Like most people, I respect the right of individuals and groups to gather and peacefully protest. I have gone on the record by stating my personal support for Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence. At the same time, I don’t want her to jeopardize her health any further and I encourage all sides to engage in some meaningful discussion of the issues facing Attawapiskat and First Nations across Canada.
Protests can be an effective way of drawing public attention to an issue but the next steps are even more important. Parties have to sit down and work out solutions that are meaningful and sustainable.
The Tk’emlúps have, on a number of fronts, moved past the days of protest and have taken necessary next steps to see that issues are properly addressed. A case in point is justice for what we call the day scholars. Many aboriginal children suffered abuse at residential schools but did not actually live at those schools. Places like Cranbrook, Sechelt and Kamloops had students attending these schools but returning home to their parents each night. Many of these students suffered the same horrific treatment as the residential students but they have to this point not received any acknowledgement of the suffering or compensation for their treatment.
The Tk’emlúps band took the lead in Canada in pursuing justice for the day scholars and with our friends in Sechelt we have commenced legal action on behalf of these unrecognized victims. Other First Nations groups are now looking to join our cause and we are looking to build a national groundswell of support. Actions like this are neither cheap nor easy, but sitting idle was not an option for us.
Our people believe that we need to participate in the economy in a meaningful way. Again, working with our neighbours at Skeetchestn, we created a provincial template for revenue sharing in mining operations. We also worked closely with New Gold and the B.C. Aboriginal Mines Training Association to ensure that we could provide the skilled workers this mine required. Again, all of this comes at an investment of significant effort and money but the result is us demonstrating that we can be productive and reliable partners in the growth and development of this region. Our relationship has grown to the point where New Gold has tendered contracts to us to perform environmental monitoring at the mine site.
Within our territories we are sitting down with Canada and British Columbia to resolve some long-outstanding reserve boundary issues. Getting the other governments to the table took years of court action and another very large investment.
I could provide many more examples including our investments in logging and agriculture or our partnership with Arrow Transport to truck copper concentrate from the mine to Vancouver. We run our own water treatment plant with fully certified, band member technicians thanks to an investment in their training by our membership.
Our membership has given its leadership clear direction to pursue solutions as opposed to conflict. We have not backed down when it came to our rights or our people and it was only after a significant investment in legal challenges that we were able to convince our federal and provincial government to come and sit at the table with our First Nations government.
So, when it comes to “Idle No More,” we support their efforts to peacefully draw attention to some of the issues faced by First Nations in Canada. We share their concern over the watering down of environmental laws and we will work to address these issues. At the same time, our view was that we were never idle in the first place and our ultimate agenda, as clearly directed to us by our membership, is to find solutions and produce results.
Chief, Tk’emlups Indian Band