anomaly amid Canada’s many barren-ground caribou herds suffering major declines. Data collected in 2018 marked a historic high, with 205,000 to 235,000 animals counted. 

Today, that number sits around 218,000, according to caribou biologist Mike Suitor with the Yukon Government. “Right now, it’s actually one of the biggest herds in the world,” Suitor said.

“We collect information from a scientific perspective, but we also collect a lot of information working with harvesters and talking to people in the community, and a lot of indications are still fairly positive.

Blue and green map.
The Porcupine caribou herd’s range includes northern Yukon and parts of northern N.W.T., as well as the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge. (Porcupine Caribou Management Board)
Herd is healthy and numbers are strong – for now 

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why the Porcupine caribou herd is doing so well at the moment, Suitor said. It could be that the diversity of the herd’s range has allowed the animals to better adapt to the changing climate, or that there’s fewer human-made obstacles (save for the Dempster Highway) impacting their migration. 

It also likely has to do with how proactive Indigenous communities have been in managing the herd. Gwich’in, Inuvialuit, and other First Nations governments signed the Porcupine Caribou Management Agreement in 1985, subsequently creating the Porcupine Caribou Management Board. 

Smiling woman in red lipstick holding small child also in red.
Liz Wright is the newly-elected chief of the Teetl’it Gwich’in Band Council. She told CBC she was proud to host the inaugural event in her home community. (Tony Devlin/Gwich’in Tribal Council)

But Suitor warned that a dip in numbers is inevitable.  “It’s normal for some herds — they go up, they go down,” he said. “If I was a betting person, I would say that there’s a reasonable chance it will decline in the near future. Is that two years? Five years? Ten years? It’s hard to say.”

Kyikavichik says this reality magnified the summit’s importance. “We don’t want to wait until we are in a crisis situation, per se,” he said. “We realize how fortunate we are that we have a healthy herd. So, it’s really important for us to gather and ensure that we do what we can so the caribou remain strong in terms of numbers.

“The vitality of the herd is our primary concern, so that our future generations do have access to vadzaih (caribou).”

Vehicles, meat wastage as top issues

People from across the western Arctic traveled to Fort McPherson to share their thoughts and at the summit. Open sessions explored the past, present, and future of the herd.

The use of ATVs and snowmobiles for hunting was top of mind for many in the crowd, with some expressing concern over the vehicles’ impact on the landscape and animals. “We have to talk about chasing caribou with Ski-doos,” said local elder Robert Alexie. “Those poor caribou … they don’t get a chance to eat. That’s cruelty. It’s really bad.”

Man in black hoodie at microphone.
Robert Alexie fears that people chasing caribou with Ski-doos is ‘cruelty.’ (Tony Devlin/Gwich’in Tribal Council)

Agnes Francis, a Fort McPherson resident, and full-time harvester, echoed Alexie’s sentiment. “I really am against stuff like that,” she told CBC. “When we teach our kids and our grandkids to hunt, we teach them that walking is the best way to respect the land and to respect the animal. Because if you’re using a four wheeler, you’re chasing it, and it’s getting scared. 

“Think about the way it’s making their spirit feel.” 

Meat wastage was another popular topic of discussion. A number of community members recounted experiences of finding caribou carcasses and heads left along the Dempster Highway. Joe Tetlichi, chair of the Porcupine Caribou Management Board, said the organization has been aware of problems with improper hunting practices for some time now, but lacks the power to stop it. 

Four teenagers in black stand on a blue tarp, looking at caribou ribs/carcass.
A man shows young people how to skin a caribou. Passing on traditions has been identified as a crucial part of caribou conservation. (Tony Devlin/Gwich’in Tribal Council)

As such, Tetlichi said the responsibility of change lies with communities and harvesters themselves.  “I really feel that it’s everybody’s individual responsibility when they go out there to do best practices,” he said.  “It’s the common sense approach. You go in there, and you do what you need to do for the long term sustainability of the Porcupine caribou — if that’s harvesting off the road, cleaning up your kill site, [or] passing those teachings on to young people. 

“That, to me, is common sense.”

Despite several calls for formal resolutions and bylaws to address these issues, none were passed at the summit’s end. Leaders within the Gwich’in Nation are expected to convene again in the coming weeks and determine concrete action items based on what was shared. 

Kyikavichik confirmed that a ban on the use of ATVs for hunting, stricter protocols for harvesting seasons, and the creation of a land guardian program are being considered. 

Returning to traditional values and empowering youth

Perhaps the strongest message shared at last week’s gathering was a need to reconnect with traditional Gwich’in values.  Many attendees spoke about past practices, such as taking only what was needed and sharing with those unable to harvest for themselves, and advocated for a return to these teachings. 

A row of people in chairs in a small community gym.
People came from across the western Arctic to take part in the summit. (Tony Devlin/Gwich’in Tribal Council)

“It’s really important … to always be mindful of where we come from, and who we are as Gwich’in people,” said Lorraine Netro of the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation. “We have a spiritual connection to the caribou, we have a spiritual connection to the land, we have a spiritual connection to the water. And so it’s within us to take care of everything around us.”

A key part of this is listening to the advice of Elders and knowledge-keepers, Netro said. But as more pass away, that’s become harder to do.

Nineteen-year-old Alana Francis voiced concerns over the accessibility of traditional knowledge. “People say we need to start listening to our older people, but where [are] the teachings being taught?” Francis asked. “Why aren’t the traditional teachings of caribou and the stories behind it being taught in school?”

Girl with microphone amid crowd of people.
Alana Francis, 19, asked: ‘Why aren’t the traditional teachings of caribou and the stories behind it being taught in school?’ (Tony Devlin/Gwich’in Tribal Council)

She added: “We listen to our parents the most, and if our parents aren’t practicing these [teachings], then the younger generation isn’t going to be practicing it either.” 

In part, the summit sought to aid in that intergenerational transfer of knowledge. Daily demonstrations around skinning caribou and preparing meat were held each afternoon, with local youth invited to participate and learn under the gentle guidance of elders.  For former Teetl’it Gwich’in chief Wanda Pascal, it was heart-warming to witness, and an important start. 

Teenagers leaning on a table covered in cardboard, carcasses.
Young women work at skinning a caribou. (Tony Devlin/Gwich’in Tribal Council)

She even suggested a separate summit specifically for youth out on the land — a way of preparing the next generation of stewards to fight for the Porcupine caribou. 

“Taking the kids out on the land is really powerful, because that’s the only way they’re going to learn,” Pascal said. “Education is really important.”

Netro agreed. “I know our youth are strong. Like anything else, we just have to reaffirm those commitments by communicating with them, by walking with them, by encouraging them.”


Meaghan Brackenbury

Meaghan Brackenbury is a reporter with CBC in Yellowknife on Treaty 8 territory. You can reach her at meaghan.brackenbury@cbc.ca.

July 24, 2020


Coastal GasLink ignores Environmental Assessment Act

Unist’ot’en – BC’s Environmental Assessment Office (BCEAO) has issued a non-compliance after Coastal GasLink clears pipeline Right of Way through hundreds of wetlands without environmental fieldwork. There are nearly 300 of these protected wetlands along the pipeline route, and Coastal GasLink’s “Qualified Professionals” have neglected to develop site-specific mitigation for any of them. Nearly 80% of the pipeline right-of-way has been cleared already, affecting most of these protected wetlands.

Unfortunately, It will be CGL’s same Qualified Professionals who failed to properly assess these wetlands in the first place who will now assess how badly the wetlands have been damaged. Wet’suwet’en leadership has repeatedly requested that Coastal GasLink provide specific plans for how they plan to cross watercourses and wetlands in the territory, which are used heavily by Unist’ot’en Healing Center clients and Wet’suwet’en members for hunting, trapping, and medicine gathering. Coastal GasLink has been unable to provide these site-specific plans. This recent EAO determination shows Wet’suwet’en leadership that this lack of planning was actually illegal under the Environmental Assessment Act, as it violates Condition 6 of the project’s Environmental Assessment Certificate.

CGL cannot continue to ignore the Environmental Assessment Act in order to meet its construction targets. The BC EAO’s priority should be to protect the public interest, not to ensure that CGL’s construction timelines are met. It is unacceptable that hundreds of wetlands would be damaged before any enforcement action is taken.

October 23, 2022


Coastal GasLink in hot water over pipeline environmental violations

Vancouver SUN: TC Energy’s Coastal GasLink pipeline project is in hot water with British Columbia’s environmental regulator for failing to meet the conditions of a compliance agreement that was supposed to correct a lengthening history of violations of the project’s environmental permit.

The Environmental Assessment Office posted an order to its website late Friday, issued to Coastal GasLink Oct. 14, which was based on an Oct. 4 inspection by EAO enforcement officers who found the company’s contractors were “not compliant with the requirements of the agreement and specific work execution plans.”

The order also required Coastal GasLink to stop work on construction in areas covered by the agreement “unless in full compliance” with its terms.

Coastal GasLink, in a statement Saturday, said the EAO’s order was issued “without prior notice or explanation,” and is working with the agency “to understand the specifics of the order.”

In the meantime, although the order states “construction may not occur,” in identified areas unless they comply with terms of the compliance agreement, Coastal GasLink said it “understands that we were and continue to be compliant with this order.”

In the unattributed statement, Coastal GasLink contends that during and following the inspection, which occurred Oct. 4 and 5, “there has been no indication that there is imminent harm to the environment,” and that mitigation measures “were installed in accordance with EAO approved work execution plans.”

Coastal GasLink and the EAO arrived at the compliance agreement July 13 aimed at improving the company’s approach to preventing erosion and sediment control around sensitive waterways covering a 100 kilometre section of the pipeline route where ground had not yet been broken.

The now $11 billion Coastal GasLink pipeline is being built to link LNG Canada’s $18 billion LNG plant being built near Kitimat with gas fields in B.C.’s northeast.

The EAO has issued dozens of warnings, 16 orders and two fines against Coastal GasLink and its contractors since work started on the project with many of the violations related to allowing erosion or sediment into sensitive waterways.

In the compliance agreement, the EAO observed that clearing ground for construction — referred to as grubbing and stripping — increased the risks for erosion and sediment flows and required contractors to appoint a qualified professional to develop sediment-control components in work execution plans.

Those plans were to spell out their contractors’ understanding of what streams in work areas might be at risk and apply measures to minimize erosion or sediment flows.

Coastal GasLink issued a statement on July 14 outlining its commitment to that compliance agreement, including providing erosion and sediment control training to more than 400 workers and contractors.

However, the EAO’s Oct. 14 order states that Coastal GasLink “must cease all variations from an approved work execution plan that are not in accordance with the agreement,” and must “cease installation of measures that are not specified in a work execution plan.”

The order did not specify how Coastal GasLink was in violation of its compliance agreement.

The latest order is separate from a Sept. 27 warning letter EAO issued to Coastal GasLink, which identified the project’s failure to conduct a habitat assessment to identify endangered or threatened plants or “ecological communities” in a work area and was at risk of a fine.

The July inspection report that the warning was based on identified five instances where Coastal GasLink was not in compliance with its environmental certificate, including three related to failures around sediment and erosion control

February 13, 2020

Fed. Govt.

Criticisms of Federal Impact Assessment Act

FACETS – “Indigenous knowledge and federal environmental assessments in Canada: applying past lessons to the 2019 impact assessment act”. Even the most contemporary federal Environmental Assessment framework in Canada ultimately fails to ensure the engagement of the critically important knowledge of Indigenous peoples in environmental decision-making. While we identify that Impact Assessment Act fails to substantially improve the relationship between Indigenous Knowledge and Environmental Assessment (EA), it has faced severe and continuing backlash from industry proponents and many non-Indigenous Canadians for the few improvements it does make. Canadian EA thus misses opportunities to inform environmental decisions with the best available knowledge and to support Indigenous rights, sovereignty, and well-being.

We suggest widespread recognition of Indigenous-led EA as a way forward, alongside cooperative assessments designed by Crown and Indigenous authorities. Indigenous-led EA, which is fortified by millennia of experience in natural resource management and environmental decision-making practices is on-going in Canada and represents a reassertion of Indigenous management rights that may respond comprehensively to legal, historical, epistemological, and political obstacles. This process, developed specifically by and for Indigenous Nations, has the potential to improve relationships between governments, project proponents, and practitioners while upholding human rights.

Recommendations from these panels were similar to the suggestions that emerged from our literature review and called for:

  • Indigenous power in the decision-making process
  • explicit recognition of land and treaty rights
  • legally binding adherence to UNDRIP
  • increased funding programs and opportunities
  • oversight of IK by Indigenous peoples, and
  • recognition of fundamental differences in western and Indigenous Knowledge, culture, and worldview (Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency 2017)

While the Impact Assessment Act does provide provisions for the protection of IK, and owing to amendments made by the House of Commons does invoke UNDRIP, many of the panels’ additional recommendations remain unaddressed.
https://www.facetsjournal.com/doi/10.1139/facets-2019-0039 – ref23

November 18, 2020

DFO, Fed. Govt.

DFO cancels consultation with Mi’kmaw over fish passage in Avon River

Kwilmu’kw Maw-klusuaqn Negotiation Office (KMKNO),– this week the Consultation Department received notice – without explanation – from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) that a Ministerial Order (MO) that DFO developed to address concerns with the Avon River was no longer being issued. This MO was to be implemented weeks ago and instead is now being considered – not guaranteed – for next Spring. Despite multiple requests for additional information and the opportunity to discuss this decision further, requests to DFO are largely being ignored.

The Mi’kmaq of Nova Scotia have been clear that free-flowing fish passage is required at the mouth of the Avon River and there is clear evidence that the current causeway structure is not allowing fish to complete their life cycle. In efforts to address this, last month DFO brought a draft MO to the Consultation table for discussion and all parties had agreed that the MO would make positive changes to the alarming situation on the Avon River. The draft MO directly spoke to the concerns on the protection of fish and the improvements necessary to fish passage for the critically endangered Inner Bay of Fundy Atlantic Salmon. Mi’kmaq concerns of fish mortality, lack of free-flowing fish passage, and the need for restoration of critical salt marsh habitat continued to be voiced by the Assembly, Mi’kmaw environmental organizations, concerned community members, and the Water Protectors who have remained onsite.

The Mi’kmaq-Nova Scotia-Canada Consultation Process was established to meaningfully engage and adequately address the concerns and impacts on Mi’kmaw rights. Clearly that is not happening with the decisions being made on the Avon River. The Assembly is calling on Minister Jordan and DFO to come to the table with answers as it is imperative to yielding healthy results to fish passage in the Avon River.

December 13, 2022

Fed. Govt.

Documents raise concerns feds backing off commitment to phase out fish farms in B.C. by 2025

Observers fear internal documents show the federal government is backing away from its promise to phase out open-net pen fish farms on the B.C. coast. Photo: Tavish Campbell

Critics say they fear an ongoing public consultation about open-net pen fish farms has a ‘foregone conclusion’ to leave fish farms in the water, to the detriment of wild salmon

The Narwhal: Biologist Stan Proboszcz remembers Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s 2019 election campaign commitment clearly: to develop a plan to get fish farms out of B.C. waters and pursue closed-containment systems by 2025.

But that Liberal Party of Canada promise has gotten murkier and murkier in the years since, according to Proboszcz. He says slippery language is clearly demonstrated in internal documents from Fisheries and Oceans Canada, which he obtained through an access to information request and which were reviewed by The Narwhal. 

To Proboszcz, the documents show staff tasked with carrying out Trudeau’s original promise to transition away from fish farms strayed from the language of the very mandate they were assigned to accomplish, starting in their first meeting. The subtle but potentially significant change in language is not directly spoken about in the documents, and it’s not clear whether the change came from direction from senior officials.

In 2021, Trudeau mandated the fisheries minister to “work with the province of British Columbia and Indigenous communities on a responsible plan to transition from open-net pen salmon farming in coastal British Columbia waters by 2025.” A nearly identical mandate was issued to the fisheries minister in 2019

But in documents obtained by Proboszcz, those mandated timelines are seemingly interpreted differently, and mention multiple times a commitment to “develop a plan by 2025,” rather than committing to make the transition by that year.

The Strategic Oversight Committee for the B.C. Aquaculture Transition Plan, a group made up of federal, provincial and First Nations representatives tasked with meeting Trudeau’s mandate, met for the first time on Oct. 16, 2020. 

In the terms of reference for that committee, which was led by Fisheries and Oceans Canada regional director general Rebecca Reid, the purpose of the strategic oversight committee was described this way: “The Minister of Fisheries and Oceans Canada has been mandated by the Prime Minister to work with the Province of British Columbia and Indigenous communities to create a responsible plan to transition open-net pen farming in coastal B.C.”

Proboszcz, who works with Watershed Watch Salmon Society, says this word change is subtle but it confuses the goal — if the province is not transitioning from open-net fish farms, then what is it transitioning to?

“They’re not talking about a transition from open-net salmon farms anymore,” he says of this instance. “They’re talking about just producing a plan by 2025, to transition existing open nets into some other open-net form, that may or may not reduce interactions with wild fish.”

“They have changed the meaning of the promise.”

wild salmon with sea lice
Wild juvenile salmon infested with sea lice on the B.C. coast. Salmon farms can increase disease-causing sea lice populations, putting wild salmon stocks at risk. Photo: Tavish Campbell

Proboszcz fears this is evidence the government is set on protecting fish farms. He worries the ongoing fish farm consultation process — which will run into 2023 — will result in a continuation of the “status quo,” leaving migrating wild salmon at risk of picking up disease and sea lice from fish farms.

In an email to The Narwhal, a spokesperson for the minister said “[Fisheries and Oceans Canada Minister Joyce] Murray’s mandate is to continue to work with the province of British Columbia and Indigenous communities on a responsible plan to transition from open net-pen salmon farming in coastal British Columbia waters.”

The statement did not answer any specific questions about the documents in question or the strategic oversight committee. It did not respond directly to The Narwhal’s questions about Proboszcz’s concerns that there is a discrepancy between language used internally (transition open-net fish farms) versus language used publicly (transition from open-net fish farms).

Galagame’, Bob Chamberlin, chair of the First Nation Wild Salmon Alliance, agrees with Proboszcz’s concerns about the implications of the subtle changes in language. He says he’s disheartened by the change in language around the commitment and fears the public engagement process has a “foregone conclusion.”

“How is it that the prime minister of the country can write in your mandate letter to transition from [open-net fish farms], then have that change to transition planning, and then [Fisheries and Oceans Canada] is here figuring out how to keep the status quo going?” he asked. 

“I don’t understand that.”

Murray told The Narwhal in an interview in August that the government wants to keep farmed salmon away from wild salmon, but she didn’t set a deadline.

“I’m not pre-judging that,” she said when asked when the last open-net pen farm would be removed from B.C. waters.

Court decision muddied the waters of original fish farm promise

Proboszcz says the backtracking has been a gradual process. Trudeau’s mandate letters were already a step back from the campaign promise, since the letters did not directly mention moving to closed-containment systems. Then, internal documents suggested the department would “develop a plan by 2025,” instead of open-net pen fish farms being removed by 2025 — another step back from the campaign promise, he says.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada released a framework for an “open-net pen transition plan” in July 2022, which mentions Trudeau’s original mandate to transition from open-net pen fish farms by 2025. Likewise, in a 2021 report summarizing the results of the initial engagement process on the “open-net pen transition plan,” the parliamentary secretary for Fisheries and Oceans Canada specifically referenced the original mandate to “work with the province of British Columbia and Indigenous communities to create a responsible plan to transition from open net-pen salmon farming in coastal British Columbia waters by 2025.” But Proboszcz says what he sees as altered language being used behind closed doors is significant.

Proboszcz believes some of the softer language he’s been seeing more recently may be due to the court challenge filed against the ministry by the salmon farming industry. Industry proponents argued former fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan breached the industry’s rights to procedural fairness when she ordered the immediate closure of fish farms in the Discovery Islands. The Federal Court of Canada issued a ruling in their favour in April 2022, overturning Jordan’s order.

Chamberlin says the government and industry are proposing new technologies, while some critics of fish farms are proposing an external science panel. But all of these things will take years, and with many salmon populations on the south coast plummeting, “salmon today don’t have that luxury,” he says.

Fish farm in B.C. viewed from above, showing a series of enclosure that appear as four white grids against turquoise-blue water. Four small green-roofed buildings float nearby.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada Minister Joyce Murray is expected to announce a transition plan for open-net pen fish farms on the B.C. coast in June 2023. Photo: Clayoquot Action

Murray is currently “consulting on the transition away from open-net aquaculture,” a spokesperson for the minister said in an email. “Nothing is being ruled out. Industry must work to completely eliminate, or minimize interactions between wild and farmed fish as quickly as possible. In the meantime, we will hold industry responsible to progressively minimize these interactions.”

Proboszcz says the goal of reducing interaction between farmed fish and wild fish is little comfort to him because minimizing interaction has always been the goal, and it hasn’t been effective.

Piscine orthoreovirus, known as PRV, is a disease found in 80 per cent of farmed Atlantic salmon that is linked to a host of fish health problems, including heart and skeletal muscle inflammation and haemorrhages in internal organs. 

Laboratory testing by the B.C. government showed the underwater effluent in Clayoquot Sound was contaminated with the virus.

In spring 2022, one farm was found to have sea lice levels five times the limit during critical wild fish migration. The limit is three lice per fish, and during an audit Fisheries and Oceans Canada officials detected 14 lice per fish at Bawden Point, a fish farm on the west coast of Vancouver Island owned by the global salmon producer Cermaq.

Fisheries department promoting aquaculture and protecting salmon simultaneously is ‘flawed’: Chamberlin

In August, Murray told The Narwhal the key point is the department is “developing a transition away from open-net pen salmon aquaculture and my goal is to greatly minimize or eliminate interaction between farmed and wild salmon.” But at the same time, she said the government is aiming for “long-term growth of sustainable aquaculture in B.C.”

Chamberlain points out the “problematic” tension of trusting a department to protect salmon when that department also has a mandate to promote aquaculture. 

“You can see, without looking too deeply, that this is a horribly flawed process,” he says.

In 2020, $566 million worth of farmed Atlantic salmon was exported from B.C., making it the province’s top export in the agriculture, seafood, food and beverage category that year. https://thenarwhal.ca/bc-salmon-farms-mouth-rot-infestation-dfo/embed/#?secret=T6rVRJKr1o#?secret=4YtfsUxiSf

Chamberlain wants to see the minister make use of the precautionary principle in the Oceans Act, which states that in the absence of concise science, the federal department must err on the side of caution.

He wants Murray to utilize that principle, and “if not, explain why she won’t.”

Chamberlain says he has seen the transition process carrying on without meaningful consultation with First Nations, and he gets the sense the decision has already been made. He wants to see recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ constitutionally protected rights as well as of the provincial and federal governments’ enactment of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

He poses the question: “Do you understand the difference between the privilege from a licence and a right?”

“What we’re talking about is constitutionally protected Aboriginal rights.”

What’s next for B.C. fish farms?

Following consultation with First Nations and industry, a final decision on the closure of fish farms in the Discovery Islands is expected in January, according to a Fisheries and Oceans announcement this summer.

This June, Murray will present a transition plan “which will give industry a full year to prepare for stronger, new regulations that will come into force,” the minister’s spokesperson said.

One of the committees Proboszcz asked about in his access to information request made a first action item in an early meeting in autumn 2020: to get clarity on the definition of “transition.” “Clarity needs to be provided to the committees and the public about what is meant by ‘transition,’ ” the minutes said.

The department is “to seek further direction on this point from senior management and provide speaking points for clarity to promote a common understanding and consistent messaging,” the November 2020 action item stated.

Approximately six months later, while 26 out of 28 action items were completed, that first action item remained “in progress.” It’s unclear if it has been resolved since.

That lack of clarity is still in issue, and Chamberlin says there is still time to take bold action. Otherwise, if the process continues with the proposed new licensing regimes and exploring new technologies with the hopes they make a difference, no meaningful change is coming for wild salmon, he says.

“What we’re looking at, if all this becomes true, is about six years of status quo with new ribbons on it,” he says. “There’s nothing new here.”

Proboszcz is holding out hope for the transition process. “I just hope the minister and her office staff will adjust the trajectory of this transition and get it back online to what they initially promised.”

June 29, 2022

BC, Fed. Govt.

Enforcement operation near Lake Cowichan

NationTalk: Since early June 2022, the BC RCMP, through the Community-Industry Response Group (C-IRG) and Division Liaison Team (DLT), have been involved in ongoing discussions with the impacted First Nations communities – Ditidaht, Huu-ay-aht and Pacheedaht – regarding their concerns over a protest camp that has been placed across Haddon Main and Carrmanah Mainline Forest Service Roads near Lake Cowichan. This same location had been previously occupied by a blockade, abandoned and then was reoccupied in June 2022. The protest group is opposing the forestry operations in the Fairy Creek Watershed area.

On June 23, 2022, the Indigenous leaders from the three Nations provided a final and formal request to the protesters to immediately dismantle their camp. According to their issued statement, the leaders had made several unsuccessful but peaceful attempts over the past several months to have the group vacate the area and allow the lawful forest operations to resume.

We have heard the concerns of the impacted First Nations leaders and the RCMP are working with all the stakeholders to determine a peaceful resolution, says Chief Superintendent John Brewer, Gold Commander of the C-IRG.

Interfering with the lawful use and enjoyment of property is a criminal offence and impeding access to the forestry roads is a clear violation of the court-ordered injunction granted to Teal-Cedar Products Ltd.

The RCMP has maintained a police presence in the area and in the corridor, with regular patrols to ensure that the forestry roads remain unobstructed and accessible. Contemnors have been given ample opportunity to leave the area by the Indigenous leaders from the territory, but have refused.

In our commitment to enforcing the law and civil injunction, the RCMP has deployed resources to the area as of today, June 29, 2022. Access to the area near Haddon Main and Carrmanah Mainline Forest Service Roads will be limited only for the period of time required by police to clear the road of obstructions and arrest anyone in violation of the injunction.

Any updates will be posted in the Lake Cowichan RCMP Detachment website as and when available. Contact details for media inquiries and requests are provided below.Released by:

BC RCMP Communication Services

December 1, 2018

AB, BC, Fed. Govt., MB, NT, NU, ON, QC, SK, YT

Failure to protect Woodland Cariboo

Government of Canada – “Progress Report on Steps Taken to Protect Critical Habitat for the Woodland Caribou” indicates little progress is being made toward conservation. Meanwhile, provinces continue to issue permits for energy and forestry developments that do not comply with Species At Risk Act (SARA) , placing caribou at even greater risk. (David Suzuki Foundation)

Canada’s Species at Risk Act requires provinces to create plans to ensure at least 65 per cent of caribou habitat is protected and restored to help them survive.

This report notes that there continue to be gaps in comprehensive protection for boreal caribou critical habitat throughout the boreal caribou range… Most importantly, the development of regionally-specific range plans through meaningful partnership with Indigenous Peoples and broad engagement with multi-stakeholder groups, and their implementation, including through effective laws, regulations and policies, are central to achieving this outcome.

January 16, 2023

BC, Fed. Govt.

Federal fisheries officers investigate Coastal GasLink pipeline project

The Coastal GasLink pipeline has absorbed most of the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office’s regulatory attention, with the EAO issuing 37 warnings, 17 orders, and a little less than $250,000 in fines in the past two years.DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Globe and Mail: Work on the contentious Coastal GasLink pipeline is under investigation by federal fisheries officers, as construction pushes through sensitive salmon-bearing rivers.

The B.C. Environmental Assessment Office has already issued dozens of regulatory warnings and orders, as well as fines, for the 670-kilometre-long, $11.2-billion project.

Dan Bate, spokesman for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, said officers from the conservation and protection branch are looking into the complaint of sedimentation in the Clore River as a result of the work being performed on the CGL pipeline project.

TC Energy expects cost of Coastal GasLink pipeline project to rise

It’s the first time that DFO officers have investigated the project, which is in its final year of construction, and 80 per cent complete.

The Clore River, roughly 40 kilometres southeast of Terrace, B.C., is a fish-bearing tributary that eventually feeds into the Skeena River. The watershed supports runs of chinook, pink, chum, sockeye, coho and steelhead.

Shannon McPhail, executive director of the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition, said the DFO has not done enough to assure the public that the effects to salmon are being adequately monitored. “Much of our economy is dependent on salmon, and our ecosystems,” she said in an interview. “It’s past time the federal regulators step in and take a close look at this project. There are systemic issues with confusion of jurisdiction, and hopefully this can be the start of remedying that mess.”

The B.C. Environmental Assessment Office also received a complaint on Jan. 8 that CGL was crossing the Clore River without sediment control.

Even with other massive construction projects under way in British Columbia, including the Site C dam and the TransMountain oil pipeline expansion, the CGL pipeline has absorbed most of the EAO’s regulatory attention.

In the past two years, the EAO has issued 37 warnings, 17 orders, and a little less than $250,000 in fines, primarily related to sediment and erosion control concerns. A single order, from April, 2022, covered 33 waterways and wetlands after inspections found the company was not in compliance with the terms of its environmental assessment certificate. By contrast, the $16-billion Site C dam has received 12 orders and three warnings in the same time period.

Business group offers $100,000 reward over attack on Coastal GasLink site

The violations were so frequent that Coastal GasLink and the EAO signed a compliance agreement last July that requires CGL to follow more pro-active measures to control erosion and sedimentation for all new construction along the CGL pipeline route. However, the Clore River site is not included in the compliance agreement.

“The EAO has expanded inspections and enforcement activities in response to continued issues of non-compliance with the Coastal Gaslink pipeline project,” Sarah Plank, EAO spokesperson, said in a written statement. While the project has been cited for multiple violations, she said recent inspections indicate that compliance is improving.

The province has threatened that continued non-compliance could result in stop-work orders.

Kiel Giddens, Coastal GasLink’s director of public affairs, said in a statement that instream work in the Clore River is being completed in accordance with its permits. “Our regulators are closely monitoring progress and at this point have not identified any instances of non-compliance at the work site,” he said. “We take every opportunity to improve on our track record of environmental protection, and we are committed to working with our regulators to do so.”

TC Energy Corp. TRP-T is building the pipeline to transport natural gas from northeast B.C. to Kitimat. The line will feed LNG Canada’s liquefied natural gas terminal that is being built at Kitimat. When the project was approved in 2018, it was billed as the single-largest private-sector investment project in Canadian history. The terminal, pipeline and drilling are expected to cost $45-billion.

But the pipeline is strongly opposed by some Indigenous communities, led by Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs who say the company does not have consent to cross their traditional territory.

Severn Cullis-Suzuki, executive director of the David Suzuki Foundation, said in a statement that it is time regulators followed through on that threat. “The lack of monitoring and enforcement for following the law on this project completely undermines those goals. The damage to B.C. salmon habitat is deeply troubling,” she said. “Fisheries and Oceans Canada needs to issue Coastal GasLink a stop-work order immediately and resolve these issues.”

Justine Hunter



Justine Hunter is a reporter for The Globe and Mail. Based in the press gallery of the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, Justine has followed the ups and downs of B.C. premiers since 1988. She has also worked as a business reporter and on Parliament Hill covering national politics.

February 27, 2023

Fed. Govt., ON

Federal government has resumed talks with Ontario about the Ring of Fire: document

Ring of Fire Metals operates its Esker Camp in far northern Ontario, where the company is seeking to eventually open a mine. For now, governments and First Nations are still sorting through big questions about the environmental impacts of mining, and whether development in the ecologically-sensitive area is a good idea. Photo: Ring of Fire Metals

Internal emails obtained by The Narwhal appear to show a shift in relations between the two governments on the Ring of Fire. But some First Nations leaders say they’re still being left out

The Narwhal: After a years-long stalemate over the far northern Ring of Fire, the federal government appears to have extended an olive branch to Ontario, resuming talks over the region’s future.

The province has asked with increasing impatience for the federal government to chip in about $1 billion for a road to the remote and environmentally-sensitive Ring of Fire region, 540 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, Ont. — a move that could enable mining there. 

“My team and I have been thinking about next steps for the Ring of Fire and potential options for collaboration with the Government of Ontario and local First Nations in our approach to supporting critical mineral development in the region,” wrote Jeff Labonté, assistant deputy minister for lands and minerals at Natural Resources Canada, in an Oct. 3, 2022 email to request a meeting with his counterpart at the Ontario Ministry of Mines, Afsana Quereshi. “Thanks for reaching out, I look forward to the discussion,” Quereshi wrote back.

The correspondence, obtained by The Narwhal through an access to information request, appeared to signal a shift in relations between the two governments on the file.

Between 2019 and 2021, officials at the federal and Ontario governments were unable to schedule any formal meetings to discuss the Ring of Fire. The issue “fell through the cracks,” and senior officials had “no substantive discussions” about it, according to documents previously reported by The Narwhal. 

The emails contained in this latest access to information request indicate Labonté and Quereshi had a meeting on Oct. 18., a couple of weeks after exchanging messages, with Natural Resources staff discussing a potential follow-up in the days soon after.  Two days later, Natural Resources Canada told The Narwhal on Oct. 20 that “no formal discussions have taken place regarding funding for roads to the Ring of Fire.”

Natural Resources Canada declined to make Labonté available for an interview. 

Anthony Ertl, a spokesperson for Natural Resources Canada, said there is “currently no formal framework” for talks between Ontario and Natural Resources Canada on the Ring of Fire, though they do discuss it “on an ad hoc basis.” Natural Resources Canada officials also met with several First Nations to discuss it in late 2022. The federal government hasn’t made any decisions about funding construction of access roads to the Ring of Fire, he added.

A dirt road leading past houses and power lines and a lake, with autumn colours on the trees
The Ring of Fire is on Treaty 9 land, home to over a dozen First Nations. Many, like Neskantaga, have not consented to development affecting their territories. Photos: Sara Hylton / The Narwhal 

“This would be premature,” Ertl said.  “Regulatory processes related to mineral development need to be completed by respective Government of Ontario and Government of Canada regulators, as required by law, to determine whether projects could go ahead.”

Ontario’s Ministry of Mines was not able to answer questions from The Narwhal by deadline. 

The Ring of Fire — named after a Johnny Cash song and the shape of its mineral deposits on a map — is a pet project for Ontario Premier Doug Ford, who has long promised to build an all-season road to the region to enable mining.

Ford isn’t the first politician to try, but there are a few big reasons no one has succeeded so far. Right now it’s only possible to reach the Ring of Fire by plane, or ice road in the winter. Located in the boggy James Bay Lowlands, the peatlands there are difficult to build on. The area is also ecologically sensitive, a major carbon sink that naturally helps regulate the climate. It’s Treaty 9 land, home to more than a dozen Matawa and Mushkegowuk First Nations, most of which have not consented to development affecting their territories. 

Environment Minister Jonathan Wilkinson
Federal Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson recently poured some cold water on enthusiasm around the Ring of Fire, saying there are outstanding “questions about development in that space.” Photo: Province of British Columbia / Flickr

The Ontario government has committed $1 billion to build permanent roads to the Ring of Fire, but needs Ottawa to chip in the same amount to cover construction costs that have climbed to over $2 billion. And right now, there’s no clear evidence the minerals in the region will be worth the money it would take to get them out of the ground. 

The federal government has signalled interest in the deposits in the Ring of Fire, some of which include items on its priority list of “critical minerals” needed to build lower-carbon technology like electric vehicles. But it has also said it would only invest in development in the region that is done “in an environmentally sustainable manner and in collaboration with local First Nations.” 

The Narwhal reported in October that the federal government had quietly marked the Ring of Fire as a potential “priority” mineral deposit, which would make it eligible for some or all of a $1.5-billion sum set aside for mining infrastructure. 

Though the two governments have now resumed negotiations, it’s not clear if that means the federal government is any closer to deciding whether or not it will fund roads to the Ring of Fire. Weeks after the Oct. 18 meeting, both Labonté and Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson appeared to pour cold water on some of the hype around the Ring of Fire. 

Labonté told The Globe and Mail in November that the federal government doesn’t see development in the Ring of Fire as an inevitability, and that “it may be that projects go forward; it may be that they won’t.” Days later, Wilkinson said there are outstanding “questions about development in that space” that would need to be addressed before anything major in the Ring of Fire can move forward.

A road into the woods superimposed with an illustration of a ring of fire.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford isn’t the first politician to try and get access roads to the Ring of Fire built, but there are a few big reasons no one has succeeded so far. Construction in the remote, boggy region is difficult and expensive, it’s environmentally sensitive and not all First Nations are on board. Illustration: Shawn Parkinson / The Narwhal

Neskantaga First Nation Chief Wayne Moonias, whose community is located near the Ring of Fire, said he’s frustrated the two levels of government are having discussions about the issue without including his nation. When representatives of Neskantaga met with Labontéin November, the senior bureaucrat told them Neskantaga would be involved in decision-making. Instead, Moonias said, it seems Natural Resources Canada and the Ontario government were already having “backroom discussions” without them.

“This should send a red flag to other nations that are trying to ensure that they are also involved when their rights and interests are going to be impacted,” Moonias said. “That’s clearly a demonstration that Canada does not respect the rights of our people.”

Ertl said Natural Resources Canada is committed to a “scientific, fact-based approach” to mineral development. Any federal decisions on the Ring of Fire will factor in consultation with First Nations and the Ontario government, along with economic, social and environmental data, Ertl said, noting that there are currently no proposed mining projects in the Ring of Fire under federal review. 

“Before any decisions on mining development in the Ring of Fire are made, its potential impacts must be thoroughly studied, and meaningful consultation with impacted First Nations must be undertaken,” Ertl said. 

Ontario Ring of Fire: A bend in a road through forest
Right now, there are no permanent roads to the Ring of Fire. It’s only accessible by plane, or ice roads in the winter. Photos: Sara Hylton / The Narwhal
New interest in the Ring of Fire comes at the same time as a global rush for minerals

Natural Resources Canada’s renewed interest in the Ring of Fire comes amid a flurry of activity around the possibility of mining there — and a push to secure supplies of certain minerals, part of broader efforts to deepen trade ties with allied democracies and cut off hostile countries like Russia and China. Canada must “fast-track” energy and mining projects important to its allies, including those that produce materials needed to make electric vehicles, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said in a speech in October.

The mineral deposits in the Ring of Fire include nickel, a key component of electric vehicle batteries. The metal falls on Canada’s “critical mineral” list. Over the years, miners have also been interested in nearby deposits of chromium, which is used to make stainless steel.

Across the border, a parallel rush for critical minerals is underway in the United States, where the Department of Defence is considering funding work in the Ring of Fire as well, The Globe and Mail reported last year. The U.S. government held meetings with several mining companies involved in critical mineral projects, including Ring of Fire Metals (formerly known as Noront Resources), a junior exploration company that’s leading efforts to mine the area.

Ring of Fire Metals is owned by Australian firm Wyloo Metals. Backed by billionaire Andrew Forrest, the company bought Ring of Fire Metals last year. It has since registered to lobby the federal and provincial governments as it pushes to advance its Eagle’s Nest project in the Ring of Fire. 

A man in a suit sits in front of a backdrop for an event as a woman with a clipboard sits in the foreground, out of focus
Andrew Forrest, one of the richest people in Australia, is backing Wyloo Metals, which bought Ring of Fire Metals last year. Formerly known as Noront Resources, the company has said it holds 85 per cent of mining rights in the Ring of Fire. Photo: Global Maritime Forum / Flickr

Wyloo Metals spokesperson Leanne Franco said the company is “pleased” that the federal and provincial governments have resumed talks about the Ring of Fire, and that Ring of Fire Metals is prioritizing engagement with First Nations. “It is important that we listen to the views and aspirations of all the communities and make balanced decisions about future development in the region,” Franco said.

At the same time, another important process that will shape the region’s future is still playing out: the federal government is conducting a regional assessment in the Ring of Fire, which is meant to look at the cumulative effects of development there. The assessment would inform any future projects, which would likely be subject to their own individual reviews. 

So far, it’s been a bumpy process. The chiefs of five Treaty 9 communities — Attawapiskat, Eabametoong, Fort Albany, Kashechewan and Neskantaga First Nations — wrote to federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault in January to express concerns about the framework of the review, which they said was too narrow. 

Ontario Ring of Fire: a stream through stands of larches
Neskantaga First Nation Chief Wayne Moonias said his community wants to know how its way of life and cultural practices would be protected if the Ring of Fire region were ever to be developed. Photos: Sara Hylton / The Narwhal

Things had begun to look up since then, said Kate Kempton, a lawyer representing Attawapiskat. The five nations met with Guilbeault after sending the letter, and Kempton felt cautiously optimistic that the regional assessment is moving in the right direction. What happens next will depend on whether decision-makers focus on fact-finding in the best interests of the environment and the First Nations who live in the James Bay Lowlands. 

“The problem with Canadian law on environmental protection is it’s far too politicized,” Kempton said.

“Whatever anybody’s self interests are in making money out of this, money won’t matter at the end of the day. If we destroy the second most important carbon sink in the world, then we’re pooched … The facts will tell us, not the politics.” 

The facts are important because road access to the Ring of Fire could have much larger impacts than just enabling mining. Many First Nations in the James Bay Lowlands are coping with several crises at the same time — youth suicides, long-term boil-water advisories, high food prices and more — caused by the ongoing impacts of colonization. 

Elected chiefs and band councils at different First Nations have varying opinions on development in their homelands and how it could change their way of life. Individuals within communities have their own views, as well. 

Ontario Minister of Mines George Pirie speaks at a podium
Ontario Minister of Mines George Pirie is leading the province’s efforts to secure funding for access roads to the Ring of Fire. Photo: Government of Ontario / Flickr

“Our people need to be involved in these developments [that are] going to impact our way of life,” Moonias told The Narwhal. Neskantaga, for example, has started a sturgeon stewardship program on its river system, which is healthy — Moonias said the community would want to know how those types of practices would be protected if the area were to be developed.

“We will stand our ground,” Moonias said. “We will defend our rights, our lands, our interests.”

Other chiefs see access roads as a way to connect their communities to economic opportunities and better services. Webequie and Marten Falls First Nations are leading proposals for three road projects, all of which would be needed to fully link their communities with the Ring of Fire and the existing road network to the south. 

Marten Falls Chief Bruce Achneepineskum and Webequie Chief Cornelius Wabasse didn’t answer interview requests by publication time. 

A map of three road proposals to the Ring of Fire region in Ontario's Far North.
The Ontario government is currently pursuing plans for three roads leading to the Ring of Fire. The proposals are being led by Webequie and Marten Falls First Nations. Map: Shawn Parkinson / The Narwhal
The Ring of Fire has nickel — but it’s not the only place to get it

Though the Ontario government is pushing to get roads to the Ring of Fire built quickly, the prospect is still far away — if it even happens. The possibility of mining is also uncertain. The regional assessment started three years ago and will likely take several more years. Any specific mining projects would have to undergo their own review processes, too.

In the meantime, some question whether the minerals in the Ring of Fire will still be needed by the time all these reviews are done, and whether it should be the focus of so much effort. For example, electric vehicle batteries mostly require nickel right now, but some automakers are also looking at technology that doesn’t include the metal

There are also other ways to get nickel. Recycled nickel accounted for about half of the consumption of the metal in the United States in 2021, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. One project in Sudbury, Ont., is aimed at recovering nickel from mine tailings. Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson has also said there are other projects in Canada that are further along than the Ring of Fire.

Franco, of Wyloo Metals, pointed to some of the company’s reasons for pursuing its Eagle’s Nest project in the Ring of Fire — including that the nickel there is high grade, or highly concentrated, making mining more cost-effective and less emissions-intensive than lower-grade deposits.

Anna Baggio Wildlands League The Narwhal
Anna Baggio, conservation director at the charity Wildlands League, said it’s not clear efforts to mine the Ring of Fire will be worth it, for people or the environment. “The costs are just way too high,” she said. Photo: Christopher Katsarov Luna / The Narwhal

“Canada’s nickel mines produce the lowest carbon-footprint nickel in the world and Eagle’s Nest is the highest-grade undeveloped nickel ore body in Canada,” Franco said.  “The nickel from Eagle’s Nest will be processed for use in electric vehicle batteries that are fundamental to the energy transition and to achieving Canada’s climate goals.”

Anna Baggio, conservation director at the charity Wildlands League, said it’s not clear to her that the Ring of Fire will actually be worth it, especially given the consequences for the environment.  “The more we learn about it, the more we’re like, wow, this is just not a place where we make sense for mining to happen,” Baggio said. 

“The costs are just way too high. And with the rich carbon stores there … even a small portion of that area being developed will have massive carbon debt.” 

October 25, 2022

Fed. Govt., ON

Federal government moving closer to funding Ring of Fire mining roads: document

A road leading towards the winter road in Neskantaga First Nation, in the Far North of Ontario. The remote community is located approximately 450 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, near proposed mining development in the Ring of Fire region. Like the Ring of Fire, Neskantaga is only connected to the south by air, or ice road during the wintertime. Photo: Sara Hylton / The Narwhal

An internal briefing document obtained by The Narwhal shows that Ottawa has flagged Ring of Fire development as a possible ‘priority.’ Without Indigenous consent, it’s unclear what will happen next

The Narwhal: The federal government has quietly marked the Ring of Fire region of northern Ontario as a potential “priority” mineral deposit, signalling it may be willing to provide funding for efforts to mine there.

The move, mentioned in a May 2022 internal briefing document obtained by The Narwhal through an access to information request, is a significant step for Ottawa. Since 2019, the Doug Ford government has been pushing the federal government to help fund to its effort to build roads needed for mining — the Ring of Fire is currently only accessible by air or ice road in the winter. 

But discussions between the two governments had largely stalled since then, The Narwhal reported earlier this year, with Ottawa appearing conflicted. While the federal government previously told the province it’s interested in developing the region, it also said it would only contribute money for road construction if all affected First Nations sign on. Some have, but others haven’t.

The document obtained by The Narwhal shows Natural Resources Canada is now mulling whether it may give the Ring of Fire access roads some or all of a $1.5 billion sum, which was set aside in the federal government’s 2022 budget to develop infrastructure needed to secure supplies of key minerals. The budget itself said that money would go to “priority deposits,” but didn’t specify which ones. 

The briefing note obtained by The Narwhal shows only one site as a potential candidate for the money: the Ring of Fire. 

An excerpt of a briefing note, which reads: "The recent Budget 2022 proposes up to $3.8B over eight years to implement Canada's Critical Minerals Strategy. More specifically, the budget proposes the following investments: $79.2M for public geoscience and exploration to help find the next generation of critical mineral deposits; $144.4M for critical mineral research and development, and the deployment of technologies and materials to support critical mineral value chains; A new 30% Mineral Exploration Tax Credit for targeted critical minerals (i.e., nickel, lithium, cobalt, graphite, copper, rare earths elements, vanadium, tellurium, gallium, scandium, titanium, magnesium, zinc, platinum group metals, and uranium); Up to $1.5B for infrastructure development for critical mineral supply chains, with a focus on priority deposits (e.g., developments in Ontario's Ring of Fire region); $1.5B for new critical mineral projects, with a focus on mineral processing, materials manufacturing and recycling applications"
A highlighted excerpt of a May 2022 briefing note to Natural Resources Minister Jonathan Wilkinson. The note was obtained by The Narwhal through an access to information request.

In a statement to The Narwhal, Natural Resources Canada spokesperson Anthony Ertl said the Ring of Fire “could be considered” for the $1.5 billion. Although the Ring of Fire is the only area mentioned in the document, he said his department is also looking at eight other locations outlined in a federal discussion paper published earlier this year, and hasn’t made a final decision.

“Significant engagement with First Nations and Government of Ontario must take place before any decisions are made,” Ertl said. 

It’s not clear what next steps might be or how lack of consent from any affected Indigenous communities might factor in. But a new avenue for federal funding is the most optimistic sign in years for companies seeking to mine the Ring of Fire, and Ford’s Progressive Conservatives, who made the plan to build roads there a centrepiece of their 2022 re-election campaign.

More recently, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland also said — during a Washington, D.C. speech earlier this month — that Canada must “fast-track” the “energy and mining projects our allies need to heat their homes and to manufacture electric vehicles.” Freeland described this as a “green transition” to preserve the planet and protect democracies from the “curse of oil” that currently makes these countries dependent on “petro-tyrants.” 

Dylan Moore, a spokesperson for Ontario Minister of Mines George Pirie, told The Narwhal in an email that his office can’t speculate about the federal government’s intentions but believes the Ring of Fire is a “generational critical minerals opportunity.”

Neskantaga First Nation Chief Wayne Moonias, whose community is located near the Ring of Fire, said he didn’t know it was a candidate for the $1.5 billion. He’s concerned that the federal government is moving towards a decision behind closed doors, without involving his nation. Whatever happens could affect the homelands that sustain them — like the Attawapiskat River, where they fish for sturgeon. 

“It’s very disturbing to hear that there’s going to be investments in our region while we have a 27-year-old boil-water advisory and while we have a housing crisis, while we have a suicide declaration since 2013, yet they’re still talking about encroaching and accessing our traditional homelands,” Moonias said. “Our people have not given their consent on these proposed developments.”

A river surrounded by golden larch trees under a gloomy sky
Neskantaga First Nation is near the Ring of Fire. The nation has long pushed back on how the provincial and federal governments have approached development in the James Bay Lowlands. Photos: Sara Hylton / The Narwhal
The push to mine the Ring of Fire ties into Canada’s search for ‘critical minerals’

The Ring of Fire is extremely remote, located about 540 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay, Ont. in the James Bay Lowlands. Its mineral deposits include nickel, a key component of many electric vehicles that mining companies around the world are rushing to secureamid demand for lower-emissions technologies. The region also has copper and cobalt, which, along with nickel, are on the federal government’s list of “critical minerals” required either for Canada’s economic security, or for the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Although successive provincial and federal governments have pushed to kickstart mining in the Ring of Fire for over a decade, those efforts haven’t come to fruition  — and one key reason is the lack of permanent roads and other infrastructure.

The peatlands of the James Bay Lowlands are boggy, and constructing anything there is tricky and expensive. In a pitch the province sent to the federal government in July 2019, the estimated cost of road construction there was an average of $2.69 million per kilometre, for a total of between $1.1 billion and $1.6 billion. In June, The Narwhal reported in June the cost has since crept up to $2 billion. 

Ontario has, with increasing impatience, asked the federal government to cover half of the cost of road construction: “It is time for us to put pen to paper and develop the contours of a strong cost-sharing agreement immediately,” former mining minister Greg Rickford wrote in a letter to Wilkinson last winter. 

Though Wilkinson sent Pirie a letter in August to congratulate him on becoming minister of mines, “no formal discussions have taken place regarding funding for roads to the Ring of Fire,” Ertl told The Narwhal.

Moore said the two ministers have met twice this year — once at a conference in July, and again in August. 

“Minister Pirie met with Minister Wilkinson and was encouraged by the shared sense of urgency the federal government has for securing more supply of sustainable critical minerals in Ontario and Canada,” Moore said.

An aerial shot of the James Bay peatlands, in Ontario's Ring of Fire region.
The peatlands in Ontario’s Far North store about 35 billion tonnes of carbon. First Nations in the area have differing opinions as to whether mining there is a good idea. Photo: Casa di Media
Development in the Ring of Fire could have huge impacts on First Nations, greenhouse gasses and vulnerable species

The James Bay Lowlands are an ecologically sensitive area. The peatlands there sequester an enormous amount of carbon, and disturbing them would release it into the atmosphere and harm efforts to lower emissions. It’s also an important wildlife habitat for iconic species like caribou. Environmentalists and some First Nations have big concerns about the potential impact of roads and the mining they could enable. 

“The fact that our community really wants to have the… final say on what happens doesn’t fall in line with what the government is trying to do,” Moonias said. 

“Especially in a day and age where reconciliation seems to be a buzzword for Canada, and Ontario, it’s not really materializing in our community.”

Roads aren’t just about mining: they could also have a profound impact on First Nations living in the James Bay Lowlands. Many are coping with multiple crises at once due to the ongoing impacts of colonization — such as long-term boil-water advisories, youth suicides, high food prices and poverty. 

For Moonias, road access could wreck life as his community knows it: “This is not just taking a mineral or a deposit out of the area, it’s about impacting the way of life, what we’ve done for countless generations.”

For others, roads are a way to connect their communities to the south, bringing better services and economic opportunities.

“These are systemic issues that we’re talking about,” Marten Falls Chief Bruce Achneepineskum previously told The Narwhal. “Why can’t youth be supported in these kinds of essential things that our forefathers had envisioned when they signed the treaty?” 

A map of three road proposals to the Ring of Fire region in Ontario's Far North.
The Ontario government is currently pursuing plans for three roads leading to the Ring of Fire. The proposals are being led by Webequie and Marten Falls First Nations. Map: Shawn Parkinson / The Narwhal

Right now, the Ford government is pushing to advance three road proposals in the region. The Marten Falls Community Access Road is led by Marten Falls First Nation, and Webequie First Nation is leading work on the Webequie Supply Road. The two nations are jointly planning the third, called the Northern Road Link. (Achneepineskum and Webequie First Nation Chief Cornelius Wabasse didn’t respond to interview requests from The Narwhal.) 

“The communities are showing tremendous leadership by working on environmental assessments for their community road projects,” Moore said. “The Ministry of Mines will continue to support Webequie First Nation and Marten Falls First Nation by assisting with the consultation process for all three road projects.”

It’s not clear when, if ever, these roads might be built. Securing federal funding would be an enormous step forward. But the projects still have to pass environmental assessment processes, which take years. In the meantime, Attawapiskat, Fort Albany and Neskantaga First Nations issued a moratorium on development in the region in 2021, saying they didn’t want anything to go ahead without proper environmental scrutiny and until First Nations get more than “token involvement” in a separate federal review in the Ring of Fire, called a regional assessment. 

“We have a profound and sacred duty to ensure that this part of the Earth is not so wounded from Ring of Fire development that it can longer support our relations and ways of life, or help protect the world from catastrophic climate change,” the moratorium read. “The James Bay lowlands stand as one of the last and most important bastions of defence against climate collapse.”

Moonias told The Narwhal he thinks the only feasible way forward is for both levels of government to completely start over on the Ring of Fire — halt all environmental assessments, and try again with the principles of free, prior and informed consent in mind. If they keep pushing forward, he said, his nation will consider all options, legal and otherwise, to protect their homelands.

“Neskantaga will continue to defend its rights,” he said.

May 4, 2023

Fed. Govt.

Federal Government’s Failure to Fix Dikes Sees Fort Albany Evacuated Due to Flooding Threat

NationTalk: FORT ALBANY FIRST NATION: The Chief and Council of Fort Albany First Nation have been forced to declare a community-wide evacuation as rising water from the winter break-up on the Albany River threatens to breach the community’s aging dike system.

“The dikes that protect our community have failed twice over the years, and there is a very real threat that this could happen again. If flooding occurs, all of our essential services and critical infrastructure including power, telecommunications, and safe drinking water will be disrupted. We will also lose our lifelines to the hospital and airport as roads wash out,” explained Fort Albany Chief Elizabeth Kataquapit. “The federal government is well aware of the threat to our community but has failed to replace and rebuild this protective system. We have been promised that we are at the top of the list for vital repairs, but we have not received any communication about funding or workplans.”

The community declared a State of Emergency on April 28 triggering a full evacuation. Vulnerable community members including Elders, children, and expecting mothers were evacuated last month as a precautionary measure.

Evacuees have been airlifted to Kapuskasing and Niagara Falls, with some community members remaining in the community to protect vital infrastructure.

“Chief and Council have determined that the situation in Fort Albany is too dangerous for our citizens to remain in the community. They are doing everything they can to ensure the safety of their citizens and we look to the governments of Ontario and Canada to assist in every way possible,” said Nishnawbe Aski Nation Deputy Grand Chief Anna Betty Achneepineskum. “We are alarmed to learn that some evacuees fled their initial host community over safety concerns, and that necessary supports are not fully in place. Evacuations are traumatic experiences, and we ask these host communities to welcome them with friendship and compassion.”

A network of dikes protecting the community are at the risk of failing due to a lack of replacement and commitment by the federal government to address serious deficiencies. Flooding resulted from a breach last spring, and there is a constant threat to the community. The government’s failure to repair these berms, which also serve as roadways, has resulted in fatalities over the years.

Fort Albany is a remote Cree community located on the western shores of James Bay. The community encompasses three islands and is accessible only by air and seasonal winter roads.

For more information please contact:
Michael Heintzman,
Director of Communications
Cell: (807) 621-2790

September 6, 2022


First Nation suing Alberta government over cumulative environmental effects

Toronto Star: EDMONTON – A northern Alberta First Nation has filed what experts say is the province’s first lawsuit claiming cumulative effects from industry, agriculture and settlement are so pervasive, they violate the band’s treaty rights. 

Duncan’s First Nation, southwest of Peace River, alleges the province has permitted so much activity and sold off so much Crown land that band members can only live their constitutionally guaranteed way of life with great difficulty.  “Alberta has engaged in a pattern of conduct that … has significantly diminished the (nation’s) right to hunt, fish and trap as part of their way of life,” says the statement of claim, filed in Edmonton in July. 

“Habitats have been fragmented, lands and waters have been degraded, substances have been introduced that cause legitimate fears of contamination, and pollution and lands have been put to uses that are incompatible with the continued meaningful exercise of (the Nation’s) treaty rights.”

The province has not yet filed a statement of defence and the allegations have not been proven in court.

Alberta requires a cumulative effects assessment in environmental impact studies. 

However, critics have long complained those assessments are cursory and given little weight. The band argues Alberta has continually permitted development and settlement on the band’s traditional lands project by project, without considering how all those activities add up. 

Legal scholars have reached similar conclusions.

“These (cumulative) impacts cannot be resolved through piecemeal measures like individual permitting decisions,” reads a 2019 paper in the Alberta Law Review.

Jeff Langlois, a lawyer for the First Nation, said the band has taken part in every regulatory hearing that has affected them, to little effect.  “The cumulative impacts of all these projects have led to significant diminishment,” he said. 

The band sent a letter to Premier Jason Kenney in May listing its concerns.  “We have repeatedly come up against Alberta’s appalling disregard for the challenges faced by our members in the exercise of their rights,” it says. “Our people are now relegated to a small island.” 

Langlois said the premier did not respond and legal action is the only choice Duncan’s has left.  “If they don’t sit down with us, we have to take another step.”

A provincial spokeswoman declined to comment on the case. 

Duncan’s First Nation is using arguments similar to those used successfully last year by the Blueberry First Nation in British Columbia, said Sean Sutherland, a Calgary lawyer with expertise in environmental and Indigenous law who recently wrote an analysis of the Albertacase. 

“(The Blueberry decision) essentially directed changes to the regulatory regime that was in place in the area, which is quite an extraordinary remedy for a court to order,” he said. “This claim is an attempt to bring the Blueberry First Nation type of analysis to Alberta.” 

Langlois said Duncan’s saw Blueberry’s success and are trying to emulate it. “They watched their cousins on the B.C. side of the border from Blueberry put their case forward and get findings from the court.”

As a result of that decision from B.C.’s Supreme Court, permit applications in the province’s northeast have been largely suspended since last summer. The court prohibited the province from authorizing more activities that breach treaty rights, imposing a six-month period for the parties to work out necessary changes.

That doesn’t make Duncan’s case a slam dunk, Sutherland said.  The facts on the ground must still be proved. As well, an Alberta court might rule differently on what constitutes loss of treaty rights.

“The standard that the British Columbia court relied on is that there’s infringement (on treaty rights) when there’s a significant or meaningful diminishment of rights on the basis of cumulative impacts,” said Sutherland. “We don’t know if that same legal standard is going to apply in Alberta.”

Sutherland said because of the complexity of the allegations, the B.C. case took years to work its way through the courts. 

Duncan’s First Nation is seeking significant remedies. It wants legal, enforceable guarantees of consultation and research, as well as a permanent injunction blocking Alberta from permitting activities that damage the band’s ability to exercise its treaty rights. 

While it may be the first band to take such arguments to court, it’s not the first to be concerned about the continual chipping away of traditional territory by permits for one development after another. The Fort McKay First Nation made such claims for years until the province agreed to protect a particularly valuable area. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 6, 2022

October 21, 2022


First Nations angered by delays in joint probe of cross-border contamination from coal mines

Globe News: First Nations and environmentalists say they are angry the federal and British Columbia governments continue to stonewall American requests for a joint investigation of cross-border contamination from coal mining as meetings of the panel that mediates such issues wrap up.

“They can sit on every fence they want, but at the end of the day, we’re going to do what’s right,” said Heidi Gravelle, chief of the Tobacco Plains First Nation, one of several bands upset over selenium contamination in southeastern B.C.’s Elk Valley from coal mines.

“We won’t stop.”

READ MORE: U.S. wants Canada to join probe of cross-border pollution from B.C. coal mines

The International Joint Commission, the Canada-U.S. body that mediates water disputes, has been meeting in Ottawa this week.

Since May, it has been asking Canada to join with the Americans in an investigation, called a reference, of the Elk Valley issue. The reference is supported by the Biden administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the states of Montana and Idaho, First Nations and environmental groups on both sides of the border, as well as the commission itself.

“The U.S. government continues to stress its strong interest in a binational reference to engage the (commission),” said commission spokesman Edward Virden.

Canadian governments are noncommittal.

“The Government of Canada is considering a variety of options … to address water quality concerns in the Elk Valley,” wrote Kaitlin Power, a spokeswoman for Environment and Climate Change Canada. “Canada and the United States have not rejected the possibility of a reference to the (commission).”

B.C. doesn’t want the commission’s involvement, wrote David Karn on behalf of the province’s environment department.

“B.C. continues to be engaged with all parties and work to improve water quality in the Elk River Valley without the involvement of the International Joint Commission.”

The Elk Valley has long struggled with selenium contamination from coal mines owned by Teck Resources. Although Teck has spent more than $1 billion to try and fix the problem, levels of the element toxic to fish remain high in waters that flow into Lake Kookanusa, a reservoir that crosses the border between the U.S. and Canada.

Selenium in those waters already exceeds American levels. Groups from U.S. senators to tribal chiefs have written Canada’s federal government to complain.

Wyatt Petryshen of Wildsight, a B.C. group that monitors the issue, said the commission could create a watershed board to bring together all sides, as it has done for other watersheds elsewhere along the border including the Great Lakes.

He suspects that’s exactly what B.C. doesn’t want. Previous boards have raised obstacles to new development in watersheds such as the Flathead River, which reaches into southern B.C.

“It was recommended no more mines be put in the Flathead, which took that off the board for the B.C. government. B.C. doesn’t see a lot of motivation to see another watershed board.”

While the province and Teck are involved with numerous studies of the Elk Valley watershed, Petryshen and Gravelle said they aren’t getting enough access to the data they generate. “We don’t want the pretty power points,” Gravelle said. “We want the raw data. We want our people collecting it because then it doesn’t get skewed.”

READ MORE: Coal mine supporters hope ‘little window’ with new premier generates change

There’s no timeline requirement for Canada to make a decision on whether it will join in with a reference. Proceeding without the involvement of both countries is highly unusual.

However, that doesn’t mean the issue can drift along forever, Gravelle said. She said her band is prepared to consider litigation.

“We want to work something out,” she said. “(But) at the end of the day, we’re going to do what’s right for all living things, not just economically.”

January 26, 2023


First Nations say Alberta’s oil sands mine security reform unlikely to fix problems

The Syncrude oilsands extraction facility near the city of Fort McMurray, Alta., on June 1, 2014.

The Globe and Mail: Alberta is preparing to change how it ensures oil sands companies are able to pay for the mammoth job of cleaning up their operations, but critics fear a year of consultations hasn’t been enough to avoid repeating past mistakes.

“There’s no signal to me from this government that they are going to hold industry accountable for clean-up costs,” said Melody Lepine of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, one of the Indigenous groups consulted.

Official estimates price that cleanup at $33 billion while internal estimates from the Alberta Energy Regulator put it closer to $130 billion. Even at the lower figure, industry has only put up about four per cent of the money required, a percentage that is shrinking as the liability grows.

After two highly critical reports from the province’s auditor general, Alberta’s United Conservative government began considering reforms to the Mine Financial Security Program in January 2022 through a series of meetings with industry and area First Nations. Consultation ended this month.

No public hearings were held and no public input was sought.

“We anticipate completing the review of this program in 2023, with implementation of any changes, if necessary, beginning in 2024,” Alberta Environment and Protected Areas spokesman Jason Penner wrote in an e-mail.

The provincial government did not address concerns raised by the First Nations in response to queries from The Canadian Press. After attending all the meetings, four First Nations submitted a document to the government, obtained by The Canadian Press, that suggests they fear meaningful reform is not forthcoming.

“(The Athabasca Region First Nations’) overall assessment is that the review was often perfunctory, especially in the initial phase, and that (Alberta Energy Regulator) and (Alberta Environment and Parks) staff were often defensive and less than forthcoming,” it said.

The document outlines a series of concerns with the direction First Nations fear the government is going. “It is a lot of the same concerns the (auditor general had),” said Martin Olszynski, a University of Calgary resource law professor who worked as a consultant to the groups. The document said the program is not designed for an increasingly low-carbon world. Mine closures are slated to coincide with worldwide net-zero targets, meaning oil demand – and its price – are likely to start falling just as that money is needed for cleanups.

University of Alberta energy economist Andrew Leach was also hired as a consultant to the First Nations. He concluded the assumptions used in the government’s modelling of the industry’s future were unconvincing and simplistic. “The models provided to me … provide a false and dangerous sense of security,” he wrote.

Leach said the government’s direction will work if oil prices remain stable or increase. If they don’t, Alberta – and its taxpayers – risk having to cover a vast liability left stranded. “Within the bounds of current scenarios examined by major energy analysts, there are several scenarios under which existing oil sands projects cease to be viable,” Leach wrote.

Companies still are not required to release projected clean-up costs, the document said. Although companies are required to return their operations to “equivalent land usage,” the First Nations say they have not been consulted on what that means.

The document said the regulator consistently overvalues oil sands assets, a calculation used to gauge how much companies must set aside. It points to one case where an oil sands asset that was sold for $5.5 billion was valued by the regulator at $37 billion.

The First Nations say the integrity of the process was undermined when, midway through the process, the government changed the rules on how companies guarantee they will pay for cleanup.

The Alberta Energy Regulator now accepts a type of demand bond issued by an insurance company instead of cash reserves or a line of credit. A spokesman for the regulator said some companies are using such bonds, but information on how many, who they are or the size of the bonds is “confidential.”

Thomas Schneider, associate professor of accounting at Toronto Metropolitan University, said accepting an insurance policy instead of requiring companies to set resources aside will allow producers to delay reserving the billions of dollars the cleanup will take even as some mines approach end of life. “As these liabilities grow and grow and grow … (industry) is trying to figure out as many ways as they can to delay the timing that they have to tie up capital.”

As well, documents released under Freedom-of-Information legislation suggest the government has considered accepting bonds from so-called captive insurance companies, which are wholly owned by oil sands companies.

The government hired consultants to study whether such bonds put taxpayers at risk. In a heavily redacted report, Marsh consulting said the bonds themselves weren’t inherently riskier than lines of credit.

But Marsh warned that it wasn’t possible to make a reliable estimate of risk from captive insurance companies, a corporate structure enabled by legislation passed in 2022. “To complete the assessment for a captive insurance company would be challenging as each captive could be differently capitalized,” the report says. “Thus, it would be difficult to assess the inherent likelihood of default without making very broad assumptions.”

The regulator does not currently accept bonds from captive insurance companies.

Mark Cameron of Pathways Alliance, an association of Canada’s six largest oil sands producers, said the group is waiting for the government’s decision on reforms. “The Pathways Alliance appreciates the opportunities provided by Alberta Environment and Protected Areas to engage with and hear from Indigenous communities,” he said in an e-mail.

The stakes, said Lepine, could not be higher. Taxpayers have billions of dollars on the line, but First Nations have even more.“We got nowhere else to go. It’s been our home for thousands of years,” she said.

“But if it becomes a toxic wasteland, will we be forced to leave? I don’t know.”

September 28, 2022


Indigenous Leaders: First Nation partnerships will lead the way north

Marten Falls and Webequie pursue their socio-economic development goals in shepherding Northern Road Link environmental impact process

NationTalk: Soontoday.com: If your First Nation community harbours great ambitions to become a major project proponent, Gordon Wabasse offers some sage and simple advice. “Be prepared.”

Wabasse, the lands and resources director of Webequie First Nation, participated in a panel discussion on the Ring of Fire at the inaugural Indigenous-led Projects Forum in Toronto, Sept. 27. Wabasse and other James Bay regional leadership spoke of his community’s groundbreaking journey as one of the two Indigenous proponents overseeing the design and environmental impacts of a proposed all-season road into Far North, an Ontario first.

In seeking a better way of life, the communities of Webequie and Marten Falls boldly stuck their collective necks out to be the target of criticism by some neighbouring communities that are against the road and oppose mining-related development in the Ring of Fire on environmental grounds.

But the two First Nations have pushed back in asserting their sovereignty, territorial and treaty rights to community and economic wellbeing. “When we do projects inside of a reserve, nobody bothers us,” said Wabasse.  “Once we go outside of a reserve, we get hit by other communities with Section 35 of the Constitution,” the section which recognizes and affirms Aboriginal rights.

“We do have rights, too. We’re Indigenous proponents. We have every right to practise and pursue own our economic development, and I respect that, and that’s what the other communities should expect. “Don’t take it personally, take it constructively. That’s the way our forefathers, our ancestors, would’ve done,” added Wabasse. 

His community of 1,000 is located in the James Bay lowlands, 75 kilometres by air from the mineral-rich ground known as the Ring of Fire, an area coveted by many of the world’s mining companies. It has never seen industrial development, much less permanent, all-season, roads. 

Webequie is fronting the environmental impact studies of the Webequie Supply Road Project, a winding 110-kilometre proposed route connecting the community with the mineral exploration sites that could one day become multi-generational nickel, copper and chromite mines. If developed, it will deliver local jobs, huge business spinoffs and prosperity to the community.

Together with neighbouring Marten Falls First Nation to the south, they are collaborating on a longer road system called the Northern Road Link, a shared project that involves Marten Falls getting its own community access road. The Link would connect the Webequie road with the 200-kilometre Marten Falls-to-Aroland road. 

These two small communities are overseeing a total of six federal and provincial environmental impact assessments, now underway. These processes could stretch anywhere from three years to seven years to a decade out before road construction actually begins and commercial mining starts.

The promise of a permanent road link to the south is “incredibly appealing” to the  community, said Bruce Achneepineskum, chief of Marten Falls, a fly-in community of 900 on the Albany River.

Like other remote communities experiencing severe housing overcrowding, drug and alcohol problems, Marten Falls leadership said a connection to the Ontario highway system in the south will make a huge difference. It will lower the cost of transported freight, provide better and easier access to education and health care benefits, and offers economic opportunities for its young people. The average age in Marten Falls is 30.

“We’re trying to kick off something that becomes a trend,” said Achneepineskum.

During the last winter road season, 30 transports, heavily laden with concrete and steel, arrived in Marten Falls for the construction of two projects. With climate change shortening the seasonal haul over the frozen muskeg and rivers, it’s a very risky time for all concerned. “That’s a lifeline for us,” said Achneepineskum, but it’s not conducive to building and sustaining a community. It demonstrates the need for permanent roads. 

But if government and mining want access to minerals in the Far North, and if the transportation infrastructure crosses their traditional lands, Achneepineskum said, “we have to be first and foremost at the table” to have a say in what will happen and how it will unfold.

In the early days of the staking rush in the Ring of Fire, after chromite was discovered in 2007-2008, area Indigenous communities were shut out of the picture in being able to participate. Webequie Chief Cornelius Wabasse said it took a community blockade of the exploration grounds to get their point across.  “We stopped everything, saying this is our traditional territory and we want to be part of what’s going to happen in the near future.”

That started the process of the short-lived Regional Framework Agreement that ultimately died with the Wynne government. But the spirit of Indigenous participation continues under the Ford government with the funding of the environmental assessment (EA) processes led by the communities and their environmental and infrastructure consultants, AECOM.

“Gone are the days when First Nations had token partnership and joint ventures,” said Achneepineskum. “We actually want to become owners of large projects and we’re confident that it can be done.”

Achneepineskum said there are plenty of examples of successful industry partnerships across Canada where First Nations have exercised their inherent rights to lands and resources. “We know the land; we want to preserve the land; we want to preserve the area as much as we can. We know there will be impacts to the area, but FNs will practise the stewardship in the area.”

Lawrence Baxter, a Marten Falls elder and community advisor, said the community had to do a “lot of soul searching” to get to this point.  Once there was consensus to proceed to the road EA stage, the highly detailed process forced them to take stock of the water, air and what exists on the land. It meant regular meetings with the community — made challenging by the pandemic — to ask what they thought about the road and how to plan a route that avoids culturally significant places. 

Achneepineskum, now in his eighth year as chief, calls this journey a “learning experience for me.” His advice to other leaders is to seek community support of your goals through visioning forums and presentations to let members know what you plan to do. It’s important to lean on the wealth of experience from community members, especially elders, for direction. They may identify issues that may arise and allow you to gather strength to move people and the community forward in a good way. “Chief and councils really don’t have all the answers. Our job as community leadership is to seek out the best way to move forward,” said Achneepineskum.

But progress is not always an easy path. There are some Indigenous communities both upstream and downstream of the Ring of Fire and the proposed road projects that feel they haven’t been adequately consulted and are staunchly against development.

Through a combination of Western science with traditional knowledge and values, Achneepineskum added they are “setting the bar high” in guiding the road EA projects, incorporating time-honoured Anishnaabe principles to move the project along while respecting the concerns of their First Nation community neighbours. “If we don’t do this project right, if we don’t answer their concerns and address those concerns within our processes, we’ll be failing.”

For other First Nations concerned about the EA process, Baxter assured them that they’re doing everything possible to troubleshoot and anticipate problems on possible environmental impacts to the land and rivers. Gordon Wabasse places the onus on community members to stay informed, be attentive, and stay up to date on what’s being discussed locally.

Many times, Wabasse said, he sees information newsletters left unread, piling up in a corner of the local airport. During community engagement sessions on road project-related matters, it’s always the same few faces turning out.  During one session, Wabasse remembers a women walking in he hadn’t seen in years. She was astonished to learn what was being planned. “This is the first time I’ve heard about this,” Wabasse recalled her saying.

“Here we are as community, we’ve been talking about this over a decade.” Still, Wabasse said he encourages his staff in land-use planning to do their best to get the word out. “It’s hard to fill that Constitutional bucket of that duty to consult if nobody wants to listen.”

March 6, 2020


Lack of Inuit consultation on Muskrat Falls

Release of the report on the Muskrat Falls Inquiry from the Honourable Justice Richard D. LeBlanc, Commissioner: “Muskrat Falls, A Misguided Project”. The Muskrat Falls project has had a profound impact on ratepayers and the financial situation in Newfoundland and Labrador. The report makes findings and recommendations related to the inquiry’s terms of reference, as announced by government in November 2017.

The Executive Summary stated:Key Finding # 13 stated: GNL failed to ensure that it and Nalcor acted fairly in its consultations related to Indigenous Peoples and environmental matters. While not speaking to GNL’s legal obligation regarding consultation with the Indigenous groups in Labrador, GNL did not act appropriately from a fairness perspective with the Nunatsiavut Government, the NunatuKavut Community Council and the Innu of Ekuanitshit. GNL and Nalcor created an environment of mistrust and suspicion by not allowing all of the Indigenous Peoples and other concerned citizens to engage in a meaningful and transparent consultation process. This mistrust and suspicion led to protests that caused Project delays and significant cost overruns.
The report’s six volumes are available at http://www.gov.nl.ca/nr/muskrat-falls-a-misguided-project/.

August 12, 2019


Lack of Inuit consultation on Muskrat Falls

The Nunatsiavut Government – The Nunatsiavut Government is extremely disappointed with the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador with the way it has handled the whole Muskrat Falls fiasco. The Premier has repeatedly betrayed our trust by neglecting to respond, in writing or publicly, to our concerns and/or questions. (i.e. Ignoring 5 of 7 recommendations from the Independent Expert Advisory Committee, comprised of representatives of the Nunatsiavut Government, Innu Nation, NunatuKavut Community Council, and federal, provincial and municipal governments, as well as an Independent Experts Committee that included ecosystem, health and Indigenous knowledge holders) See links below.

We have said all along that compensation is not a form of mitigation. We advised Mr. Marshall, as well as the Premier, that offering Labrador’s three Indigenous groups a share of this $30 million would be perceived as a form of compensation, or “hush money”. We remain adamant this money should have been used for what it was intended – to cap wetlands.

Established in August 2017, the IEAC’s mandate was to seek an independent, evidence-based approach to determine and recommend options for mitigating human-health concerns related to methylmercury throughout the reservoir as well as in the Lake Melville ecosystem. With reservoir impoundment under way, the time bomb is ticking on the future of those who depend on the Churchill River and Lake Melville for sustenance, and on the health, culture and way of life of many Labrador Inuit.

The Nunatsiavut Government will continue to advocate on behalf of Labrador Inuit affected by this terrible tragedy, while ensuring rigorous and appropriate independent monitoring continues in order to identify impacts of the Muskrat Falls project on the Lake Melville ecosystem.

July 14, 2016


Mercury poisoning at Grassy Narrows

Toronto Star – Ontario’s former environment minister called for a clean-up of mercury contaminating Grassy Narrows First Nation, historical cabinet memos obtained by the Star show. But nothing was done by the government of the day to clean up the polluted river and lakes, and more than 30 years later the fish that feed the community are still contaminated.

The March 30, 1984, recommendation to cabinet from then-Environment Minister Andrew Brandt said the government should endorse a $2-3 million remediation plan to “cover the mercury sediments” in the nearby Clay Lake on the English-Wabigoon River, but hold off on the more disruptive and costly option of dredging the river system pending further study.

What had prompted the former environment minister’s advice was a scientific report by the 1983 Canada-Ontario Steering Committee on the English-Wabigoon River System. The report said the mercury had contaminated sediments in the surrounding rivers and lakes and that the fish would be contaminated for generations if the mercury wasn’t cleaned up. (Today, one meal of Walleye from Clay Lake contains up to 150 times the safe dose of mercury recommended by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.)

The committee recommended, among other things, to place clean sediment in the water so that it settles on the bottom of Clay Lake to stabilize the mercury-contaminated sediment — a method called resuspension — as well as some dredging of the river. A small pilot project done for the 1983 report tested the method of resuspension in Clay Lake and found it reduced mercury levels in fish “by ten times.”

“The provincial government should not appear reluctant to take action on the report’s recommendations,” wrote a senior environment ministry staffer in a briefing note circulated within the department in the spring of 1984”.

February 26, 2021


Milburn Review of Site C Dam

BC Government – The Province has released the Milburn review (Oct. 10, 2020), with 17 recommendations aimed at improving oversight and governance. Government and BC Hydro have accepted all the recommendations.

The review focused on four areas:

  • Governance and Oversight
  • Geotechnical issues
  • Risk
  • Construction Supervision and Claims Management


August 25, 2022

Fed. Govt., QC

Minister Guilbeault is visiting regions in Quebec to discuss protection of the caribou

Environment and Climate Change Canada: The caribou is an iconic species for Canadians. It is at the heart of the boreal forest ecosystem and plays an important role in the culture and history of Indigenous Peoples. The Government of Canada is determined to work in collaboration with the provinces, Indigenous Peoples, and all stakeholders to protect and re-establish the caribou.

That is why the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, the Honourable Steven Guilbeault, is visiting a number of regions in Quebec to meet and engage in discussions with Indigenous nations and other stakeholders about the collaboration required in order to protect the caribou and the progress made in the discussions with the Government of Quebec.

As part of the federal government’s commitment to protecting the caribou, Minister Guilbeault is announcing $4.6 million in funding in 2022 to support five Indigenous communities in Quebec in their efforts to conserve the caribou and caribou habitat. Part of that amount will come from the $6.1 million announced as a result of negotiations with Quebec earlier this week, bringing the total funding directed to Indigenous organizations in Quebec for this purpose to $15 million since 2018.

Yesterday, Minister Guilbeault visited the Cree community in Oujé-Bougoumou. In addition, he met with the Syndicat des Métallos, a private-sector union, in Chibougamau to discuss protection of the caribou and sustainable forestry practices. He also visited the Chantiers Chibougamau tree-processing and building-materials complex and the Barrette-Chapais sawmill and wood-processing plant. Today, Minister Guilbeault is visiting the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean and Québec City regions, where he is meeting with representatives of three Indigenous nations: Pekuakamiulnuatsh First Nation (Innu of Mashteuiatsh), Innu of Essipit First Nation and the Wendat-Huron Nation.

The current status of the caribou is a stark illustration of the need for Canada and the rest of the world to slow and reverse the loss of biodiversity as quickly as possible. In December of this year, Canada will welcome the international community to Montréal during the 15th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (COP15) on biological diversity. With its international partners, Canada will champion both the development of an ambitious global framework for biodiversity, including clear objectives and actions, and the important role Indigenous knowledge plays in our efforts to conserve and protect biodiversity and natural environments in Canada and around the world.


“We have made progress with the Government of Quebec, but that is only one step, as broader collaboration with all of the partners involved is necessary in order to protect the caribou effectively. Today’s announcement about the funding for projects run by various Indigenous groups will contribute to the protection of the caribou and their habitat, and its objective is to help in re-establishing the herds. My visits to different regions in Quebec are giving me the opportunity to build relationships and strengthen the collaboration we already have with the important actors on the ground.”

– The Honourable Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Quick facts

  • In Canada, the boreal caribou has been designated as threatened under the Species at Risk Act since 2003.
  • Since 2018, the Government of Canada has signed agreements on conservation of the boreal caribou with a number of provinces, territories and Indigenous Peoples, including Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Yukon, the Northwest Territories, Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec, Mikisew Cree First Nation, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation and Cold Lake First Nations.
  • Between 2018 and 2022, $4.3 million was transferred by the Government of Canada to the Government of Quebec for the protection and re-establishment of the boreal caribou.
  • It is estimated that the boreal caribou population in Quebec totals approximately 4,950 individuals.
  • Caribou need large areas of undisturbed habitat in order to survive. The primary threat to boreal caribou is habitat loss caused by human activities or by forest fires. The species is also threatened by climate change, predators and diseases.
  • One of the best ways to help the caribou populations is to protect and conserve nature, including by supporting the establishment of new protected areas and by restoring habitat that has been disturbed. The Government of Canada has committed to conserving 25 percent of Canada’s lands, fresh water and oceans by 2025 and to making every effort to raise that proportion to 30 percent by 2030.

Associated links


Kaitlin Power
Press Secretary
Office of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Media Relations
Environment and Climate Change Canada
819-938-3338 or 1-844-836-7799 (toll-free)

October 7, 2022


Moose conservation in Eeyou Istchee and proposed Cree guidelines respecting the allowable harvest limit in Zone 17

NationTalk: Nemaska, Eeyou Istchee  – Following the alarming results of the moose aerial survey conducted in February 2021 through collaborative efforts between the Cree Nation Government, the Cree Nation of Waswanipi and the Ministère des Forêt, Faune et Parcs (MFFP) confirming the decline of the moose population, a number of efforts have been set forth to slow the decline and hopefully recover the population. Since September 2021, resolutions and actions have been adopted and implemented to help alleviate the decline, specifically in Zone 17.

A result of these efforts has been the closure of the moose sport hunt in Zone 17 for the 2022 hunting season regulated by Québec after a resolution was adopted by the Hunting, Fishing and Trapping Coordinating Committee (HFTCC) to set an Upper Limit of Kill of 104 as prescribed by the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA) in order to protect the Cree Guaranteed Level of Harvest (GLH) applicable in Zone 17.

In addition, a Moose Technical Committee has been formed earlier this year composed of members from the Cree Nation Government, Cree Trappers’ Association, Chiefs of Waswanipi, Ouje-Bougoumou, and Waskaganish as well as their representatives mandated to propose harvesting guidelines as part of a broader moose conservation plan. The Cree Trappers’ Association (CTA) has recently supported a series of proposed moose conservation guidelines at their Annual General Assembly. These guidelines have been developed in close collaboration with the communities, tallymen and land users and rely on our Cree customary practices and values reinforced through our Traditional Management system and governance. The objective of these guidelines is to protect our traditional way of life, protect moose habitat and its population, as well as gather knowledge and monitor activities and impacts which may influence the population within Eeyou Istchee. The guidelines also propose a series of measures to reduce harvesting pressures in Eeyou Istchee, more specifically Zone 17, so as to respect the allowable harvest limit of 104 set by the HFTCC.

The Cree First Nation of Waswanipi has already taken the initiative by recently adopting and implementing the first series of guidelines to reduce the harvesting pressure in Zone 17. These guidelines will be in effect for a period of 2 years after which they will be reviewed annually.

The guidelines are currently being presented at local assemblies in Ouje-Bougoumou and Waskaganish and will be presented to other communities in the coming weeks.

Efforts from all members to ensure a sustainable harvest during this time will help bring the moose population back to a healthy level while ensuring the respect of our collective interests and concerns, and most importantly, the conservation of the moose, a species intricately woven into the fabric of our traditional activities and cultural values.


Contact: Flora Weistche, Political Attachée  (514) 604-3276

May 11, 2023


More needs to be done to involve First Nations in emergency management, says Indigenous leader

Province says it is working to modernize emergency management legislation

More than 40 wildfires are burning in B.C. on Wednesday, including multiple fires in the Peace River region in the northeast. The chair of the Emergency Planning Secretariat says more needs to be done to incorporate First Nations into emergency management plans.  (Becky Grimsrud)

CBC News: Provincial and local authorities need to do more to involve First Nations in their emergency management plans, says Stó:lo Tribal Council Chief Tyrone McNeil.  McNeil says the B.C. government is not providing enough direction to local and regional governments on how to work with adjacent First Nations in emergency situations.  “We are not seeing it, we’re not feeling it,” McNeil told CBC’s The Early Edition. “We need to change that.”

As an example, McNeil says the town of Hope, about 152 kilometres east of Vancouver, issued an evacuation order during a wildfire last year, including a nearby Trans Mountain work camp located on the Shxw’ow’hamel reserve. 

The Early Edition

First Nations were hit hard last year with floods and wildfires. We check in to see what preparations have been made–and what they want our emergency response teams to know in advance. The warm weather this weekend is sparking anxiety about more flooding and wildfires in the province. We check in with the Emergency Planning Secretariat Chair and Stó:lo Tribal Council Chief Tyrone McNeil on what advice they are giving to First Nations in their to get prepared.

Click on the following link to access there above to access the audio:


“But when Shxw’ow’hamel phoned the town — they said ‘What about us?’ — the town says, ‘Oh no, you’re fine,'” said McNeil.  “That work camp is on the same reserve these people are living on, they’re left on their own.” 

Emergency planning challenges are compounded for remote First Nations communities that may not have nearby support networks to help during crisis, McNeil says.  McNeil is chair of the Emergency Planning Secretariat (EPS), a collaboration among 31 mainland Coast Salish communities to improve emergency planning at a regional level. 

Tribal Chief Tyrone McNeil of the Stó:lō Tribal Council.
Stó:lo Tribal Council Chief Tyrone McNeil says the province is not providing enough direction to local and regional governments on how to work with adjacent First Nations in emergency situations.  (Dillon Hodgin/CBC)

He says they are in the early stages of developing a provincewide First Nations regional action plan.

Bowinn Ma, B.C.’s minister of emergency management, says the Emergency Program Act gives the province powers to react to crises, but “does not recognize the existence of Indigenous people or their inherent rights and authorities during emergency situations.” She said the province is working to modernize emergency management legislation to require local governments and other emergency management partners to work with First Nations through all four levels of emergency management: preparation, mitigation, response and recovery.

She went on to say legislation set to be tabled this fall was co-developed with First Nations. “In the meantime, we’re encouraging communities to start that work right now and many communities are already doing a good job of it and we’re working with them on this,” Ma said.

McNeil’s comments come as Western Canada braces for an unseasonable heat wave and dry spell that will raise the risk of wildfires in B.C. and Alberta over the coming days. The heat is expected to settle in on Friday and intensify over the weekend in B.C., where there were more than 40 wildfires on Wednesday.

The B.C. River Forecast Centre has issued a flood warning for the lower Thompson region, which includes the Bonaparte River and the Cache Creek area, about 83 kilometres west of Kamloops in the Interior.  Cache Creek Mayor Ranta says he expects to see more water descend upon the community in the coming days as blazing temperatures forecast for this weekend hit the snowpack. 

With files from The Canadian Press

August 10, 2020


Mount Polley Mine Tailings disaster

“Safety First” a new report by Earthworks and MiningWatch Canada recommends that all new mine tailing ponds be constructed using filtered tailings storage, otherwise known as dry-stack tailings. When filtered tailings are not an option, at the very least better dam construction needs to be required by regulators, Safety First states. The reports notes the elephant in the room still remains: should the B.C. government allow the development of new tailings dams upstream of communities and should those that currently exist be closed down?”

August 1, 2019


Mount Polley Mine Tailings disaster

BC First Nations Energy and Mining Council – released “Reducing the Risks of Mining Disasters in BC: How Financial Assurance can Help”. Based on the analysis presented in this report, we make one overarching recommendation to British Columbia policy-makers and two supporting ones.

6.1 Main recommendation

Require hard financial assurance against the risk of mining disasters in British Columbia

6.2 Supporting recommendations

  1. Pursue a “tiered” financial assurance scheme for mining disaster risk in British Columbia
    • British Columbia should implement firm-level bonding requirements, insurance requirements or an industry fund, then later combine this assurance with coverage from an additional instrument,
  2. Broaden pooled risks in a tiered scheme’s highest tier
    • governance bodies for publicly-run risk pools should leverage the knowledge and expertise of First Nations by including Indigenous representation


August 14, 2014


Mount Polley Mine Tailings disaster

The Mount Polley mine tailings dam collapsed, releasing 25 million cubic metres of contaminated mining waste. The massive spill destroyed or affected over 2.6 million square meters of aquatic and riparian habitats over a 10-km distance. Imperial Metals did not even pay the full cost of the clean-up. British Columbians and Canadians picked up a huge part of the tab. This sets the wrong standards and sends the wrong signal to industry and other mines across Canada.

It further undermines public confidence in the mining sector and erodes people’s trust in the ability of our regulatory system to effectively protect the environment. Ugo Lapointe, Canada Program Coordinator for MiningWatch Canada. New government should undertake a complete review and ensure all of the recommendations of the 2015 Mount Polley review and the 2016 BC Auditor General reports are fully implemented.

April 18, 2022

BC, Fed. Govt.

Multiple Threats to Pacific Salmon Fishery

NationTalk: The First Nation Wild Salmon Alliance (“FNWSA”) is deeply troubled with the revelations set out in an article featured on the front page of today’s Globe and Mail which identifies that the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (“DFO”), under the Harper administration, withheld critical science related to the existence of a highly transmissible PRV virus among open-net fish farms for over 10 years. The article also raises the issue that Dr. Kristi Miller-Saunders, a senior research scientist at the DFO, was unable to disclose the results of her study which gave rise to the final report in question.

As Dr. Miller-Saunders notes, “It is really a travesty that the study could not come to light 10 years ago, and that the findings associated with this virus have been so contentious in Canada, as the role that this virus plays in disease development in salmon in other countries is not disputed”.

The B.C. based organization, Wild First, filed an access-to-information request for information held by the DFO in relation to open-net pen fish farms back in 2014 and went on to bring this matter the attention of Canadas Privacy Commissioner who later ordered the release of the science paper. The FNWSA takes exception to the withholding of such critical information and deems it utterly unacceptable that the report was not released until March 18, 2022.

We understand that the scientific information withheld by the DFO clearly conveys information that does not support the DFO’s mandate to advance the open-net pen fish farm industry, leaving us with an open question about the integrity of decision-makers within the federal government system. The deliberate decision and intentional action of taking steps to withhold scientific information which may have changed the course of our collective understanding at an early stage about the impacts of the PRV virus on wild salmon are acts against science and an obvious disregard for the constitutionally-protected Aboriginal rights to wild salmon for food, social and ceremonial purposes. From the perspective of the FNWSA, such decisions create and foster a climate of distrust and broken relationships.

“This latest development is an opportunity for the Office of the Auditor General of Canada to revisit its 2018 report on the Salmon Farming Aquaculture Industry, disease/pathogens and the role the DFO. Although these federal decisions and actions originated under the Harper regime, it also provides an opportunity for the Honourable Joyce Murray, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard to take meaningful and positive steps to correct the suppression of science and to build a better path forward for all” says Robert Chamberlin, FNWSA Chair.

January 29, 2021


Multiple threats to Pacific salmon fishery

The Province – K̓áwáziɫ Marilyn Slett — Chief Councillor of the Heiltsuk Nation, President of Coastal First Nations and co-chair of the Wild Salmon Advisory Council to British Columbia — describes the urgency of the salmon crisis and the immediate need for collective action. The importance of healthy salmon populations for coastal First Nations cannot be overstated— especially during the coronavirus pandemic, which has driven home the need for food security in these Nations. Connecting land and marine ecosystems throughout the coast, salmon has been the lifeblood of coastal economies and First Nations’ culture for thousands of years.

Although the factors causing salmon declines are varied and complex, we know the main causes. Cumulative impacts from more than a century of mismanagement, industrial logging and overfishing, plus climate change, have led to these record low salmon returns. And just as the bottom has dropped out of salmon abundance along the Pacific Coast, we’ve also seen a drastic reduction in monitoring programs by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

First Nations along BC’s North Pacific Coast have made progress, through the Great Bear Rainforest agreements and others, toward ending destructive logging practices and reducing exploitation of fisheries through limiting catches and enforcing strategic closures. We have protected important salmon-bearing watersheds and implemented ecosystem-based management in others, while establishing new stock assessment and catch monitoring programs across our territories.

August 9, 2019


Multiple threats to Pacific salmon fishery

BC Assembly of First Nations – Failure to issue a closure to all marine and recreational Fraser River salmon fishing due to the Big Bar Landslide near Lillooet. On June 21, 2019 a large land slide was discovered in a remote part of the Fraser River, which is considered one of the most sacred rivers for First Nations in BC and is considered one of the most productive salmon rivers in the world.

First Nations in BC are extremely concerned about the landslide as it has blocked migrating salmon from returning to their spawning grounds. First Nations, including Tŝilhqot’in Nation and Nak’azdli Whut’en, located along the spawning route are declaring closures to the 2019 fishing season. Regional Chief Teegee is the Pacific lead for the AFN National Fisheries Committee, which is co-chaired by Regional Chief Roger Augustine (New Brunswick/Prince Edward Island). Even though this is a cause for conservation measures to help Fraser River salmon, many First Nations food, social and ceremonial fisheries are being restricted, at the same time the unregulated recreational and commercial fisheries are open – this contravenes the principle that conservation measures apply to all fishers.

First Nations cannot be restricted access to fish while commercial and recreational fishing is allowed to continue. We are very familiar with the collapse of the fishery on the east coast and all signs point to mismanagement by the federal government as well as their unwillingness to honour long standing treaties. The same appears to be happening with the west coast fishery.

August 23, 2022

BC, Fed. Govt.

Multiple Threats to Pacific Salmon Fishery: Canada and BC double funding and extend pacific salmon program

Vancouver, BC – Improving the health of Pacific salmon and ensuring a sustainable fishing sector is a priority for both the Government of Canada and the Province of British Columbia. Today, the Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard, the Honourable Joyce Murray and the BC Minister of Land, Water, and Resource Stewardship, the Honourable Josie Osborne, announced the doubling of funding contributions for the British Columbia Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund (BCSRIF) and extending the program to 2026.

Today’s announcement will support a range of future projects that prioritize restoring salmon ecosystems, continuing to support innovation in community hatcheries, and providing sustainable, resilient and prosperous fisheries. More specifically, the second phase of the BCSRIF will consider projects that address climate change impacts to salmon, priority salmon populations and Indigenous participation and traditional knowledge. These priorities align with the Government of Canada’s broader Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative (PSSI) and British Columbia’s Wild Salmon Strategy vision of working together to conserve and restore Pacific salmon habitat and populations for the people, communities and ecosystems that depend on them.

On September 15 2022, application information for the second phase of the BCSRIF program will be available to the public. Funding is open to Indigenous communities, industry associations, environmental non-governmental organizations, commercial enterprises, and academic institutions. Further information on the application process, timelines and program criteria are available on the BCSRIF website: www.bcsrif.ca


“The second federal-provincial funding phase of the BCSRIF both acknowledges the communities who made a positive impact on salmon habitat and recovery, and reflects the deep Indigenous and public commitment to returning our iconic salmon species to abundance.”

The Honourable Joyce Murray, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard

“Pacific wild salmon are an iconic species in the Province of British Columbia. They are at the foundation of Indigenous culture and way of life and are an integral part of B.C.’s food security, ecosystems and economy. With the tremendous strides the BCSRIF program has already made in restoring wild salmon habitat and helping populations recover, doubling funding now is absolutely the right thing to do as we continue our collaborative work with First Nations and Canada to support sustainable fisheries.”

The Honourable Josie Osborne, B.C. Minister of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship

Quick facts

  • Launched in March 2019, the British Columbia Salmon Restoration and Innovation Fund (BCSRIF) has made investments in support of habitat protection and restoration, ensuring the fish and seafood sector in British Columbia is positioned for long-term environmental and economic sustainability.
  • Ninety-seven projects have received BCSRIF funding since its inception, representing an investment of more than $126 million in the rebuilding of wild Pacific salmon stocks and supporting the BC fish and seafood sector.
  • Additional information on projects selected for BCSRIF funding can be found online here.
  • The BCSRIF is a 70 per cent federal, 30 per cent provincial cost-shared program.
  • Budget 2021 committed an additional $100 million in new federal funding to expand the BCSRIF program, as a key component of the Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative (PSSI), bringing Canada’s total contribution to $200 million over seven years. With the Government of British Columbia’s mandate commitment to double its investment, the Province is providing $85.7 million over seven years.
  • The Government of Canada’s Pacific Salmon Strategy Initiative is the largest-ever government investment in efforts to save Pacific salmon. Through this investment, Canada will undertake a strategic and coordinated long-term response, rooted in collaborative action, to stabilize and restore Pacific salmon for the ecosystems, people, and communities that depend upon their sustainability.
  • BCSRIF funding is open to applications from Indigenous communities, commercial organizations in the wild fisheries and aquaculture sectors, recreational fisheries, as well as non-commercial organizations such as universities and research institutions, industry associations, and conservation groups.
  • The applications process for the new BCSRIF phase will open on September 15 and close on November 15, 2022.

May 17, 2023

Fed. Govt., MB

New hope for flood-prone Peguis First Nation means evacuees could come home

Nearly a third of the ‘refugees’ from last spring’s flood still haven’t returned to the community. The Nation hopes a new collaboration will help it better prepare for future natural disasters

Dysin Spence stands outside his family home that was condemned after Peguis First Nation flooded nearly a decade ago. He has yet to move back to the community where he grew up, but a new agreement between the Nation and several governments could allow the community to prepare for future floods and welcome long-time evacuees home. Photo: Aaron Vincent Elkaim / The Narwhal

The Narwhal: A year after a historic flood ravaged Peguis First Nation, there’s hope on the horizon. The spring thaw passed without incident this year — a much needed respite for the still-recovering community — and a new, multi-government collaboration is giving Peguis a voice in how future floods are managed.

The 2022 flood was the most devastating in the First Nation’s embattled history, and the community’s leadership have long maintained the worst of the damages could have been avoided — if only governments had been listening.

Tall red letters spell Peguis against a blue sky. Shot from behind the sign so the word appears in reverse
The May 2022 flood in Peguis First Nation was the latest in a string of major floods. The community had previously been forced to evacuate in 2006, 2009, 2011 and 2014. Photo: Aaron Vincent Elkaim / The Narwhal

Over the last two decades, Peguis has faced five major floods, prompting widespread evacuations, destroying infrastructure, hundreds of homes and displacing thousands of community members. Year after year, the Nation has urged provincial and federal governments to step in and help fund infrastructure projects to keep the community safe, come hell or high water. Year after year, they’ve been denied.

But as the anniversary of last year’s flood-peak passed this month, Peguis First Nation housing and emergency management director William Sutherland is optimistic. “I’m a happy man,” Sutherland says on a phone call. “We are working on a permanent solution to bring everybody home, which is great news.”

Repeated Manitoba floods, repeated devastation have battered Peguis First Nation

More than 2,100 people were evacuated from Peguis First Nation when the community was overcome by flooding in spring 2022. More than 600 of those evacuees still haven’t returned. The floods caused an estimated $300 million in damages, including the devastation of more than 300 homes, many of which were written off owing to mould.

Last year’s flood was one disaster too many for a First Nation that has spent decades in recovery mode. Repeated disasters have contributed to a severe housing crisis that has left evacuees stranded in hotel rooms and apartments across the province for years.

Some evacuees have been away from home for over a decade, relying on inconsistent Red Cross and income assistance funding to pay the bills. Those in hotels have been forced to shuffle from place to place on short notice as hotels run out of room. They’ve been separated from their families, children haven’t been able to attend school and the stress of displacement has caused anguish that only deepens as the evacuations drag on.

Two empty rooms, separated by a wall in the centre of the frame, with mold damage on the walls as high as the windowsills and overturned mop buckets on the floor at a home in Peguis First Nation
Hundreds of homes in Peguis have been written off due to mould damage over the last two decades. Though each flood brings some federal recovery funding, it hasn’t been enough to restore the Nation’s housing stock. Photo: Aaron Vincent Elkaim / The Narwhal

“Due to chronic underfunding of infrastructure, including flood prevention measures by governments, flooding episodes never end for Peguis,” former Peguis Chief Glenn Hudson wrote in a 2022 press release. “Most of the houses are never re-built as a result of underfunding, and so many members can never come back to live in their community among their people. That is why I call these members ‘refugees,’ not evacuees.”

For years, Hudson and other community leaders had been pressuring the federal and provincial governments to help the First Nation develop long-term and permanent flood mitigation solutions, to no avail.

Leaders optimistic new partnerships will bring long-term flood solutions to Peguis First Nation

In the aftermath of the 2022 flood, a new partnership between Peguis, nearby Fisher River Cree Nation, local municipalities, the provincial government and Indigenous Services Canada (which administers emergency response services) has emerged, Sutherland says. “Efforts are being made to put Peguis in a more proactive and flood mitigated position moving forward, that way we hopefully never have to have a partial or full evacuation ever again,” he says.

The effects of that partnership are already being felt. Last year’s crisis was exacerbated by the fact Peguis was denied federal funding to start emergency preparations in the spring because provincial forecasts predicted a low risk of flooding on the Fisher River. “If we don’t qualify for funding and weather systems do impact our area, the most advanced warning that we get is 24 to 48 hours,” Sutherland says. “There’s nothing that can be done in that short period of time.”

Sandbags and debris piled on the lawn around the corner of a wood home with faded red and blue paint in Peguis First Nation
With advanced funding, Peguis First Nation is able to buy and install tools like sandbags, submersible pumps and tiger dams before the water comes. Each year, the Nation works to flood-proof around 100 of the most damage-prone homes. Photo: Aaron Vincent Elkaim / The Narwhal

Meeting notes between Indigenous Services Canada and Peguis leadership, obtained through a freedom of information request, showed councillors were incensed they had been denied the chance to prepare for the impending threat. “Why can’t we be at the table when you make decisions? We would have told you what would happen,” one band councillor said during a May 4, 2022, meeting. “Someone needs to be held responsible.”

But this year, Sutherland says the partnership allowed Peguis an opportunity to show the province how the region’s unique geography puts the First Nation at an increased risk of flooding — even when predicted weather patterns and water levels indicate a lower risk.

Manitoba’s transportation and infrastructure department is currently working on new flood-risk maps for the Fisher River through a cost-sharing agreement with the federal government, an unnamed provincial spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “The flooding that occurred in 2022 has reinforced the need … to identify and move forward with flood mitigation solutions,” the spokesperson said.

Sutherland presented evidence showing drainage systems on farmland south of the First Nation had been altered, prompting increased strain on the Fisher River watershed; he was also able to show how extreme rainfall caused a ridge north of the community to breach, leading to flooding from all sides.

The result was a more accurate flood forecast in 2023, which allowed the community to secure $2.5 million in preparatory funding. “That put us in a more proactive position,” Sutherland says. “We utilized sandbagging and trucks and trailers, and were able to at least protect the most flood-prone homes.”

Collaboration on long-term solutions hard fought for Manitoba First Nation

After the magnitude of last year’s flood, Peguis’ leadership ramped up a decades-long pressure campaign to get long-term flood mitigation commitments from provincial and federal governments. During meetings at the height of the flooding, then-Chief Hudson expressed the stress, frustration and anguish experienced by his community, according to the meeting notes obtained. “We’re sick of it,” Hudson told federal officials while asking to discuss long-term mitigation options at a May 3 meeting.

A month later, as cleanup operations begun in Peguis, Hudson stressed he “did not want any more studies” and would take guidance from the plans outlined after floods a decade earlier, which showed a need for new culverts and drainage, better roads, controlled water flow and upgrades to the local water-treatment plan.

A truck drives through a deep puddle in Peguis First Nation during the 2022 flood
Roads, culverts, bridges, pedestrian crossings and sewage infrastructure were damaged by the 2022 floods. Leadership in Peguis have long-asked the federal government for funding to help critical infrastructure withstand 1-in-200 year flood levels. Photo: Aaron Vincent Elkaim / The Narwhal

Indigenous Services seemed to take heed: though they noted “this path for long-term mitigation will take years,” the department committed to working toward the community’s immediate and long-term needs. Indigenous Services recommended both a working group between local, provincial and federal leaders and a written agreement to guide the development of solutions.

Peguis’ cries for help were further bolstered in the fall when a November 2022 auditor general report found Indigenous Services had failed to provide adequate emergency management supports to First Nations across the country, citing a lack of regional emergency plans, a failure to identify high-risk communities, a sizeable backlog of underfunded disaster mitigation infrastructure projects and inconsistent supports for evacuees, particularly those facing long-term evacuations.

Many of these gaps had been identified in a 2013 auditor general report of emergency management in First Nations but had not been addressed, the 2022 report said. With environmental disasters like floods becoming increasingly severe and frequent because of climate change, the report said, First Nations are increasingly at risk, making mitigation all the more important.

A thick three-ring binder flipped open to a page showing a flood damaged home in Peguis First Nation sits atop a pile of flood papa
The housing department in Peguis First Nation has spent years trying to support evacuees whose homes were damaged or written off after previous floods. Some evacuees have never returned to their home community. Photo: Aaron Vincent Elkaim / The Narwhal

Of nearly 600 evacuations affecting 268 First Nations — and more than 130,000 people — between 2009 and 2022, the report found the flood evacuees from Peguis had been stranded the longest.

The auditor general described the federal department as “more reactive than preventative,” noting Indigenous Services spent 3.5 times more money responding to emergencies than helping communities prepare for or prevent them between 2018 and 2022.

Two-thirds of First Nation-led infrastructure proposals that would reduce the impact of natural disasters had gone unreviewed or unfunded, adding to mounting backlogs, the report found. That’s in part because Indigenous Services’ infrastructure budget (in place until March 2024) dedicates just $12 million a year for these proposals, though the department can use funds from outside that budget when available. Over four fiscal years, the department spent nearly $74 million on these infrastructure projects — 40 per cent more than was budgeted.

Indigenous Services told the auditor general the current backlog of infrastructure projects would cost at least $291 million to complete, meaning it would take more than 24 years to fund them all. “First Nations communities are likely to continue to experience emergencies that could be prevented or mitigated by building the infrastructure,” the auditor general wrote.

Housing, infrastructure upgrades on the horizon for Peguis First Nation

Sutherland thinks the auditor general’s report could have been a driving force behind the new multi-government collaboration, but regardless of the impetus, he’s happy to see the community’s calls getting answered. “I’m really happy this year with that partnership in place. … We qualified for the additional funding that put us in a more proactive position, and I’m even more happy now because we did not flood,” Sutherland says, emphasizing the last four words.

While he won’t give too many details about the plans being discussed in those meetings, he’s confident the work they’re doing will bring evacuees home for good. “It’s at an excellent stage,” he says. “There’s going to be a lot of happy people.”

A pool of standing water and discarded umbrella are visible among high grass. A blue and white house sits in the background.
Building homes above the flood line is the first step toward making sure evacuees have a home to come back to — and one that can withstand future disasters. Photo: Aaron Vincent Elkaim / The Narwhal

So far, efforts have focused on the housing crisis. There are hundreds of homes to repair, restore or rebuild — but this time they’ll be built to withstand future floods. New housing developments are underway, raised above the 1-in-200 year flood levels the community saw last year.

In an emailed statement, Indigenous Services Canada said long-term mitigation planning is “complex” and the work is still in preliminary stages, but noted the department is working with stakeholders to address housing needs and repatriation of evacuees. The department said it provided $18 million to the First Nation between May 2022 and March 2023 for both flood recovery and 2023 flood preparation.

Sutherland has a hopeful, if modest, vision for the future of his community. “I’m not saying that Peguis is not going to flood going forward — we likely will,” he says. “But we’re going to get to that point where, yes, Peguis flooded, but I’m glad to report that there have been no reported damages and no need for any evacuations.”


Julia-Simone Rutgers: Julia-Simone Rutgers is The Narwhal’s first Manitoba-based reporter through a brand new partnership with the Winnipeg Free Press. She joins The Narwhal after writing daily news for the Winnipeg Free Press and the Star Metro Halifax. She was also the first ever writer in residence at the Walrus, and has a smattering of bylines in The Globe and Mail, the Coast and the Discourse.

August 10, 2020


Omnibus Bill 197 violates Environmental Bill of Rights

The Timmins Daily Press – Mushkegowuk Council is calling on the province to honour the treaty it signed 115 years ago. Treaty 9 was signed between First Nations leaders and Canadian political figures to establish guidelines around resources and projects on First Nations land. Grand Chief Jonathan Solomon called Bill 197 a “major step back” that “abolishes many of the environmental assessment rules that have been in place for decades.” Solomon explained that a treaty was signed because it recognized the Mushkegowuk/Ininiwuk peoples as a nation, which had its own governance, laws, language, culture, among others. Mushkegowuk’s grand chief said the agreement signed in 1905 was a “‘nation-to-nation sacred treaty,” noting that Canadian courts have deemed the oral promises made were “as much a part of the binding treaty as the words written on the treaty parchment.”

Solomon added that if the province is interested in receiving consent for resource, forestry, mining and other development projects on Indigenous land, it must be done in consultation with First Nations from the beginning. “You will need to show how these projects respect the integrity of our environment. Further, you will need to demonstrate how these projects will benefit the Omushkego/Ininiwuk. That has not changed, despite Bill 197.”

July 24, 2020


Omnibus Bill 197 violates Environmental Bill of Rights

NationTalk – Bill 197 (COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, 2019), an omnibus bill introduced on July 8 and passed just 13 days later on July 23 with little legislative debate and no Standing Committee consideration, and without public consultation on the changes to the Environmental Assessment Act (EAA) despite warnings from Ontario’s Auditor General that this violates the Environmental Bill of Rights. The Bill allows for major changes to the EAA while offering few concrete details, leaving important decisions to be implemented through regulations that are not yet known and which will not be subject to legislative approval. Major changes to the Environmental Assessment Act (EAA) could significantly weaken environmental protections and impact Inherent, Aboriginal, and Treaty rights, all under the guise of COVID-19 response.

On the same day that Ontario introduced Bill 197, it gave public notice of just 45 days to review and comment on a package of other proposed changes to the EAA and related regulations relating to mining, hydro transmission, municipal environmental assessments, flood and erosion control, waterpower projects, resource stewardship and facility development, transportation, public works, amendments to environmental assessments, land claim settlements, projects within provincial parks and conservation reserves, and two specific major transportation projects. These changes are part of an ongoing effort by this government to overhaul Ontario’s environmental protection regime, in support of its promise to “cut red tape” in support of economic interests.

As a community with a high poverty rate, Fort Albany understands the need for economic opportunity. However, development must be ecologically responsible and culturally sustainable. At a time when the whole world is facing unprecedented climate change and biodiversity loss, development must be supported with more and better environmental protections, not fewer. Any changes to environmental protections are important for us, because the exercise of our Inherent, Aboriginal, and Treaty rights is inherently connected to the wellbeing of the environment. However, the government is unilaterally introducing major changes with the knowledge that our community is under pressure and constraints due to COVID-19, and that we do not have the resources or capacity to meaningfully engage. This is not honourable, and it disrespects our relationship with our territory and our role as a Treaty No. 9 partner.

We call on the Government of Ontario to repeal Bill 197, and to design a more appropriate process for reform of the EAA in full partnership with Indigenous groups, with the principles of robust environmental protection, public participation, and respect for Indigenous rights at its heart.

August 18, 2022

Fed. Govt., ON

Ontario is resisting Canada’s plans for Indigenous-led conservation areas

The federal government is starting to fund Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas. An internal document shows Ontario has ‘concerns’

The Narwhal: In the face of provincial resistance, the federal government is urging Ontario to cooperate with plans to establish Indigenous-led conservation areas, according to an internal briefing. The document from Natural Resources Canada, obtained by The Narwhal through an access to information request, also shows that Ontario has been complaining behind closed doors about the push to form Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas.

Greg Rickford, Ontario’s Minister of Northern Development and Indigenous Affairs, “has raised concerns that Canada’s approach to establishing Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) has encroached upon [Ontario’s] jurisdiction, and requested that Canada include [Ontario] at the earliest stages of discussions,” the briefing said. 

The document was prepared for the federal government’s deputy minister of natural resources, John F.G. Hannaford, ahead of a meeting on April 11, 2022, with his Ontario government counterpart, Monique Rolf Von Den Baumen-Clark. 

Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas are places where Indigenous nations take the lead on land and water usage and protection, using Indigenous laws and knowledge. The rules and goals for how these places are stewarded can vary, but globally, land managed by Indigenous people tends to have equal or higher levels of biodiversity compared to other protected areas. 

Land managed by Indigenous peoples contains about 80 per cent of Earth’s quickly disappearing biodiversity. Intact ecosystems sequester carbon and naturally mitigate some of the impacts of climate change, like floods, which is one reason that the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stressed Indigenous land security as an important aspect of climate change response. 

The Canadian government earmarked $340 million to support Indigenous-led conservation last year, recognizing it as a cornerstone of federal efforts to conserve 30 per cent of the country’s lands and waters by the end of the decade. So far, Ottawa has given funding to 62 conservation projects aimed at helping with that 2030 goal, including five in Ontario, four of which are led by First Nations. 

Ontario Indigenous-led conservation: A screenshot of text reading: "Minister Rickford has raised concerns that Canada's approach to establishing Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas (IPCAs) has encroached on ON's jurisdiction"
An excerpt from a Natural Resources Canada briefing note, obtained by The Narwhal through an access-to-information request.

Ontario isn’t the only province challenging the federal government’s ability to push those initiatives forward: in British Columbia, where efforts by Indigenous nations to establish Indigenous Protected Areas are really taking off, the provincial government has at times been hesitant to participate, saying they’re a federal initiative. But a lack of provincial recognition can limit the amount of protection an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area might receive. 

The federal briefing document doesn’t specify when Rickford raised issues about Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas, nor does it say whether his concerns were directed at any projects in particular. Rickford’s office didn’t respond to questions from The Narwhal. Environment and Climate Change Canada wasn’t able to answer by deadline.

One potential tension point is the federal government’s support for a proposal from Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug First Nation. Located in Ontario’s Far North, the nation is near the Ring of Fire, a region the provincial government is seeking to turn into a mining hotspot. Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug issued a watershed declaration in 2011 to protect the Fawn River Watershed under their knowledge and authority, and in 2019 the federal government contributed funding to help the community establish an Indigenous Protected Area there.

It’s not clear what impact, if any, the presence of an Indigenous Protected Area could have on the province’s mining plans.

Gitxsan youth Hailey Wilson dips her hand in water
Provinces often fail to abide by Indigenous jurisdiction

The other Indigenous-led conservation projects the federal government is funding in Ontario are spearheaded by Shawanaga First Nation on Georgian Bay, Moose Cree First Nation on the North French River watershed and Grassy Narrows First Nation in northwestern Ontario.

When the federal government first announced the funding in 2019, Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources said that it had not recommended any of the sites for protection. In response, Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug Chief Donny Morris said Ontario was “not making an effort” to come to the table.

The federal briefing document included suggested lines for Hannaford to say if the issue came up during the meeting.

“I recognize [Ontario’s] concerns regarding the role of provinces in establishing Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas,” the suggested lines read.

“[Environment and Climate Change Canada] leads Canada’s work on protected areas, including IPCAs, and I encourage your department to keep working with [Environment and Climate Change Canada] on this initiative.”

An excerpt of a document which reads: "I recognize ON's concerns regarding the role of provinces in establishing Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas"
An excerpt from a Natural Resources Canada briefing note, obtained by The Narwhal through an access-to-information request. These lines are included in a list of suggested responses for a federal deputy minister to use if the issue of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas were to come up during a meeting with a representative of the Ontario government. 

A number of Indigenous Protected and Conserved Areas already exist in different provinces under the laws of various Indigenous nations. However, Canada’s federal and provincial governments often do not respect Indigenous jurisdiction. 

In Ontario, for example, Grassy Narrows First Nation declared in 2018 that the entirety of its territory is an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area, and forbade mining and industrial activity there. Even so, the Ontario government has allowed a rush of mining claims there in the years since.

“Ontario refuses to come to the table about Grassy Narrows’ Indigenous Protected Area and instead they continue to give out mining claims and to propose industrial logging on the area that is sacred to us and supports our way of life.”

“I have been trying to get Ontario to deal seriously with Grassy Narrows on issues of land protection and control for over 15 years and they still refuse to deal with this meaningfully,” Grassy Narrows land negotiator Joseph Fobister wrote in an emailed statement to The Narwhal.

Kaska Dena Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area: snow-capped mountains behind a pristine mountain lake
The proposed Kaska Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area in Kaska Dena traditional territory, in B.C. Photo: Maureen Garrity

A similar situation is playing out in Saskatchewan, where the Métis community of Île-à-la-Crosse is making a federally funded effort to establish an Indigenous Protected and Conserved Area called Sakitawak, but the provincial government is not on board.

Although the federal government is making efforts to focus on Indigenous-led conservation, it’s limited in how much it can do if there isn’t provincial support. Proposals for Indigenous Protected and Conserved areas tend to be outside the boundaries of federally designated First Nations reserve lands. Instead, they encompass larger homelands, located in areas the provincial governments assert are Crown land, subject to their treaty obligations. The federal government can provide funding to help Indigenous communities advance conservation projects, or even to buy Crown land from provinces, but can’t unilaterally approve protected areas there.

Last year, Environment and Climate Change Canada told The Narwhal that if there are conservation disagreements between levels of government, provinces and territories “maintain their jurisdictional authority.”

January 13, 2021


Opposition to Imperial Metals Mining permit in the Skagit Watershed

NationTalk – An international coalition of more than 200 conservation, recreation and wildlife groups as well as local elected officials, businesses and Tribes and First Nations opposing a pending mining permit by Imperial Metals in the headwaters of the Skagit River continues to grow.

  • Letter to British Columbia Premier John Horgan signed by 108 U.S. stakeholders including conservation, recreation and wildlife groups as well as elected officials and local businesses
  • Letter to George Heyman, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy signed by 9 Canadian conservation and recreation organizations and leaders
  • Letter to Katrine Conroy, Minister of Forests, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development signed by 9 Canadian conservation and recreation organizations and leaders.

“The potential impacts to two of the most beloved Canadian parks and to downstream values in Washington State are both unacceptable and unnecessary.”

The Skagit Watershed is also critical to the health and well-being of the region’s residents and local recreation-based economies. The current mining and logging threats are located in a “donut hole” shaped area sandwiched between Manning and Skagit Provincial Parks. Both parks and other recreational destinations are major outdoor recreation destinations just a day trip from the greater Vancouver metro area and draw more than a million visitors each year. The proposed mining activities include creating access roads, conducting surface exploration drilling with associated water supply and catchment sumps, and mechanical trenching over a five-year period of continued disturbance.

“After a century of blasting, drilling and tunneling to find a workable mine with no luck whatsoever- it’s time for British Columbia to extinguish Imperial Metals’ mineral tenure in the Skagit Headwaters Donut Hole and then, with First Nations, protect the place,” said Joe Foy, Protected Areas Campaigner, Wilderness Committee. “BC must also enforce an Imperial Metals cleanup of the site, which is strewn with a hundred years worth of garbage, waste rock and mine drainage left behind by years of fruitless exploration.” –

The company proposing to mine in an unprotected area of the Skagit Headwaters, Imperial Metals, was responsible for the infamous Mount Polley mine disaster of 2014, which spilled more than 24 million cubic meters of wastewater laden with arsenic, lead, selenium and copper into the Fraser River watershed, one of the biggest environmental disasters in Canadian history. More than five years later, no charges or fines have been filed against Imperial Metals.

The Skagit Watershed is a transboundary issue. Potential mining would impact recreational and economic benefits on the Canadian side of the border as well as fisheries and water quality benefits as the Skagit River flows through Washington State, winding through the scenic North Cascades National Park, the Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest and through the renowned Skagit River Valley before reaching the Puget Sound. The Skagit River provides one third of the freshwater inputs to the Puget Sound and supports the largest populations of threatened steelhead and chinook salmon in the Puget Sound and the largest run of chum salmon in the conterminous U.S.

February 4, 2023

BC, Fed. Govt.

Pacific Coast Indigenous nations see a glimmer of hope for the future of salmon

Habitat loss decimated salmon populations. Indigenous communities are working to bring them back

Many Indigenous nations have carried a deep spiritual connection with salmon but threats like habitat loss, climate change and human development from hydroelectric dams and fish farms have decimated salmon numbers. (CBC)

CBC News: Brook Thompson grew up along the shores of the Klamath River in Northern California, where her family would spend their summers camping and catching salmon.  “It’s where I got a lot of connection about my culture and my family history,” said Thompson, 27, a member of the Yurok and Karuk tribes, to Unreserved host Rosanna Deerchild.

The Klamath River, which flows from Oregon through Northern California and is part of the Yurok and Karuk traditional territory, once provided a bountiful supply of salmon in its cool, clear waters. But since 1918, salmon populations along the river have been declining and habitats have disappeared as six hydroelectric dams were built.

In 2002, when Thompson was seven, she witnessed the most devastating fish kill in the history of her people. According to a report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 34,000 salmon died. The cause of death was a parasite able to spread through the warm, stagnant water, due in large part to the low flow from a nearby dam.

“I remember specifically holding my mom’s hand and walking along the rocky shore of the Klamath River by the mouth, and just seeing piles and piles of dead salmon lining the shore,” Thompson said. “I didn’t understand why all these beings had to die and how they could be alive the day before and dead the next morning.”

Along the Pacific Coast of Turtle Island, many Indigenous nations carry a deep spiritual connection with salmon they share territory with. Many call themselves the salmon people. But threats like habitat loss, climate change and human development from hydroelectric dams and fish farms have meant salmon are disappearing from the waters. 

Indigenous nations say the loss of salmon has led to the loss of spirit, culture and overall health of their people. But as salmon continue to shimmer through the routes their ancestors once swam, the Pacific salmon people have a glimmer of hope. 

That’s because efforts are underway from parts of British Columbia down to Northern California, where Indigenous people are working to rebuild habitats and remove human development so the salmon might be saved for future generations of people and fish alike. “It’s not only about having the salmon, it’s about teaching the Indigenous values and what it means to be a tribal member,” said Thompson.

Hard-fought victories

There are five species of Pacific salmon — Chinook, Chum, Coho, Pink and Sockeye — and it’s estimated that Salmon stocks in almost all areas are at historic lows. In B.C., former fisheries minister Bernadette Jordan said last year that some stocks are seeing up to 90 per cent declines.

But the shíshálh First Nation along the Sunshine Coast in B.C. is celebrating a recent victory for their people and the salmon. 

Studies have found migratory salmon are exposed to higher rates of pathogens near fish farms than anywhere else along their route. Fish farms are seen here off Discovery Island, B.C. (Pacific Salmon Foundation)

In November, fish farm giant Grieg Seafood announced its two remaining salmon farms in the shíshálh territory would be decommissioned this winter. 

The announcement came after the First Nation, with provincial assistance, decided not to renew their operating license. In 2019, B.C. became the first province to implement the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which requires governments to obtain free, prior and informed consent before taking actions that affect Indigenous Peoples and their lands. “It is actually quite remarkable for us because we’ve been saying it all the way along that we weren’t consulted,” said hiwus (Chief) Warren Paull of shíshálh First Nation.

Fish farms in B.C. waters have long been linked to the spread of pathogens among wild fish, including salmon. Studies in 2011 and 2017 also found young sockeye salmon from B.C.’s Fraser watershed are infected with higher levels of lice after swimming past sea farms. Young salmon infected with parasitic lice grow more slowly, which makes them more vulnerable.

Paull said fish farms aren’t all to blame, but the farms add to the cumulative effects salmon are facing from climate change and oxygen depletion in the ocean. And he worries about the orca, eagles, bears, coyotes and wolves who also rely on the salmon to live. 

A human hand holds a glass container with a tiny fish inside
Juvenile wild salmon sampled this spring by the Cedar Coast Field Station on Vargas Island, B.C., have had sea lice infestations. (Mack Bartlett)

“The net detrimental effect is pretty devastating and affects the whole cycle of life.” 

Moving forward with the removal of the commercial fish farms from their territory is one less obstacle for the salmon, but Paull says more work will need to be done to bring back the population. “We want to pass this on to the next generation, the generation beyond that and the generation that hasn’t yet to be born. We want to make sure it’s in as good a shape as we got it,” he said.

‘If there’s no salmon, then life is not fully life’

In southwestern B.C., people are restoring inland salmon tributaries. 

In the fall of 2021, Kerrie Charnley took part in a four-day trip to help with rebuilding streams and planting native flora of the Upper Pitt River that had been decimated from a B.C. Hydro dam in the Alouette River, which is a tributary to the Pitt River. Katzie First Nation led the restoration project in partnership with World Wildlife Fund Canada. 

Kerrie Charnley standing beside Upper Pitt River
In the fall of 2021, Kerrie Charnley, a member of Katzie First Nation, took part in a project to restore the Upper Pitt River. (Kerrie Charnley)

“As West Coast Indigenous people eating the salmon, they’ve had an impact on our DNA,” Charnley said. “It’s such an intimate connection and reciprocal with the salmon.”

The Pitt River is a large tributary home to all five species of Pacific salmon, according to World Wildlife Fund Canada. It feeds into the mighty Fraser River — the longest in the province. 

Before Charnley arrived, someone else had already carved out the riverbed with machinery to create tributaries for the salmon to come spawn. It was sunny out, and Charnley noticed some flickers on the water.

“There were little fish in there, and the biologist who was with us confirmed that, yes, they were salmon, and we were just like, ‘how did these salmon get there already’?”  She said the restoration project was a transformative experience. “When I think about those baby salmon in that puddle, I think we need to protect and take care of the environment for them,” said Charnley.

“If there’s no salmon, then life is not fully life.”

Tearing down the dams

For Thompson, in Northern California, the 2002 fish kill was a turning point in her life, she said. 

She studied engineering, public policy and environmental studies to bring Indigenous knowledge into those sectors to inform engineering and infrastructure development.  “People don’t want to see the complexity of the damage that these dams can cause just because they’re considered a renewable resource,” she said. 

After the fish kill, several tribes along the Klamath River began the fight to have the dams removed. In November, the U.S. Federal Regulatory Energy Commission approved the removal of four of the six hydroelectric dams along the Klamath River — it will be the largest dam removal and salmon restoration project in history.

It will return the lower half the river to a free-flowing state for the first time in more than a century, according to the Associated Press. “[It’s] something people have been fighting for over the last 20-plus years,” Thompson said.

She recalled what one of her uncle’s grandmother’s used to tell him: that the best salmon you can ever have is the one you never taste. It’s the salmon that you give away to an Elder, or to someone who can’t catch it themselves, and watching their joy as they eat it. “And I want my kids and my grandkids to experience that same feeling of joy,” she said. 

A woman with long dark hair holds a large fish
Thompson, a member of the Yurok and Karuk Tribes in California, holding a salmon caught from the Klamath River. (Brook Thompson)

Rhiannon Johnson

Rhiannon Johnson is an Anishinaabe journalist from Hiawatha First Nation based in Toronto. She has been with CBC since 2017 focusing on Indigenous life and experiences. 

June 23, 2022

BC, Fed. Govt.

Protesters Ordered to Remove Illegal Camp and Respect Indigenous Sovereignty and Provincial Authorizations

Nitinaht, Traditional Ditidaht First Nation Territory, B.C. – Indigenous leaders from the Ditidaht, Huu-ay-aht and Pacheedaht First Nations met with protesters today to give final notice to immediately dismantle an illegal camp built across a main logging road on Ditidaht Traditional Territory in Tree Farm Licence (TFL) 44 on Vancouver Island. The Nations’ elected and hereditary chiefs were supported by the Ditidaht Ts’aa7ukw and C̕awak ʔqin Witwak Guardians, and C̕awak ʔqin Forestry personnel, and accompanied by B.C. government representatives and the RCMP.

This formal request by the Ditidaht elected and hereditary Chiefs, fully supported by the elected and hereditary leadership of Huu-ay-aht and Pacheedaht Nations as well as C̕awak ʔqin Forestry, follows several unsuccessful but peaceful attempts by Ditidaht to have the illegal camp removed. The camp was built without the free, prior and informed consent of the Ditidaht Nation’s elected and hereditary leadership and violates both traditional Indigenous and provincial laws. It also infringes on the legal decision-making authority and sovereignty of the three Nations within their Ḥaḥahuułi (Traditional Territories) and TFL 44, and the rights granted to C̕awak ʔqin Forestry under provincial tenures and permits.

“As Indigenous governments, it is our responsibility to decide what is best for our lands, our waters, our resources, and the wellbeing of present and future generations,” said Ditidaht Chief Councillor Brian Tate. “The unauthorized encampment disrespects our right to walk with pride between the traditional and modern worlds, to protect our culture and to explore economic opportunities for the common good and benefit.”

“Over the past year, we have set a clear, inclusive path forward for sustainable forest management within our territories, from deferring old-growth harvesting to a new Indigenous-led integrated resource management planning (IRMP) approach, to sustainable development, to investing in a climate positive future,” said Huu-ay-aht Chief Councillor Robert J. Dennis Sr. “It is time to respect our constitutionally protected Aboriginal Title, Aboriginal Rights and Treaty Rights so that we can focus on these win-win stewardship solutions to heal our lands, our waters and our people for the benefit of our current and future generations. This work will take time and we ask that the protesters, their organizers and their funders give us the time and space to achieve these goals.”

The illegal camp impedes lawful forest operations managed by C̕awak ʔqin Forestry and permitted by the Province of B.C. under the Forest Act on TFL 44, which also covers portions of the Ḥahahuułi of the Ditidaht, Huu-ay-aht and Pacheedaht First Nations. C̕awak ʔqin Forestry is a limited partnership between Huumiis Ventures Limited Partnership (wholly owned by Huu-ay-aht First Nations) and Western Forest Products Inc. Forestry operations in TFL 44 support employees, contractors, customers and local communities, and the company is committed to world-leading forestry initiatives, as detailed in the recently released fact sheet.

C̕awak ʔqin means ‘we are one’ in the traditional Nuu-chah-nulth language: we work and speak as one, and respect the interconnectedness between the people, the water, the salmon, and the animals.

“Too often we are the last to benefit from what is taken out and the last to be asked what must be put back in – that ends now,” said Pacheedaht Chief Councillor Jeff Jones. “Today we speak as one, and Ditidaht orders these activists to shut down the camp, set aside their self-interest and instead acknowledge that our Nations won’t be guided by the actions of a few but rather by our sacred principles ʔiisaak (Utmost Respect), ʔuuʔałuk (Taking Care of), and Hišuk ma c̕awak (Everything is Connected) and by our responsibilities to our future generations.”

The three Nations also provided a Declaration Notice to the protestors today, putting all visitors to the Ḥaḥahuułi on notice that they must acknowledge and respect Indigenous sovereignty, governance and stewardship responsibilities, and not interfere with forest operations authorized by the B.C. Government under the Forest Act. Equally, all visitors must not interfere with peaceful, legal protests that do not disrupt legally authorized forest operations.

January 31, 2019


Redwater Energy avoids liability for orphaned wells

Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) – Supreme Court of Canada decision 2019 SCC 5 ruled in favour of the AER and Orphan Well Association’s (OWA’s) appeal of the Redwater decision. From the May 2016 Redwater decision until January 30, 2019, receivers and trustees involved in 28 insolvencies renounced their interest in more than 10 000 AER-licensed sites (wells, facilities, and pipelines) with deemed liabilities of almost $335 million. In that same period, the OWA’s inventory of wells increased more than 300 per cent from 768 to 3100.

We recognize that funds are limited in many insolvency cases and that there may not be enough to fully address all end-of-life obligations, which reinforces the need for further changes. To address this, we are currently working on an improved liability management framework that we believe will strengthen our existing system.

December 30, 2018


Redwater Energy avoids liability for orphaned wells

Macleans -Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act: requires owners of contaminated land – including oil and gas sites – seeking remediation certificates to report “new information” as well as meet specific timelines and instructions to remediate land and prevent future adverse effects.

July 4, 2017


Redwater Energy avoids liability for orphaned wells

Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) – The May 19, 2016, decision by the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta in the matter of Redwater Energy Corp. allows receivers and trustees to disclaim Alberta Energy Regulator licensed assets and avoid their abandonment and reclamation obligations. Disclaiming unprofitable sites allows a company to reap the benefits of producing Alberta’s natural resources while avoiding the costs to repair the land, permanently impacting the environment, the economy, and the safety of Albertans.

The majority decision of the Court of Appeal of Alberta upheld this decision. In the 13 months since the decision, about 1 000 AER-licensed sites have been disclaimed with estimated liabilities of more than $56 million, and the Orphan Well Association’s inventory has more than doubled from almost 1 200 to more than 3 200. The decision has resulted in an unacceptable risk to Albertans, presents an environmental risk across Canada and all industry sectors, and undermines the foundation with which oil and gas licenses are issued.
The Court of Appeal decision is being appealed to the Supreme Court.

June 5, 2020


Suspension of Environmental Monitoring in Oil Sands

Three First Nations in northeast Alberta – Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Fort McKay First Nation and Mikisew Cree First Nation – have jointly filed an appeal related to recent Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) decisions to suspend key aspects of environmental monitoring in the oil sands. The First Nations were not consulted on decisions that clearly impact Alberta Energy Regulator’s (AER) ability to identify and mitigate these impacts in traditional territories.

These suspensions affect water, air, wildlife, and groundwater monitoring, including a joint air monitoring program with the Fort McKay First Nation, a community surrounded by oil sands and vulnerable to air quality impacts. Meanwhile, production continues with no clear oversight into the impacts on health and the environment or end date established for many suspensions.

“A significant part of our concern is the lack of due process. Industry should not be able to petition its own regulator to relax approval conditions with virtually no oversight. This industry needs to maintain its pursuit of ethical oil. This is not how you do it,” stated Archie Waquan, Chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation “The decisions to suspend environmental monitoring were made unilaterally. We were not notified—in fact, we would have had no idea this had occurred if it had not been revealed in the press,” stated Mel Grandjamb, Chief of Fort McKay First Nation. Consultation would have enabled us to inform the regulator how its monitoring decisions impact our Nations. Both we and the industry would have been better served by the clarity that consultation would have contributed to these decisions.”

In the days leading up to these decisions, our representatives sat with AER, government and industry representatives to provide oversight to environmental monitoring programs under the Oil Sands Monitoring Program. The fact AER did not mention once it was considering suspending monitoring, some of which may overlap with program work, is very disappointing. This neglect does not encourage reconciliation.
In March, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers requested that the federal government relax several regulatory and policy activities, including an indefinite suspension of all consultation with industry to develop new environmental policies. At the same time, industry has lobbied the provincial government to resume consultation with Indigenous communities to advance projects despite the closure of our communities due to COVID-19 pandemic responses.

April 6, 2020


Suspension of Environmental Monitoring in Oil Sands

Canadian Manufacturing – The Alberta Government has suspended all environmental reporting requirements for industry under emergency powers the province has enacted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The move effectively suspends environmental regulation in the province. Later, on May 6, 2020, the Alberta Energy Regulator suspended a wide array of environmental monitoring requirements for oil sands companies over public-health concerns raised by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Imperial Oil, Suncor, Syncrude and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. don’t have to perform much of the testing and monitoring originally required in their licences.The regulator says some programs are to resume by the end of September, but most have no restart date.

The latest exemptions specifically relieve operators of the following:

  • Monitoring most ground and surface water, unless it enters the environment
  • almost all wildlife and bird monitoring is suspended
  • Air-quality programs, including one for the First Nations community of Fort McKay, have been reduced, along with many other conditions of the companies’ licences
  • Testing for leaks of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, has been suspended
  • Wetlands monitoring and research is gone until further notice
  • Water that escapes from storm ponds no longer must be tested

December 14, 2021


Tailings Pond release in Athabaska River

Fort McMurray Today – First Nation, Métis leaders raise concerns about plans to release treated tailings into Athabasca River. The federal government is developing protocols for when treated tailings water can be released into the Athabasca River. A first draft is scheduled to be finished by 2024 and a final draft will be published in 2025.

But the leaders of First Nation and Métis communities in Fort McKay and Fort Chipewyan, which are along the Athabasca River, say consultation has been limited. Many questions are about what this monitoring and treatment process will look like and any community impacts. “In order for us to accept any of this we have to see what they’re doing. We have to be working together at it. We want to be part of it. We already raised our concerns,” said Chief Peter Powder of the Mikisew Cree First Nation (MCFN) near Fort Chipewyan.

“We have to be 100 per cent sure that it’s not going to be toxic. The decisions we make today is going to affect our future generations,” he said. “When the mines close and industry leaves, our kids and their kids will live in the consequences of the decisions made today.”

Tailings are leftovers from the process separating oil from sand and clay. More than 1.4 trillion litres of tailings are kept in ponds that cover a combined area of 220 square-kilometres. The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) requires oil companies to have a tailings management plan. Companies must explain how they will restore the land within 10 years of the mine closing.

A spokesperson with Environment and Climate Change Canada said in an email that any decisions on releasing treated tailings will be based on “the best available science and Indigenous knowledge.” Industry groups like the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) insist any treated tailings water released into the Athabasca River “will meet release criteria set to protect the environment and human health.”
But First Nation and Métis leaders are skeptical about how this process is unfolding. Ron Quintal, president of Fort McKay Métis Nation, said impacted Indigenous communities must have a leadership role in developing and implementing any policies after thorough consultation.

“The Indigenous people of this region are the land-users, and you look at destruction of land and release of water back into the environment it’s obviously something of great concern to us,” he said. “The federal government, while they’re pushing this initiative forward, need to take a very long look at this in terms of not just Indigenous consultation, but Indigenous buy-in.

“We strongly support the cleaning of tailings ponds, but we don’t want the clean-up of tailings ponds to mean that we are creating environmental impacts in the Athabasca River and downstream,” said Bori Arrobo, director of sustainability with the Fort McKay First Nation. “We don’t want to swap one environmental liability with another one.”

November 2, 2022

BC, Fed. Govt.

Tensions rise as Coastal GasLink blasts a creek near a Wet’suwet’en camp

Questions and concerns about salmon, steelhead and the health of the river remain unaddressed as TC Energy continues construction of its gas pipeline

The Coastal GasLink pipeline crosses more than 700 watercourses on its 670-kilometre-route. The crossing of Ts’elkay Kwe (Lamprey Creek) involves blasting to clear a path and excavating a trench directly through the water.

The Narwhal: Less than one kilometre from a Wet’suwet’en camp and village site, where cabins, tiny homes and a feast hall provide space for ceremony, cultural practices and opportunities to reconnect with the land, is a vast muddy clearing, guarded by private security workers. 

Here, the path of the Coastal GasLink pipeline crosses Ts’elkay Kwe (Lamprey Creek), a tributary of Wedzin Kwa (Morice River). This work requires digging a trench right through the creek to bury the pipe under it.

Ts’elkay Kwe is a known spawning channel for steelhead trout and other species, including coho salmon, according to a 2007 land-use plan. But steelhead and salmon throughout the watershed are in decline, in part due to widespread clearcut logging and climate change.

“I always refer to it as home,” Gaylene Morris, a member of Likhsamasyu Clan, Misdze Yikh (Owl House), told The Narwhal in an interview. “A lot of people don’t understand what I mean by that but my grandfather raised us out there — everything we know and everything that we’ve ever been taught was out there.”

Late last week, Morris rushed out to the territory after hearing word about work being done at the crossing of Ts’elkay Kwe and suspicion that it included the use of explosives.

She said security blocked access to the worksite and threatened her with arrest, refusing to allow her to speak to Coastal GasLink construction personnel or provide any information about the work that was being done. She stood her ground and with the support of two other land defenders, started filming.

RCMP and land defenders
Gaylene Morris (centre), a member of Likhsamasyu Clan, Misdze Yikh (Owl House), pictured earlier this year speaking to members of the RCMP’s Community-Industry Response Group. Morris regularly checks on Coastal GasLink’s work on the territory. Photo: Matt Simmons / The Narwhal

At first, she didn’t know what was going on and her demands for answers just garnered the same response, she said: you’re in contempt of the injunction and subject to arrest. The standoff — in wet, cold conditions — went on for hours, according to Morris. At one point, she was walking towards her car when she said she felt something under her feet.

“I was like what was that? I just seen all of this dust, I guess, in the air and it looked like it could have been clouds but it was actually dust and I said, ‘Are you guys fucking blasting while we’re here and you’re not even telling us?!’ And then all of the crew started laughing and everybody was like, ‘Oh, we did it already. Now you can go home.’ ”

Coastal GasLink blasting ‘felt like a torpedo’

In an online notification posted to the Coastal GasLink website late last year, the company noted blasting activities would not occur within one kilometre of a permanent residence. The Gidimt’en camp, or village site, has a registered civic address and includes a two-story cabin belonging to Dinï ze’ Woos, whose house territory is directly impacted by the project. It is about 800 metres from where the blasting occurred.

But the company never directly told those at Gidimt’en camp, according to Morris. Signs that said “danger blasting zone fall out” were hammered to trees in the woods behind the collection of cabins and wall tents. Those at the camp were not told any specific details about the timing of the blasting, Morris said. 

Snowy forested trail with signs on trees noting "danger blasting zone fall out"
Signs were posted on a trail but Coastal GasLink didn’t provide those at the camp any details about when the blasting would be done, according to Gaylene Morris. Photo: Gidimt’en Checkpoint 

“When the blast actually happened, it was so surprising to me that I didn’t even know what to do,” Morris said. “It felt like a torpedo went under me, under the ground. It was just like a series of pops, and before you hear that popping I felt it just go flying right under me.”

She said she got tobacco and held it as she helplessly watched the events unfold.

“For me, it was more of like feeling like I…” she trailed off, finding it hard to find the words. “I don’t know how to explain it, like I’ve let my role as a caretaker of the land down, because I know in this realm my grandfather’s not here, but it’s almost like a feeling of defeat, like the things that you’ve taught me, I haven’t been able to do.”

She said she held the tobacco and asked the ancestors to help her stay strong. 

“I take things very hard at times and so it was a really hard place to be and then when the blast had happened, it was a lot of anxiety — like a lot of anxiety. I couldn’t stop these people. It didn’t matter what I did. I felt like I had done my own little part for the two hours of holding them off but that physical part in my body, I could feel the anxiety and I felt sick.”

“Lamprey is completely gone.”

Coastal GasLink work at Ts’elkay Kwe (Lamprey Creek)
Coastal GasLink work at Ts’elkay Kwe (Lamprey Creek)
“I know in this realm my grandfather’s not here, but it’s almost like a feeling of defeat, like the things that you’ve taught me, I haven’t been able to do,” Gaylene Morris said of watching Coastal GasLink blast at the creek. Photos: Photo: Gidimt’en Checkpoint 

TC Energy told The Narwhal about blasting activities in an emailed statement sent a few days before Morris was blocked access to the territory.

“Controlled blasting activities are underway by Lamprey Creek in Section 7 of the project route as part of ongoing clearing and grading activities,” a spokesperson with TC Energy told The Narwhal in an email. 

“Neighbouring communities were previously notified of these activities as part of our general blasting notification. As you noticed, local notification was also provided around the work area in advance of activities.”

Coastal GasLink construction crossing Wet’suwet’en river not part of B.C. compliance agreement

The $11.2 billion pipeline, owned by Calgary-based TC Energy, is being built to connect fracked gas sources in B.C.’s northeast to the LNG Canada liquefaction and export facility currently under construction in Kitimat. Rising tensions are fuelled by distrust and a lack of answers about what is being done to ensure species like steelhead and salmon aren’t negatively impacted. An increase in police surveillance and industry security also has people on edge.

The pipeline project, which cuts a swath through the heart of the 22,000-square-kilometre territory, did not receive Free, Prior and Informed Consent from the Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs. Instead, TC Energy and the provincial government signed benefit agreements with five of six band councils, as well as 15 other First Nations governments along the pipeline route.

As The Narwhal recently reported, Coastal GasLink is pushing its pipeline under the river at the riskiest time for salmon. Chinook and sockeye, both declining populations, are wrapping up their annual spawning and their fertilized eggs now line the gravelly riverbed, including at and downstream of the site where the pipeline is crossing the river. The company is also working directly in many of the river’s tributaries and drawing water from the river, creeks and lakes to conduct its work.

A misty river near Unist'ot'en camp in Wet'suwet'en territory
The Wedzin Kwa (Morice River) is home to steelhead trout and chinook, coho, sockeye and pink salmon. Photo: Amber Bracken / The Narwhal

The project has a lengthy track record of environmental infractions that goes back to the beginning of construction. Inspectors with B.C.’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy flagged numerous violations including attracting wildlife by leaving garbage out at workcamps, improper signage at sensitive ecosystems, logging an endangered tree species without collecting its seeds, not following prescribed mitigation plans and more.  

B.C.’s environmental assessment office told The Narwhal the project is unique because it includes more than 700 waterway crossings and noted it has escalated enforcement and expanded inspections in response to “continued issues of non-compliance.”

“We have done multiple inspections this year along the entire length of the pipeline, by both helicopter and ground, and found ongoing concerns — in particular with erosion and sediment control that could impact sensitive fish habitat,” a spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement. 

“As part of our escalating enforcement action, we entered into a compliance agreement with [Coastal GasLink] in July that requires the company to take more stringent measures to protect waterways from erosion and sediment in all areas of new construction.”

However, that compliance agreement excludes any areas where the company had already broken ground — more than half of the 670-kilometre long footprint. For example, the agreement does not cover the work to drill and lay pipe under Wedzin Kwa. Nor does it cover the in-stream crossing of Ts’elkay Kwe.

“Newly opened and exposed ground have the greatest risk for erosion and sediment control concerns,” the spokesperson said when asked in one of several follow-up emails why significant sections like the river crossing are excluded. “The remainder of the project is still subject to the environmental management plan required by the environmental assessment certificate, including erosion and sediment control mitigation measures.”

Under the terms of the agreement, the environmental assessment office issued an order to “cease construction activities in any area covered by the agreement that is not following the work execution plan [the environmental assessment office] has approved for that area.” The Tyee reported earlier this week that work has since resumed. 

The environmental assessment office explained it uses a risk matrix to determine what action to take, ranging from warnings, stop-work orders and fines to asking the environment minister to amend, suspend or cancel a project’s environmental assessment certificate. The minister can also step in at any time. 

The company has received multiple warnings, orders and over $240,000 in fines to date.

‘It’s never one thing’

TC Energy maintains its crossing under Wedzin Kwa, which spans 800 metres at a depth of 11 metres under the riverbed, is safe.

“At Coastal GasLink, we are committed to achieving the highest standards of environmental protection during construction and for the life of the project,” the company said in an email. “We recognize that how we work close to water bodies matters to Indigenous and local communities, and it matters to us too.”

But the company did not directly answer The Narwhal’s questions about mitigation and monitoring related to salmon eggs and spawners and declined interview requests to speak with its contracted biologists. It also did not answer questions about the expertise of its employees or subcontractors overseeing the crossing itself and declined a request to tour the drill site.

“Due to active work, media visits to the site cannot be facilitated at this time,” the spokesperson wrote. 

“Coastal GasLink follows the requirements and regulations of our regulators, the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office and the Oil and Gas Commission. Please contact the appropriate authority for questions about permit requirements or compliance or for further information. Our work is fully authorized and permitted and has the unprecedented support of local and Indigenous communities across the project route. It is being completed in accordance with all permits, plans and requirements.”

Of the many permits issued through the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission, several are related to “changes in and about a stream,” including one for “gravel removal” at the Wedzin Kwa crossing. The regulator said permits are publicly available but told The Narwhal requests for further documentation about in-stream work have to be accessed through freedom of information legislation. (The Narwhal filed the requests but did not receive any further information prior to publication).

map showing BC Oil and Gas Commission permits for work in Wedzin Kwa (Morice River) including gravel removal
Permits issued by the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission related to work in the river include “gravel removal” at the location where Coastal GasLink is conducting its crossing. Map: B.C. Oil and Gas Commission

As for the crossing itself, micro-tunnelling, a method of trenchless crossing, does come with its risks, according to Coastal GasLink’s environmental management plan submitted to the environmental assessment office. Apart from the vibration, which can impact salmon eggs, there is also risk of a “frac-out,” or hydraulic fracture, where small cracks release the muddy liquid used to facilitate the drilling process. As the plan notes, “the loss of drilling mud into seams of coarse material, fissures, etc. routinely occurs during drilling operations.” While the liquid itself isn’t a problem in terms of chemical composition, in an aquatic environment it can “adversely affect fish and fish habitat,” according to the management plan.

The Narwhal requested an interview with qualified professionals about the technical and engineering aspects of the crossing but TC Energy said it was “unable to provide someone for an interview,” and referred instead to its website.

“We selected micro-tunneling as the safest and most effective crossing method with the input of subject matter experts, Indigenous communities and extensive environment and technical assessments,” the company said, adding it has completed nine of 10 major water crossings and the work under Wedzin Kwa is well underway.

The environmental assessment office agreed with the company’s assurance of safety.

“Using the best available science and information, the environmental assessment office did assess the potential for effects from drilling under the river. It was determined that there would be no significant impacts to salmon spawning.” 

It added its compliance officers will continue to conduct “spot inspections along the entire length of the pipeline route on an ongoing basis to ensure compliance with the agreement and with the requirements of the environmental assessment certificate.” Those inspections will include the drill site.

Michael Price, a fisheries biologist working with the Office of the Wet’suwet’en on a federally supported sockeye rebuilding plan, said concerns about the pipeline’s impacts to salmon need to be looked at with a view that includes everything that has changed the land and water over decades.

Map showing clearcut logging in the Wedzin Kwa watershed
The Wedzin Kwa watershed has been subject to extensive clearcut logging. Each blue dot shown here represents a permit issued by the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission for “changes in and about a stream” which includes the construction, maintenance and removal of watercourse crossings. Map: B.C. Oil and Gas Commission

“For salmon populations and species throughout the coast, it’s never one thing — it hasn’t been one action that led to the diminished state of wild salmon populations across British Columbia,” he told The Narwhal in an interview. “It’s always the collective action. It’s ‘death by 1,000 cuts.’ I know it’s a corny term, but it’s so true.”

While pockets of intact forest remain, the entire watershed is deeply impacted by a long history of logging and other development, such as clearing land for farming and ranching.

At the river level, Price said the company might be meeting the requirements of B.C.’s environmental conditions, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be impacts to the ecosystem and the species relying on it.

“They provide a buffer of trees right adjacent to the river,” he said, adding that it’s not enough, considering there is an extensive areaupslope of that where the trees have been removed. During heavy rains, he said, sediment from those logged areas will go “undoubtedly into the river.”

For Morris, the feeling of seeing her home violently and irrevocably altered is overwhelming.

“I just … I don’t know, I just was devastated by it. I cried a lot.”

March 4, 2021


The Narwhal – Response to the Milburn review

The Narwhal as flagged the following as major problems:

  • 50 per cent of the $5B increase to $16B in project costs are due to geotechnical issues relating to the unstable valley prone to large landslides and the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • But the other 50 per cent of the cost increase was not revealed. Every single independent look has concluded that we don’t need the energy, even with the electrification of the province

Judith Sayers, Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council president and a board member of Clean Energy BC, said clean energy projects led by First Nations would create far more long-term jobs than the Site C dam. “When Site C is up and running it’s 25 measly jobs and right now, those 4,000-odd workers that they’re talking about, a lot of them come from out of province. They just have work for a few years and then they’re gone.”

Sayers pointed to the B.C. Indigenous Clean Energy Initiative, which she said has created 1,089 jobs over the past six years with approximately $3 million in annual federal and provincial funding. That work involves installing heat pumps, solar, geothermal and other climate-friendly projects in First Nations communities.
In the process, 418,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions have been prevented and almost $2 million has been saved in annual energy bills, Sayers said. “This is only one small fund.”

Many First Nations communities had plans for larger clean energy projects, including wind and run of river hydro projects, that would produce energy for the grid. But those long-term projects, in every area of the province, have been mothballed due to the Site C dam, Sayers said.

Another wildcard is the landmark Treaty Rights case brought by West Moberly First Nations, alleging that the Site C dam and two previous dams on the Peace River constitute an unjustifiable infringement of Treaty Rights. The trial begins in March 2022 and is expected to last about six months.

January 4, 2023

AB, BC, Fed. Govt., MB, NB, NL, NS, NT, NU, ON, PE, QC, SK, YT

The Sacred Balance: Learning from Indigenous Peoples

We are no more removed from nature than any other creature, even in the midst of a large city. Our animal nature dictates our essential needs: clean air, clean water, clean soil, clean energy.

Queen Charlotte Islands in Haida Gwaii. Credit: Murray Foubister / Wikimedia Commons

NationTalk: Rabble.ca. David Suzikii

The following is adapted from the prologue to the 25th anniversary edition of The Sacred Balance: Rediscovering Our Place in Nature (Greystone Books), released in December.

As host of the long-running television series The Nature of Things, I learned of the battle over clearcut logging on Haida Gwaii, off the coast of British Columbia, in the 1970s. For thousands of years, the islands have been home to the Haida. Forest companies had been denuding much of the islands by clearcut logging, which had generated growing opposition.

In the early 1980s, I flew to Haida Gwaii to interview loggers, forestry officials, government bureaucrats, environmentalists and Indigenous people. One of the people I interviewed was a young Haida artist named Guujaaw who had led the opposition to logging for years.

Unemployment was high in Haida communities, and logging generated desperately needed jobs. So I asked Guujaaw why he opposed the logging. He answered, “Our people have determined that Windy Bay and other areas must be left in their natural condition so that we can keep our identity and pass it on to following generations. The forests, those oceans, are what keep us as Haida people today.”

When I asked him what would happen if the logging continued and the trees were cleared, he answered simply, “If they’re logged off, we’ll probably end up the same as everyone else, I guess.”

It was a simple statement whose implications escaped me at the time. But on reflection, I realized that he had given me a glimpse into a profoundly different way of seeing the world. Guujaaw’s statement suggested that for his people, the trees, the birds, the fish, the water and wind are all parts of Haida identity.

Ever since that interview, I have been a student learning from encounters with Indigenous Peoples in many parts of the world. From Japan to Australia, Papua New Guinea, Borneo, the Kalahari, the Amazon and the Arctic, Indigenous people have expressed to me that vital need to be connected to the land. They refer to Earth as their Mother, who they say gives birth to us. Moreover, skin enfolds our bodies but does not define our limits because water, gases and heat dissipating from our bodies radiate outward, joining us to the world around us. What I have learned is a perspective that we are an inseparable part of a community of organisms that are our kin.

With this realization, I also saw that environmentalists like me had been framing the issue improperly. There is no environment “out there” that is separate from us. We can’t manage our impact on the environment if we are our surroundings. Indigenous people are absolutely correct: we are born of the Earth and constructed from the four sacred elements of earth, air, fire and water. (Hindus add a fifth element, space.)

Once I had finally understood the truth of these ancient wisdoms, I also realized that we are intimately fused to our surroundings and the notion of separateness or isolation is an illusion. Through reading I came to understand that science reaffirms the profundity of these ancient truths over and over again.

We are no more removed from nature than any other creature, even in the midst of a large city. Our animal nature dictates our essential needs: clean air, clean water, clean soil, clean energy. This led me to another insight, that these four “sacred elements” are created, cleansed and renewed by the web of life itself. If there is to be a fifth sacred element, it is biodiversity itself. And whatever we do to these elements, we do directly to ourselves.

At the most basic level, we require the five sacred elements to live rich, full lives. But when those basic necessities are met, a new set of needs arises. We are social animals, and the most profound force shaping our humanity is love. And when that vital social requirement is fulfilled, then a new level of spiritual needs arises as an urgent priority. This is how I made the fundamental re-examination of our relationship with Earth that led to The Sacred Balance.

The challenge of this millennium is to recognize what we need to live rich, rewarding lives without undermining the very elements that ensure them.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation.

Learn more at davidsuzuki.org.

April 26, 2023

To Protect Water, Bring Together Indigenous and Western Knowledge: U of G Expert Report

NationTalk: To restore and protect vulnerable freshwater systems in North America, start by interweaving Indigenous and Western values, worldviews and knowledge systems.

So says a comprehensive report by University of Guelph researchers released last month by the Global Commission on the Economics of Water (GCEW) urging collaboration and braiding of viewpoints in looking after threatened water systems.

“Freshwater ecosystems are being degraded around the world,” said Dr. Andrea Bradford, a water resources engineering professor in the School of Engineering. Beyond academic expertise alone, she said, protecting those systems requires Indigenous knowledge and voices. “Indigenous Peoples have a lot to offer in terms of worldviews and values that would inform different academic disciplines.”

Added Samantha Mehltretter, a PhD candidate in the School of Engineering and the report’s first author: “Our purely Western lens is not working.”

The report, called “Indigenous and Western Knowledge: Bringing Diverse Understandings of Water Together in Practice,” was written by researchers in the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences, the Ontario Agricultural College and the College of Arts. Co-authors were Dr. Sheri Longboat, (Mohawk) Six Nations of the Grand River and a professor in the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development, and Dr. Brittany Luby (Anishinaabe descent) Niisaachewan Anishinaabe Nation and a professor in the Department of History.

An opportunity to weave Indigenous and Western knowledge

Longboat said the report underlines the importance of engaging with Indigenous Peoples, including many whose land and water are directly impacted by environmental issues and land use decisions. “There is a great opportunity now more than ever, and a greater need now more than ever, to bring all knowledge forward in ways that allow us to problem-solve for the future under climate change issues and global water insecurity,” said Longboat.

“There is also greater recognition of Indigenous rights and governance for stewardship of traditional lands and waters. We know that Indigenous knowledge coupled with Western science can strengthen policy-making and decision-making and ultimately improve water outcomes for a sustainable future.”

To compile what its authors call the most comprehensive survey of its kind, they reviewed nearly 150 earlier papers, government reports and other data sources on the interweaving of Western and Indigenous knowledge systems about freshwater ecosystems in North America.

Among its key recommendations, the document calls for greater Indigenous-Western collaboration, culturally appropriate projects, centring of Indigenous values and voices, and openness and humility in addressing shared water concerns.

The last point is especially important but has often been lacking in joint environmental projects, said Mehltretter, who completed an undergrad degree in water resources engineering at U of G in 2016. “Taking a humble and open approach is something that is not often done, especially among academics who go in as experts,” she said. “Indigenous Peoples are experts, too. If you don’t go in with humility, you’re starting off on the wrong foot.”

Report calls for use of ‘EAUX principles‘

To bring together knowledge systems and values, the report stresses the use of “EAUX principles” (equity, access, usability, and exchange):

  • Equity: honouring Indigenous sovereignty, often overlooked in shaping water projects
  • Access: culturally appropriate project and data management, such as adherence to the First Nations Information Governance Centre’s Ownership, Control, Access and Possession principles
  • Usability: projects that benefit Indigenous communities first
  • EXchange: reciprocity in knowledge sharing and project involvement, including communication

The report says these principles should be achieved through recognition of Indigenous rights and responsibilities; relationship-building between Indigenous and settler professionals; resources and funding that value different ways of knowing; and protection of Indigenous knowledge.

To illustrate these concepts, the authors discuss examples of braiding of knowledge systems and value, including the Great Lakes Wild Rice Initiative that brings together Anishnaabe communities and government agencies in restoration initiatives for manoomin (called wild rice in English).

Manoomin restoration, including acknowledgment of the crop’s cultural and ecological importance, has been a research focus for the report authors.

Bringing together viewpoints is important for protecting water, ecosystems and biodiversity, said Bradford. It’s also important for protecting human health, including mental health, as well as for Indigenous communities reliant on water resources for their livelihoods, she said: “We need to understand the sense of loss that Indigenous Peoples feel when these relationships are harmed.”

Stressing that the report’s recommendations for collaboration go beyond merely meeting legal requirements for consultations with First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities, she said, “We all have so much to learn about how to make space for respectful dialogue.”

The report was commissioned in spring 2022 by the Global Commission on the Economics of Water, an international group convened that year. This report and related documents are available on the GCEW website.


Dr. Andrea Bradford

Dr. Sheri Longboat

January 17, 2023


Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and Na-Cho Nyäk Dun First Nation express disappointment in the Yukon Government’s policy for the stewardship of wetlands

Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and Na-Cho Nyäk Dun are discouraged by the Yukon Government’s policy for the stewardship of wetlands, released January 10, 2023, which fails to address First Nation’s concerns.

The traditional territories of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and Na-Cho Nyäk Dun are home to some of the most vulnerable and rare wetland types in the Yukon. Despite their rarity and significance, these sensitive habitats are under constant threat from destruction. In many areas, such as the Indian River Valley, important wetland classes are already at risk of extinction, having faced relentless and unfettered devastation from mining over the last several decades. Once peatlands like bogs and fens are destroyed, these important landscapes will not return.

Wetlands perform many critical ecological functions: they purify freshwater, store carbon, control flooding and provide habitat for a wide range of wildlife, fish, and plants. Wetlands support cultural uses and activities such as hunting, trapping, and fishing. The policy for the stewardship of wetlands acknowledges the various and important benefits provided by wetlands yet fails to expeditiously protect these important ecosystems.

Yukon Government’s policy for the stewardship of wetlands has not applied a protection first approach to wetlands. Instead, while acknowledging that there exists a minimal understanding of benefits, location, type, and extent of wetlands across the Yukon, this policy allows for continued development of all wetland classes and offers minimal guidance as to when and how impacts can be avoided and/or mitigated. The protection mechanisms that are offered, remain administratively burdensome, and the process lacks effective protective measures for wetlands of special importance.

The impact of a changing climate on wetlands, and the significant role these ecosystems will play in our race against time to prevent or limit catastrophic harm from climate change, is of particular concern. Peatlands remain a major carbon storehouse, holding carbon that has accumulated over thousands of years. The destruction of carbon rich peatlands allowed under this policy, will release significant amounts of carbon into the atmosphere, further undermining our collective ability to fight climate change. The cumulative loss of these important ecosystems, and the impacts this is having on our culture and our Final Agreement rights, cannot be overstated.

The alteration and dramatic changes that occur to the landscape once wetlands have been mined alienates our citizens from our own land and interferes with our ability to exercise treaty rights for hunting, fishing, and enjoying other spiritual and cultural activities.

“Our culture is passed down onto future generations through these activities, and as we are further removed from the land, we are further removed from our culture. If we are unable to perform traditional activities that rely on the undisturbed, natural existence of wetlands, our culture and our identity may be lost forever. This is in breach of our Treaty with the Crown.”

August 17, 2022

AB, Fed. Govt.

UNESCO team in Alberta to judge if Wood Buffalo Park should go on endangered list

CityNews Everywhere Ottawa: A United Nations body that monitors some of the world’s greatest natural glories is in Canada again to assess government responses to ongoing threats to the country’s largest national park, including plans to release treated oilsands tailiBob Weber, The Canadian Press a day ago

An aerial view of Fort Chipewyan, Alta., on the border of Wood Buffalo National Park is shown on Monday, Sept. 19, 2011. A United Nations body that monitors some of the world’s greatest natural glories is in Canada again to assess government responses to ongoing threats to the country’s largest national park, including plans to release treated oilsands tailings into its watershed. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

EDMONTON — A United Nations body that monitors some of the world’s greatest natural glories is in Canada again to assess government responses to ongoing threats to the country’s largest national park, including plans to release treated oilsands tailings into its watershed.

In a series of meetings beginning Thursday, UNESCO investigators are to determine whether Wood Buffalo National Park should be on the list of World Heritage Sites In Danger — a move the agency has already deemed likely. “Canada is not delivering,” said Melody Lepine of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, which first brought concerns about the northern Alberta park to UNESCO’s attention. 

Bigger than Switzerland, Wood Buffalo is one of the world’s largest freshwater deltas and is rich in biodiversity, including nesting sites for endangered whooping cranes. Its maze of wetlands, rivers, lakes and prairie is the largest and most intact ecosystem of its type in North America.

But the park, which straddles Alberta and the Northwest Territories, is slowly drying up through a combination of climate change and upstream developments, such as British Columbia’s Site C dam. As well, research has found increasing evidence of seepage from oilsands tailings ponds into upstream ground and surface water. 

In 2017, UNESCO found 15 of 17 ecological benchmarks in the park were deteriorating and gave Canada a list of improvements required for the park to retain its status. This week’s meetings are to assess federal and provincial responses.

A report prepared for Mikisew by scientific consultant Carla Davidson credits the province for establishing buffer areas around the park and  Ottawa for water management plans within it. But the document finds little else has been done. 

  • A risk assessment for oilsands tailings ponds hasn’t begun, the report says. Sites in the oilsands region used by whooping cranes haven’t been identified. 
  • Proposals from First Nations to address knowledge gaps have been rejected. No land use plans exist. 
  • The report says provincial groups studying scientific issues have been given restrictive terms of reference.
    • For example, a group studying mine reclamation can only look at ways to treat and release effluent. Cultural impacts on local First Nations are not considered, nor are cumulative effects of separate developments. 

“Alberta has declined so far to implement most of (the recommendations),” the report says. “Instead, we see many examples of Alberta relying on the very policy instruments that have gotten the park to where it is today.”

Meanwhile, both levels of government are preparing regulations to govern the first releases of tailings into the Athabasca River. Those rules are expected in 2025. Contaminated water can be treated and released safely, says the Mining Association of Canada. In documents posted on its website, the association says tailings ponds can only be reclaimed after the water that fills them is removed.

“Oilsands operators have the demonstrated processes to treat these (contaminants) to levels that are safe for release to the environment,” it says. “After decades of work in this area trying different methods with constant improvement as the goal, industry is confident that water can be treated and safely released to the environment once regulations are established.”

But Gillian Chow-Fraser of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society said neither industry nor government have considered other ways of dealing with tailings, such as pumping the water underground.  “(Treating and releasing) isn’t actually a reclamation solution,” she said. “It is a cheap and easy way for these companies to keep producing at the same rate.”

Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault said Ottawa isn’t fixated on releasing treated tailings into the Athabasca. “This is one of the options but it’s not the only option,” he said Wednesday.  “This idea that some have put out there that the only solution is discharging into the Athabasca River — it’s not the only thing we’re looking at.” 

Alberta Environment spokeswoman Carla Jones said effluent is a long way from entering the Athabasca River.

“Treated oilsands mine waters that have been in contact with bitumen will not be released until we can definitively demonstrate, using rigorous science, that it can be done safely and that strict regulatory processes are in place to ensure the protection of human and ecological health,” she wrote in an email. 

If UNESCO places Wood Buffalo on its in danger list, it would join 52 other sites from around the world, most of which are imperilled by war or civil unrest. It has only one other site from a G7 country — Florida’s Everglades.

“Having a World Heritage Site is something we’re supposed to be really proud of,” said Chow-Fraser. “This international recognition that things are not as good as they seem here are not something to be proud of.”

Neither industry nor First Nations want permanent tailings ponds on the landscape, Lepine said. But addressing that problem and Wood Buffalo’s overall deterioration can’t be done without more resources and a wider search for solutions.

“They’re not presenting a variety of options,” she said. Lepine said a move from UNESCO might spur Canadian governments to action.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 17, 2022. 

— Follow Bob Weber on Twitter at @row1960

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press