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BC's Resource Blitz

First Nations speak out against cumulative impacts

by Sandra Cuffe Original Peoples, →Environment, →Dominion Stories

Rally against Enbridge in Prince George organized by the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council. Photo: Toghestiy (Warner Naziel)
Rally against Enbridge in Prince George organized by the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council. Photo: Toghestiy (Warner Naziel)

Also posted by SandraCuffe:

In British Columbia, often when it rains, it pours. Increased demand and higher prices for natural resources means that many First Nations are seeing an ever-increasing onslaught of resource development projects and proposals in their territories.

Gathered at the fourth annual Everyone's Downstream conference recently held in Edmonton, several participants addressed examples of the hydro-electric dams, mining projects, and logging they face in addition to the impacts of the tar sands giga-project. The impacts of a single resource exploitation project can be devastating, but many First Nations in BC are facing more than one lone project. In some cases, dozens of different resource development projects and proposals are located in one Nation's territory alone.

In most cases throughout BC, these projects are slated to be carried out on occupied land, which was never ceded by First Nations through treaties or land claims. In practice, however, First Nations' sovereignty is not recognized by the governments and corporations behind the natural resources blitz. Direct actions and physical blockades, although they may in fact be used to enforce traditional law and to assert sovereignty, are more readily understood.

"Our laws never died. Our governance system has never died," said Toghestiy, a hereditary chief of the Wet'suwet'en Nation, whose territory is facing the cumulative impacts of several resource extraction project proposals.

Assessment of cumulative impacts is required by law to be included in Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act at the federal level, the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act in Alberta, and the Environmental Assessment Act in BC. However, communities facing a myriad of projects often denounce that cumulative impacts are not addressed. Furthermore, the assessment of cumulative impacts does not negate the limitations of EIAs in general.

"It's a farce. The EIAs are weak," said George Poitras, former Chief of the Mikisew Cree First Nation, 250km downstream from the Athabasca tar sands in Alberta.

"Nothing is really considered," he added, referring to First Nations issues, treaty rights, and traditional ecological knowledge.

Resource extraction companies usually contract consulting firms to put together an EIA. If a critical EIA concluding that the project was not feasible were produced, the consulting firm would be hard-pressed to find further work with industry. Similarly, the EIA and permit approval processes are set up in such a way that they almost guarantee approval. Very few projects are rejected.

The cooperation and revolving door between environmental regulatory agencies in Canada and industry also extends to policy and guidelines. Industry practices are being used by governmental agencies to set guidelines for industry.

The Cumulative Effects Assessment Practitioners' Guide published by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, for example, cites publications by tar sands industry giants Syncrude, Suncor, Shell, and Imperial Oil in its bibliography.

Elders from the Mikisew Cree First Nation began noticing changes in their territory years before the tar sands really took off, explained George Poitras. Water levels in particular had changed significantly. The differences were attributed to the W. A. C. Bennett hydro-electric dam on the Peace River in northeastern BC. Built in the 1960s, the dam has the capability to generate 2,730 megawatts of electricity at peak capacity.

The Bennett dam and its Williston reservoir, currently the ninth largest man-made lake in the world, have had far-reaching impacts. More than forty years after the relocation of the Tsay Keh Dene First Nation to make way for the reservoir, a final agreement was finally signed this year between the Tsay Keh Dene, BC Hydro, and the provincial government.

While there has also been a final agreement with the Kwadacha First Nation, as well as a settlement with the Athabascan Chipewyan First Nation, the Mikisew Cree First Nation's challenge is still outstanding. Despite the long outstanding claim, this past April, the government of BC announced the approval of the Site C dam proposed on the Peace River downstream of the W. A. C. Bennett dam, near Fort St John.

A study produced by the West Moberly First Nation and the Peace Valley Environmental Association revealed that the proposed $6.5 billion dam would destroy almost 5,000 hectares of forest and would raise emmissions of greenhouse gasses in BC by almost 150,000 tonnes per year. The Site C dam has been the subject of vocal opposition by First Nations, farmers, and environmental organizations.

The prospect of the Site C dam "really opens up another can of worms for Fort Chipewyan," said Poitras.

Power-generating projects will always be on the rise in regions where there are growing oil, gas, or mining interests. Wet'suwet'en territory in northcentral BC is facing the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal to ship oil from the tar sands via either a traditional pipeline or by a rail transport system to the coast and then by tanker to Asia. However, the pipeline proposal is only one of several resource exploitation proposals in the area; mining and logging companies are also present.

Without consulting their membership, the Office of the Wet'suwet'en leadership signed a ten thousand dollar Memorandum of Understanding concerning mining exploration with Vancouver-based Lions Gate Metals (LGM). The Unist'ot'en (People of the Headwaters) clan of the Wet'suwet'en First Nation opposed the Memorandum, along with any exploration by Lions Gate Metals in their territory.

"We decided we were going to protect the territory ourselves," explained Freda Huson, a spokesperson for the Unist'ot'en.

Lions Gate Metals has four prospective mining projects in northcentral BC, focused on copper, silver, and molybdenum. The same region of BC has one of the largest deposits of molybdenum, used in high-strength steel alloys for industrial use, in the country. LGM had set up an exploration camp in the area by February 2010, when the Unist'ot'en blockaded the company and told its personnel that they had five days to leave Wet'suwet'en territory, said Huson. The company packed up and left at noon on the fifth day after receiving notice.

On its website, Lions Gate Metals states that the company respects the goals of First Nations, including the goal to "ensure governance model [sic] based upon the solid foundation of hereditary systems." However, Huson reported that LGM continues to request meetings with the Unist'ot'en depsite their clear rejection of mining activity.

Logging is another major issue facing First Nations and other communities all over British Columbia. Although the service sector and construction take the top spots when BC's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is broken down by industry, wood products manufacturing, oil and gas extraction, and forestry and logging are next on the list. Forest products continue to be BC's main export.

In terms of logging, First Nations do not only have to face corporations and the government, but sometimes also the environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) that also oppose the destruction of forests. Several high-profile campaigns have been carried out in BC over the past two decades, but the areas prioritized, the public message, and occasionally even signed agreements have been largely defined by ENGOs.

"The beautiful areas - that's what they would focus campaigns on," remarked Russell Diabo, a First Nations policy analyst from Kahnawake Mohawk territory.

From the struggles to protect Clayquot Sound to the Great Bear Rainforest campaign and beyond, ENGOs have selectively focused on coastal rainforests, explained Diabo. Ongoing resistance by First Nations to logging in their territories elsewhere around the province was ignored, he added.

"During that period, our territories were completely logged," agreed Toghestiy, highlighting the fact that the world's largest sawmill was opened in Wet'suwet'en territory in 2004.

Campaigns that began as grassroots initiatives supported by ENGOs have resulted in the betrayal of First Nations by their supposed allies. Protocol agreements between the Nuxalk Nation and various ENGOs, including Greenpeace, for joint work against clearcut logging along the central coast of BC were signed, explained Offsetting Resistance report co-author Dru Oja Jay.

The report outlines how those protocol agreements were violated when Greenpeace, Sierra Club BC, Rainforest Action Network, and ForestEthics suddenly began secret meetings with government and industry. The ENGOs declared a halt to road blockade actions, despite the fact that they had originally been started by the Nuxalk Nation.

In the end, the aforementioned ENGOs signed onto the Great Bear Rainforest agreement, betraying the minimum goals of the Nuxalt Nation and the rainforest itself, where logging continues today. A similarly undemocratic and dissembling process led to the Canadian Boreal Forest Agreement, signed by over 20 logging companies and ten ENGOs, including Greenpeace, ForestEthics, the Nature Conservancy, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, and the David Suzuki Foundation.

"We shouldn't just assume that ENGOs are our allies," concluded Diabo.

Certainly, many grassroots direct actions and campaigns against resource exploitation do not end in agreements signed by industry and environmental organizations to the detriment of the original First Nations resistance. During their blockade of Lions Gate Metals, the Unist'ot'en learned of Houston Forest Products' logging plans in the same region, and banned the logging company from Wet'suwet'en territory, along with LGM.

"Our final message to you guys is grassroots people have the power. We are the resistance," said Freda Huson.

"We should all stand up and mobilize."


This piece is part of a series of articles written for the Vancouver Media Co-op by Sandra Cuffe, during and following the fourth annual Everyone's Downstream conference in Edmonton.

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A great story in need of telling

Thank you Sandra for such a great indepth story about a super important issue.

Makes me even more proud to be a member of the Vancouver Media Coop!


Thank you and keep them coming girl!


Tami Starlight - VMC

Thank you

Thanks, Tami!

I feel the same way when I read, watch and listen to the VMC posts by you and everyone else.

VMC kicks ass!


Awesome piece

This province is pathetic and everyone needs to know about it.



Were it not for the

Were it not for the arbitrarily assigned international border, the Great Bear Rainforest would be as it should -- continuous with the US Tongass National Forest, and Chugach NF all the way to Prince William Sound.

There is a new dark continuity being established though, and that is--

the same corporate foundations (Moore, Hewlett, et al.) which funded the Great Bear Rainforest agreement (sic) in reckless disregard of the Coast information Team's scientific recommendations--

are now funding the Tongass Futures Roundtable and have bought-off the once credible  and principled ENGOs such as SEACC (Southeast Alaska Conservation Council) and who now scam the public into believing Free Market Environmentalism is the way to make conservation profitable for everyone. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Curiously though, (unlike Greenpeace CA) Greenpeace USA and other ENGOs such as Tongass Conservation Society (Ketchikan), has seen through the Moore/SEACC scam from the beginning and are fighting with others to uphold environmental integrity on the Tongass/Great Bear.

Please spread the message that corporate foundations are attempting to control what little remains of our planet's coastal temperate rainforests.

Please help stop the Gordon and Betty Moore foundation, Hewlett, Wilburforce, 
Packard, and other foundatiions.

ENGO scam in Alaska

Hey Archipelagan,

Wow, thanks for the info - really interesting. Are there any links to anything detailing the different NGOs' involvement up there?

A WikiENGO site would be a great collaborative project to get profiles on these organizations and foundations organized, with details of what they have been doing in different places...




Undue Influence

A WikiENGO site is an excellent suggestion in the name of true collaboration (which can only occur when there's a shared set of values, an inclusive democratic process, and an absence of personal financial conflicts of interest.)

(I'm so weary of the word "collaboration" and so leery of its other meaning -- to scheme traitorously with an enemy -- I'm trying to use cooperate instead)

I'll be launching a website this winter (Archipelagan) which will focus on those ENGO's being paid millions of dollars (yes, millions) to participate in an exclusive, self-selecting group of stakeholders supposedly representing environmental concerns. In the case of the Tongass Futures Roundtable, they are clearly not.

A possible approach for evaluating an ENGO's worthiness would be to establish a certification program which pledged (including but not limited to) the following:

As a principled environmental organization:

1) we agree to not accept funding which is derived from investments in environmentally destructive industries.

2) to fully disclose all sources of  our funding

3) to not accept restricted grant funding without a full understanding of ALL the grant terms (deliverables) and approval by the board of directors prior to accepting the restricted grant.

As for the meantime, there is currently no existing website compiling the other side of the story of the Tongass Futures Roundtable(TFR). Recently, the first policy product of the TFR was released by the United States Forest Service for which public comments may be viewed, including these of my own:

along with a host of particularly detailed environmental objections of others opposed to the 5 yr. Plan (Greenpeace, Center for Biological Diversity, Tongass Conservation Society and others) at

Be advised, The Nature Conservancy is playing the same role (if not worse) on the Tongass as they were on GBR. The Wilderness Society, Audubon Society and others are among the TFR collaborateurs who may mean well, are certainly paid well, but are also clearly in denial of inescapable realities.

There's promising possibilities of a larger awareness arising while in the grip of transnational corporate foundation influence...



Hey David,

Wow, thanks again. This is fascinating stuff. I'll take more time to read thoroughly through the documents to which you sent links for sure.

The certification proposal is a great idea, similar to what may be part of specific protocol agreements, but more public, so more accountability (not instead of protocol agreements with First Nations that ENGOs work with, but in addition to specific agreements). Nice.

& yeah, I'd be really into *cooperating* with other folks to set up some kind of WikiENGO site (actually, my main interest is exposing messed up human rights NGOs with the same m.o., so I would love for it to be about NGOs, not only ENGOs)...

Thanks again,


Usurpation of Native Hereditary land and rights

Canada and the provinces have been encouraging and allowing resource extraction companies (national and international)  to come into unceded Native land for years......

In 1850, resource extraction was the main reason for the Province of Canada to negotiate the Robinson Superior and Huron Treaties.. (these treaties have been the MODEL for subsequent treaties, the prelude to these treaties THE TREATY COMMISSIONERS, VIDAL AND ANDERSON STATE "BY THE SUPERIORITY AND INGENUITY OF THEIR WHITE BRETHREN, THE INDIANS ...." ..thereby placing the Indians signatory to that treaty under their yoke)....on Lake Superior and Lakes Huron and Georgian Bay.....but the people that they entered into treaty with were not the original inhabitants of some of the areas , particularly in the Sudbury basin and north shore,  and this has been causing a lot of havoc in Ontario.  Sudbury is one of the largest nickel mining companies in the world...that was sold a few years ago to a Brazilian enterprise.  There is an anticipated negotiated settlement  in the Temagami region next to the Sudbury basin that the Ontario government is hoping to get ratified....but which is highly doubtful because the Hereditary people of Temagami have taken a stand and are not going to allow this to is an ongoing struggle but we have been able to hold them back for the last twenty years and currently we are working on an official band split which is for the survival of the hereditary families and their lands....contrary to the usual conquer and divide theory.......this decision is for our self-preservation!

Engos can work well with First Nations

I suggest that readers might want to look into the very progressive and respectful work that ENGOs such as Greenpeace, ForestEthics and Sierra Club are doing with the Turning Point Initiative of the Coastal First Nations in the Great Bear Rainforest. In case you are not aware the CFN includes  the Wuikinuxv Nation, Heiltsuk Nation, Kitasoo/Xaixais First Nation, Nuxalk Nation, Gitga’at First Nation, Haisla, Metlakatla First Nation, Old Massett Village Council, Skidegate Band Council, and Council of the Haida Nation.  

I think it is unfair to paint everything that ENGOs do with only one colour of brush. Its also not appropriate or fair to say that because one Nation or some members of one Nation are not happy with some ENGOs that either everything they do with First Nations is disrespectful or that everyone in every Nation has to be happy for progressive work to be done. It makes it seem that one Nation or one member of a Nation speaks for all First Nations in the country. There are very clear and wonderful examples of ENGOs such as those listed above working with First Nations across the country. Greenpeace for example has done some very interesting work with the Cree of Waswanapi in Quebec just recently, erecting a symbolic blockade with community elders and trappers last month to protest logging in a proposed Cree heritage park.

ENGOs and First Nations

Hi Robert,

Thanks for your response. I'm just wondering whether the paragraph below is a general statement, or whether you think that I, in some way, am painting all ENGOs and everything they do with a single brush, that I am suggesting that because some First Nations groups, individuals and/or Nations have criticized ENGOs that all work they all do with all First Nations is bad, or that I suggest that one Nation or member speaks for all First Nations. If any of the aforementioned comments *are* directed at me or the article, I would appreciate it if you could spell out how you think I am saying those things.

"I think it is unfair to paint everything that ENGOs do with only one colour of brush. Its also not appropriate or fair to say that because one Nation or some members of one Nation are not happy with some ENGOs that either everything they do with First Nations is disrespectful or that everyone in every Nation has to be happy for progressive work to be done. It makes it seem that one Nation or one member of a Nation speaks for all First Nations in the country."

Because there have been criticisms, and *especially* because protocol agreements were broken by *Greenpeace* and others, I am curious as to whether Greenpeace or others have made any kind public apology or are working on clear policies or protocols regarding future engagement with First Nations and/or future participation in negotiations for agreements such as the Great Bear Rainforest.

Thanks again for your response!


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