SSN Lessons from the LandSubmitted By: Sunny LeBourdais December 23, 2016
First Nations have a proven expertise that span millennia. We are the Stk’emlúpsemc te Secwepemc Nation (SSN) and our relationship of ownership and caretaking of our homeland, goes back more than 10,000 years. We are connected to our territory through occupation, as well as our own laws.
Traditional Knowledge is an invaluable resource in evaluating land and resources. As stewards of the land and waters, Stk’emlúpsemc te Secwepemc Nation members are knowledgeable about how the land transforms from season to season. We go by four seasons and we know exactly what to do in those seasons, what to watch for and what is significantly affected by climate change such as rising temperatures.
Our shared history- when engaging First Nations, Canada/CEAA needs to bear witness to the past to recognize, acknowledge and atone for the injustice that exists into modern day if we are to build a vision for the future collectively. Currently, the Canadian and BC Environmental Assessment Processes do not take into consideration the long-standing issues and legacy of wrongs that First Nations face regarding traditional territory, be it Aboriginal title or the long history of injustice regarding traditional territories that go back to the colonization of Canada.
Given the current inadequacies of the Canadian Environmental Assessment and BC Environmental Assessment processes, SSN has been required to undertake a precedent setting and North American historic first Indigenous-grounded project assessment review process regarding the proposed KGHM- Ajax open pit mine. SSN is exercising Indigenous environmental governance by conducting our own assessment of the proposed mining development, to protect Indigenous Peoples, the environment, but also all other people living in Secwepemcúl’ecw, including residents of the City of Kamloops.
The Environmental Assessment Processes of both the federal and provincial governments support colonial superiority through their reliance on “Science based decision-making”. It is held as Western society’s culturally superior knowledge to which “traditional ecological knowledge” may only play a supporting role. There must be equity between Indigenous and Western ways of knowing, describing and understanding the world. This Principle of “Walking on Two Legs” (Western & Indigenous) is necessary to support Canada’s goal of reconciliation. When processes are designed to respect both ways of knowing and understanding the world, we can create a value system that will support equity in decision-making processes.
First Nations have constitutionally protected rights to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect our rights and to maintain and develop our own Indigenous decision-making institutions whereby we may determine and develop priorities and strategies for the development or use of our lands or territories and other resources.
First Nations must be at the environmental assessment decision-making table. Stk’emlúpsemc te Secwepemc Nation has called for a fair, independent, impartial, open and transparent process at this table. Due recognition must be given to our laws, traditions, customs and land tenure systems in order to obtain our free and informed consent. This must be done prior to the approval of any project affecting our lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources in our territory.
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