Indigenous protests gain momentum on the ground and recognition in court

First Nations across Northern BC say so-called blockades are just the signs of generations of struggle and tradition finally being recognized.

Photos from Sinixt Nation Facebook page

Ten days after the Sekw’el’was First Nation filed an appeal with the provincial environmental appeal board, a new water intake project on the Seton River near Lillooet that would threaten salmon habitat on the nation’s traditional territory has been stayed.

The same day hereditary chief Michelle Edwards filed the appeal, she and other members of the Cayoose Creek band stopped work on the site for several hours in the morning and continued to protest until Monday.

The T’it’q’et First Nation across the creek has also filed an appeal on the same project.

“For now we have a small victory in that they will not do any work on the water intake until both appeals are heard,” Edwards said in a phone interview from the protest site.

Lillooet mayor Dennis Bontron released a statement announcing the district will hold off construction on the intake until the result from the appeal board, but his office plans to fight against it. He also said construction will go ahead on the rest of the site and warns that any protestors who attempt to interfere will be found trespassing. Work on surrounding sites has been ongoing since last year and has to do with the existing water treatment facility treatment rather than a new intake, and Edwards said she has no plans to stop it, adding that it has been important to her to keep conflict to a minimum and open lines of communication while still getting the message across.

“I didn’t want them to have to slap an injunction on me because it would have weakened my appeal."

The Cayoose Creek band in Lillooet is fulfilling the predictions made by indigenous leaders immediately following the National Energy Board’s approval of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline by fighting for their territory both on the land and in the courts. And in spite of warnings from the federal government that it will crack down on protestors who stand in the way of energy development, people are taking to their land

After Idle No More declared the summer of 2013 the Summer of Sovereignty and Grand Chief Stewart Phillip dubbed indigenous resistance the Thin Red Line, it has becoming increasingly apparent that BC's First Nations are answering the call to direct action. 

But some say that the recent spate of what media calls blockades--in Lillooet, Fort Nelson and the Slocan Valley--is really just an increase in recognition of what the people on those lands have been doing for millennia.

At the tail end of last year, the Behn family of the Fort Nelson First Nation in northern BC won a court case wherein a logging company attempted to sue the nation and the BC government over a blockade preventing the company from logging the Behns’ traditional territory.

But Richard Behn, who along with his father George initiated the camp in question, says it’s no win for him. When it comes down to, he says, it was no blockade either.

“We just set up a traditional camp in a tradition camping site, and it just happened to be where they put the road,” he said.

The Behns’ traditional territory has been steadily dwindling since the building of the Alaska Highway and the advent of oil and gas development in the 1960s and 1970s.

When it became apparent seven years ago that the last patch of land available to run trap lines and teach the arts and crafts of the harvest to new generations was under threat by logging, Richard and his father George determined to do something about it: the same thing they had been doing for thousands of years.

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