Thank you for requesting us to come and present.
I am Chief Roland Willson from West Moberly First Nation. I am located in northeastern B.C. My nation is Dunne-za. We are the Dunne people of northeastern B.C., the heart of oil and gas, forestry, coal mining, wind farms, large hydroelectric projects, Site C dam—I hope everybody here knows what that is. Our presentation was put together really quickly to talk about the changes to Bill C-69.
Thank you for inviting us here and for considering what we have to say. Part of my presentation is the considerations that got us to this point in our territory. I know I've got 10 minutes, so I'm going to be going through this really fast.
The title of our presentation is, “Neither “Subject To, Or Inferior To, The Crown's Right” To Sustainability”. This comes out of our court case that we had with B.C. and a mining company in northeastern British Columbia. The province had proposed a mine in the area of critical wintering caribou habitat, the Burnt Pine caribou herd, which, because of that activity, is now extinct. The caribou in the North Peace are considered to be endangered now—they're on the Species At Risk Act—and there's not supposed to be any kind of activity like that happening. The court in British Columbia stated that the crown's responsibility to develop does not supersede the first nations right on that; they're equal. They're supposed to take that into consideration when they're doing their permits and things like that.
The third page is the treaty territory. Treaty 8 is the largest, most comprehensive of the historic treaties. It encompasses B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, and part of the Northwest Territories. The Dunne-za people have been on the ground in northeastern B.C. for over 13,000 years We hunted the mammoth that lived there, so we've been there and are continuing to be there and we plan on staying much longer. The Dunne-za people are dreamers—that's our culture—and profits are very much land-based; small family groups move through the territory. In 1914 the West Moberly First Nations adhered to Treaty 8 under the Hudson's Hope band. We became the West Moberly First Nation in 1974 when we separated from the Hudson's Hope band and became the Halfway River First Nation and the West Moberly First Nation, reasoning we were in two separate spots, and it was easier for us to maintain our own identity that way.
Treaty 8 promises us a number of things. Of those promises are the oral promises that have been taken into consideration. One of those oral promises is free from white competition. It gets talked about quite a bit. The other big one is no forced interference, which was used from the commissioner's report in 1899 in the Mikisew Cree court case as the oral promises are part of the context of the actual treaty.
Page five is the outcomes of the environmental assessment. We've been poring over the changes recommended from the EA document to what is now considered to be Bill C-69. It's pretty much the same document, just different words. When I said we thank you for your considerations, now I'm going to take you through the considerations that have got us to this point.
Page 6 is entitled “Air We Cannot Breathe”. Throughout our territory, we have signs up all over the place about sour gas, and oil and gas activities here and there.
Page 7 is entitled “Fish We Cannot Eat”. The image on the left is my son. That's the first fish he caught, but we caught it out of the Williston Reservoir, and the Williston Reservoir is contaminated with methylmercury. All of the fish in the reservoir system have high concentrations of methylmercury, and a fish this size is very unhealthy to eat. Typically we would have released that fish, but he snagged it so bad that it was damaged and we had to take it and put it in.
You can't see the pictures on the right unless you have the digital copy. There's a map that has red lines through it. Those red lines are the extent of the mercury filtration system in the Williston Reservoir. On the right-hand side, that light blue area is where the W.A.C. Bennett Dam is. In 1968 they commissioned the dam, and in 1969 they went to full pool on the Williston Reservoir and created what they call the largest man-made lake in western Canada. I think it's the third-largest in North America. The whole thing is full of methylmercury. All of the fish in it are contaminated and we can't eat them.
Page 8 is entitled “Land we Cannot Use to Hunt or Trap”. There are signs throughout the whole area that restrict our activity in those areas. There's no hunting and shooting by residents. There are camps everywhere in the bush out there.
Page 9 is entitled “Animals We Cannot Eat”. The image on the left was a female caribou. It's identified as a species-at-risk animal, and it was eating contaminated soil in a lease site that hadn't been cleaned up. She died. The image on the right is a species-at-risk protected bison that got into a well site that was not fenced, and got her head stuck under the pipes. They had to put her down in order to get her out of there. That was a species-at-risk animal, and we're not allowed to hunt these animals.
Page 10 is entitled “Water We Cannot Drink”. Areas where rivers and waterways are not affected by the Williston Reservoir and the methylmercury have coal mines on them, with high levels of selenium being dumped into them. There are signs throughout the territory about being careful not to drink the water or eat the fish because of the high levels of mercury there.
Page 11 is entitled “Forests we Cannot Use To Camp”. Throughout the territory, signs are up that restrict us from camping through our areas. On the right, in the image of the cabin on the edge of the bank, that's the Williston Reservoir, and sloughing has been happening since they flooded and went to full pool on the Williston Reservoir. When they first considered the Williston Reservoir, they said this would eventually stop. It hasn't stopped. It has been 40 years and it's still sloughing there. New debris goes into the water every year. That cabin has since fallen into the reservoir.
On page 12, I apologize for this, but this is our reality. This is a dead caribou. This is the last male caribou of the Burnt Pine caribou herd. When the province issued the mining permit for the mining company to go up there...an illegal permit.... They didn't actually give them the permit. They told them to go ahead and get started and that they'd get them the permit, and they never did. They went up there and built this big pit, and then when we got involved and the court case ensued, they didn't claim the pit. They left the pit there. There were two caribou left up there, and the male of the two got too close to the edge of the pit and fell into the pit and died. We discovered him that spring at the bottom of the pit. He fell far enough that he actually broke one of the antlers off his head.
That Burnt Pine caribou herd has now become extinct. When we went to court to try to protect the Burnt Pine caribou herd, from the provincial analysis of the caribou in the region, there were 425 caribou left in the southern Peace area. Now there are 219 caribou. This is after our court case and everything that we've been doing to try to protect the caribou. The West Moberly First Nations and the Sto:lo Nation, our next-door neighbours, have come together and we've been running a penning program, a maternity pen, where we have one of the herds, the closest to the communities, going from 19 caribou back up to 70 caribou. We're doing a recovery program ourselves on that because we couldn't wait for the federal and provincial governments to come together and do this.
Now the government has piled in. I don't know if anybody has heard that there's a herd in the south end of the province, called the South Selkirk herd. They're believed to be functionally extinct now. There are only three left and they're all females. This is all since the planning started. This is the state we're in here.
In the beginning I talked about the oral promises and the no forced interference with everything. We can't hunt the caribou because there are not enough of them there. The federal and provincial governments, in their recovery program, are not recovering the caribou to levels of harvesting; they're recovering to levels of sustainability. They want to stop the wipeout of the caribou, but they're not curtailing development and they're not doing any recovery program of the land, to rebuild the habitat zones. They're flying around in helicopters and shooting all the wolves and protecting the high-elevation habitat, not understanding that in the spring the caribou come out of the mountains and back down into the valley to live. They're being annihilated down there.
We went from having a sea of caribou. Caribou are considered to be an animal that we could always go to the mountains and get. They were considered to be a convenient food. We'd want to get a moose or an elk, but if we couldn't find them, we could always go to the mountains and find a caribou. It's like the fish. If you were hungry and you couldn't find anything else, you could always go to the river or the lake and catch a fish. Right now—