PRESS RELEASE 10 JANUARY 2002
PRESENTATION TO THE NORTHERN CAUCUS TASK FORCE ON OIL AND GAS
Hello. My name is Philip Hogan and I am an elected member of the Council. I have been asked by the Chief Councilor to speak to you today on behalf of the Tribal Council. For your information I will be presenting you with a written submission to ensure that the points we wish to make are clearly communicated.
We understand that you are representatives of the provincial government and that you are interested in talking about oil and gas exploration and development in our territory. We have much to say about this. We are glad that you have chosen to come here to meet us and trust that you will listen to our concerns
I must state that the Heiltsuk do not consider this meeting to be consultation, and it certainly does not fulfill the obligation of the province to 'consult' with the Heiltsuk on this matter.
First I must tell you, our history tells us of how we came to be in this place. The Heiltsuk have lived in here since time immemorial and have aboriginal title and the right to self-determination, including the right to manage our affairs. We have never surrendered these rights or our title to anyone. We have stories and history that tells us of our rights to these territories. There is no question in our minds as to who the rightful owners of this place are. Our territory is a matter of public record and includes waters to the west of here out to international waters.
The areas offshore are an important part of Heiltsuk territory, providing resources and habitat for many of the species that we rely upon for our food, social, societal and economic needs. The Heiltsuk have been utilizing these areas since the earliest history of our people.
The Heiltsuk have been trying to discuss our wishes regarding our territory with the government for many years. During the McKenna-McBride Royal-@ Commission our chiefs and leaders spoke of our rights, we endeavored to resolve our concerns but there was no will on behalf of Canada or British Columbia to deal with us in a reasonable or just manner. We have always been concerned: about our land and have continued to work towards a relationship that allows us to live-in a just and fair way with our neighbours. To date this has not been attained. The Heiltsuk have been negotiating and working to try to attain a decent treaty that makes a just and lasting relationship of respect with Canada and BC for more than twenty years. We recently suspended our involvement in the BC Treaty-making process because it is not currently making reasonable offers and has present conditions that are unacceptable at this time to the Heiltsuk.
As discussed above, the Heiltsuk have aboriginal title to Heiltsuk lands and maintain the rights to manage these lands under the laws and customs handed down to us from our ancestors. We believe that we have jurisdiction over our lands and reject the province's and the federal government's claims that they have title and sovereignty to the areas within Heiltsuk territory. We are aware that this is an ongoing discussion that will not be resolved here today. We also must remind you that, even within the Canadian legal system the Heiltsuk have recognized rights and can expect some protection under the law.
There are a range of aboriginal rights that have been recognized through case law. Since 1982 Aboriginal and treaty rights have been protected in the Canadian Constitution. The Heiltsuk are recognized as a First Nation and enjoy the protection of these rights. There is not the time to thoroughly discuss these rights and related issues here. This type of discussion has been undertaken elsewhere. and at other times. We can surely discuss them in more detail at a future date. The nature of case law is that it is constantly evolving and building upon previous cases as new cases set precedence.
A case that is important to the discussion is the Delgamuukw decision. One of the concrete findings of the Delgamuukw decision is the duty of government to discuss planned developments with First Nations. The case says that the government must do more than mere consultation, in some cases even obtain consent when reviewing proposed developments. This is the first time that we are aware of that the province has come to talk to the Heiltsuk, despite the fact that some of the area being proposed for oil and gas exploration and development is within Heiltsuk territory. In your letter, you state that you expect to receive input from concerned individuals and groups on this issue.*
It is clear from the Delgamuukw decision that you are legally obligated under Canadian law to involve First Nations in all decisions made in relation to their lands. To date you have not done so with the Heiltsuk in regards to the oil and gas exploration and development that you are here to discuss today. As we stated earlier this meeting today does not meet the standards required to discuss such a critical issue. So we would remind you that while it is fine for you to go and seek public input, we are not merely part of the public but are a First Nation with right that you must respect.
The Heiltsuk continue to rely heavily upon resources from the marine environment as a part of their way of life. Many resources from the marine environment are utilized for food and sustenance, as well as for cultural purposes. The outer coast is particularly rich and diverse in the resources that are available and harvested by the Heiltsuk. In addition to the food value associated with this harvest are cultural and social values connected to the history and practice of harvesting in these areas.
Commercial activity among the Heiltsuk has been mainly associated with marine harvest and transport in the past couple of generations. Commercial harvest of marine resources by the Heiltsuk is of paramount importance to the Heiltsuk economy. In recent years the fishing industry has experienced severe and harmful changes but remains the largest non-governmental employer for the'Heiltsuk. The Heiltisuk Tribal Council has invested millions of dollars into the fishing industry, running a fish processing plant. The community members have invested large sums of capital into fishing boats, gear and licenses. A significant portion of the Community Development Society Loan portfolio is associated with fishing and marine harvest.
The Heiltsuk are one of very few First Nations that have been recognized by the Canadian Legal system as having commercial aboriginal rights. This is doubtless due to the time and cost facing First Nations that assert such rights, and the nature of case law that has been evolving significantly during the past twenty-five years. The R.v.Gladstone case recognized that the Heiltsuk have a commercial aboriginal right to harvest herring spawn. This right is practiced in the outer coast portion of Heiltsuk territory and is a major economic activity for the Heiltsuk.
There is a major portion of the Heiltsuk who are unemployed or underemployed. It is estimated that at any given time between 50-60% of the Population of Waglisla is dependent upon Social Assistance [Mavis Carpenter - Director Social Development. pers. Comm.] This is unacceptable and very damaging to our people. The people who are on Social Assistance receive fairly low benefit rates, especially considering the high cost of food in Bella Bella. As a matter of survival, SA recipients, as well as many others, require food harvest to survive. All Heiltsuk continue to use food resources harvested from Heiltsuk territory, and this forms a very real economic benefit in addition to providing cultural and social benefits.
Like most First Nations, the Heiltsuk demographic trends show significant growth. The rate of population growth is substantially more than the Canadian average and will mean a much larger population in the near future. The Heiltsuk population of registered members is currently 2069[Heiltsuk Tribal Council - membership department, November 27, 2001], and is predicted to double within the next twenty years.
In regards to Offshore Oil and Gas exploration and development, the Heiltsuk have been involved in this discussion for at least thirty years. The Heiltsuk decided during these discussions that they supported a moratorium on offshore oil and gas development and were opposed to this type of development within Heiltsuk territory. We have not changed our position and maintain our view that there should not be oil and gas exploration or development in our territory under the current circumstances.
As part of their concerns relating to oil and gas exploration and development, the Heiltsuk Tribal Council commissioned a report on the topic by renowned scientist Dr. Orr. The report, titled "Oil in Marine Ecosystems: Potential Risks"** was published in the Heiltsuk Occasional Papers Issue 41 and be viewed on the Heiltsuk Website at www .heiltsuk.com. This paper identifies a number of environmental concerns that arise from possible oil and gas exploration and development. Some of the concerns raised are negative impacts on the environment from seismic testing, from oil spills, and from chemical effects related to even small amounts of oil in the environment. Our intention is not to enter a detailed discussion of all thes-6 points at this point in time, only to mention that we have serious concerns.
The exploration and development of oil and gas resources offshore pose threats to the Heiltsuk by endangering the marine environment upon which the Heiltsuk rely for commercial and subsistence harvest. We must not put at risk the resources we rely on for our survival. We are concerned about potential negative impacts on the resources that we rely on and must protect these resources for future generation of Heiltsuk people. As we mentioned earlier, the demographic trends predict a large increase in our population. These people will also require access to marine resources for their economic, social and sustenance needs.
In this presentation we have indicated some of the critical uses that the Heiltsuk make of our territory. We cannot afford to place these values and reliance on the resources at risk without jeopardizing our very existence.
If this discussion is to be carried further then a serious dialogue between the Heiltsuk Nation and the Province needs to occur. The nature of this discussion needs to be a thorough and meaningful with adequate time and resources to address Heiltsuk concerns and to answer questions. Assessing the full range of social and environmental impacts from the possible development of oil and gas resources in Heiltsuk territory would require full involvement of the Heiltsuk. Should you wish to pursue the discussion further we would be prepared to meet with you to discuss how such an evaluation could be conducted. This does not mean that we have changed our minds but we do expect you to conduct yourselves in the manner prescribed by your own laws if you intend to pursue this matter.
In Conclusion we must emphasize a number of key points to you.
1. - The Heiltsuk Nation has unextinguished aboriginal title to our territory. The government does not have the unencumbered right to allocate resources in Heiltsuk territory prior to resolving some form of mutually acceptable relationship.
2. - The Heiltsuk Tribal Council does not support removing the existing oil and gas moratorium nor does it support oil and gas exploration and development within Heiltsuk territory at this point.
3. - The Heiltsuk Tribal Council does not regard this meeting, nor any other provincial activity to date, as fulfilling the obligations described in Delgamuukw for the Province, to meet with the Heiltsuk and discuss the concerns of the Heiltsuk regarding the proposed activity [engaging in offshore oil and gas exploration and development within Heiltsuk territory]. The Province is legally obligated to enter into discussions with the Heiltsuk to discuss proposed developments in Heiltsuk territory.
4. - The Heiltsuk reliance upon the marine environment is a fundamental and defining factor in our culture, identity, and economy. The potential harm proposed by offshore oil and gas is a real and significant threat to our way of life.
5. - The Heiltsuk Tribal Council has serious concerns regarding the safety and advisability of engaging in offshore oil and gas exploration and development.
6. - Should the government wish to discuss the proposed offshore oil and gas exploration and development the Heiltsuk would expect rigorous and detailed study, with the full involvement of the Heiltsuk, of the social and environmental impacts on the Heiltsuk and Heiltsuk territory as part of the preparation for discussions.
We are glad to have this opportunity to discuss this serious matter with you. We hope that we have impressed upon you the grave concerns that we have for the matter at hand.