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Letting the World Know

"I’d rather have the provincial government and these corporations as my enemies than have my grandchildren hate me because I didn’t protect their water."

by Interview with Kanahus Manuel

Photo by Murray Bush
Photo by Murray Bush

My name is Kanahus Manuel. I am Secwepemc. I have babies that I have never registered with the Canadian state. They don’t have status cards or numbers, so we call them freedom babies. There’s a movement in B.C. with other Indigenous women doing the same.

I grew up in a family that was very active in getting our Indigenous title and rights recognized. In 2000, I opposed the Sun Peaks Ski resort and it was during this time that I started to see the attacks on my people: arrests, criminalization, keeping people tied up in court for many years.  These were on charges ranging from mischief to blocking the highways, not on big charges.

We are bombarded on all sides in our community. We’re facing the Trans Mountain Kinder Morgan pipeline, Imperial Metals, the Mt. Polley disaster, and many other mines that threaten our territory. The B.C. government works hand in hand with the corporations, issuing the permits they need to step foot on our territory.

Some people think I’m all over the place. I focus on bringing back birthing and traditions, on fighting mining and pipeline companies, on pushing the Gustafsen Lake inquiry that Wolverine has called for: I’m doing this because all these issues are connected within the colonial institution of Canada.

Colonial institutions exist at every level, all the way up to Justin Trudeau. He’s coming to Indian country, along with Christy Clark, to take pictures with co-opted Native leaders so they can show the world of investors that everything is calm here in B.C.; that this is a place for risk-free and secure investments. But we want to let the world know that their money is not secure here, because we’re dealing with unceded land issues.

We have never signed treaties or lost our lands by war. We, as Native people, have had our lands occupied by an illegal government that has no legal right to be here. The Canadian government’s entire law system is based off the legal fiction that our lands were empty, the doctrine of discovery, that Native people did not exist.

We’ve dealt with a lot of oppression and repression in our communities. I heard an elder say the other day that they come from concentration camp #516. We have numbers on our status cards that state the number of our reserve, like concentration camps. But we don’t have to be on these reserves. There are invisible barbed wire fences on those reservation lines that keep us from our vast territories.

These are the issues that we have to talk about when we talk about land defence: native people have every right to be on our land, to protect the integrity of our Nation, and to govern ourselves.

Can you speak about the NSTQ treaty and what the consequences will be if this treaty is passed?

The NSTQ treaty stands for the Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw, or the Northern Shuswap Tribal Council, which represents four Indian Affairs (INAC) bands. These bands, and their chief and council system, were invented by the Canadian government. Their authority exists only on reserve lands and to distribute federal funds for social programs, like welfare and housing. Conflict arises when these bands try to make decisions regarding our territory, especially in regards to signing modern day treaties which would extinguish our rights and our title.

Canada has been reprimanded internationally at the UN Human Rights Council for forcing Indigenous People to extinguish their rights to their land. The Canadian and Provincial governments are coming to us to sign these treaties because they know that they are legally bound to do so by international law. They have to make a modern day treaty in order to create certainty that we've given up our lands for resource extraction and whatever else they want.

The treaties allow band councils to select 1% of our traditional territory for land, but first the Ministry of Forests get to make sure that they have their land selections picked out before the natives do. A lot of bands owe tens of millions of dollars to the Canadian government simply for negotiating their treaty, so they are not going into the negotiations on an equal footing. After their loans are paid back, the cash amount promised to the NSTQ bands from the treaty adds up to six months of their current expenses.

They've made trillions of dollars off our lands. That’s not including the resources that are shipped through Indian reserves. The Trans-Canada highway and the Canadian Railway have a non-stop flow of raw resources and products being brought to the global market. It's constantly moving. They say a million dollars are lost per second if natives blockade this highway or this railway.

You spoke about how most of B.C. is unceded territory. In light of this, how can Indigenous communities in B.C. stand in solidarity with communities further east whose territory has been, according to British law, ceded?

I think about this a lot. Every time I travel to the east coast I wonder, what is the traditional territory? A lot of young people only know the reserve lands, or sacred areas that are off the reserve. But it’s not in the same way that my people are able to say, “This is our land… it goes 500 km in that direction, and 300 km this way.”

A lot of people were under duress when they signed the treaties. A lot of people had died from epidemics – 95% of Indigenous people died after contact. A lot of things were fragmented. A majority of these treaties have been violated and dishonored. They were based off of legal lies: legal fiction.

Could you speak about the Mt. Polley Disaster and what you feel are the root causes?

The Mt. Polley disaster happened on August 4th, 2014. Imperial Metals dumped millions of gallons of toxic mining sludge and waste into Polley Lake, Hazeltine Creek, and eventually into the Fraser River watershed. It was a wakeup call for our Nation, especially the women that I work with closely. We'd been opposing Imperial Metals’ Ruddock Creek project proposal prior to the spill.

Our Elders told us to light a sacred fire and the people will come. We lit it right next to the entrance of the disaster, and lots of people came to that fire - workers, whistle blowers, contractors, Mt Polley workers. They told us about so much negligence, including that the company hadn’t reinforced the dam wall the way they should have and that the manager quit right before the Mt. Polley disaster to work at the Red Chris mine in Tahltan territory. It's all hearsay, but these are people who offered tobacco in the fire when they told us their stories.

Independent third party reports say that the disaster was due to glacial till and not negligence on the part of the company or the province. But the pressure on the dam had been immense and they would have had to discharge and release some of the tailings in order to relieve the pressure on the dam before the rupture.

When I went to the disaster site I screamed, I cried, I yelled. When you look at the whole creek bed, it's grey. There is nothing in nature that is ever that colour of grey - dead. Everything was dead. The tailings that were splashed onto the cedar bows, splashed onto the balsam bows, splashed everywhere, cemented on the trees, cemented everything… it looked like another planet. There was no birds. You couldn't hear them. It was just silent.

After the rupture happened you could see the collaboration between the company and the government. They muzzled the Katsuo Soda Creek Band and Williams Lake Indian Band. The bands accepted $400,000 through an abatement order and hoped to have a say in the clean-up. But after MOU's were all signed, they found out it was shut up money to prevent them from opposing the actions of the company and province.

We went out there on several visits so we could document what was happening, since the mainstream media was only being brought to the areas Imperial Metals wanted them to see. At the time they had security blocking the roads, so we would often get into battles and get escorted out.

Right now Imperial Metals has received a partial reopening permit…to dump their tailings and waste water into Springer Pit. Springer Pit is a massive open pit that was abandoned on the mine site. They say they'll have it filled by 2016. As we speak they are discharging tailings thirty meters into the depth of Quesnel Lake.

They've applied for another permit to reopen the dam tailings area that collapsed on August 4th 2014, even though they claim it ruptured from glacial till. If B.C. allows Imperial Metals to continue to get away with this, then the other ninety or so tailings dams and tailings ponds will be at risk because there's no monitoring and no responsibility.

We need to shut them down. I’d rather have the provincial government and these corporations as my enemies than have my grandchildren hate me because I didn’t protect their water.

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