If you didn't know, now you'll know.
A lot of historic moments with lasting impacts took place in British Columbia over the past year. First Nations communities celebrated groundbreaking court victories with national implications, won awards for clean energy leadership, and took reconciliation efforts into their own hands.
This National Observer series, First Nations Forward, is dedicated to shedding a light in what can feel like a dark era of increasing climate change, fake news, and divisive politics, by emphasizing the many stories of success and sovereignty taking place across the province. Every story of a trailblazing individual, Nation or collaboration tells a larger tale of resiliency, leadership and foresight that may be remembered for generations to come.
Often governed by land-based laws and cultures, First Nations have continued to demonstrate leadership around clean energy alternatives, sustainable ecological protection and the meaningful recognition of title, rights and sovereignty.
Here's a recap of some of the stories shared from massive moves in 2018 - click on the titles to read more.
First Nations in B.C. are taking a leading role in the renewable energy sector, with research showing many are either already involved or interested in getting there.
The Tla-o-qui-aht Nation are a leading force in conservation efforts, from their tribal parks management program and successful run-of-river hydro projects to their forward-thinking land-use and ecotourism plans. By implementing modern methods grounded in traditional values, the Nation works to preserve their coastal ecosystems, and create a sustainable local economy that benefits the whole community.
The Nation won Clean Energy B.C.'s Environmental Stewardship & Community Improvement award for their Winchie Creek hydro plant.
Also leading in clean energy is the Kanaka Indian Bar Band, located in the heart of the Fraser Canyon. Chief Patrick Michell, was recognized at Clean Energy B.C.'s annual award gala, winning the Lifetime Achievement award for his tireless commitment to the wellbeing, strength and independence of his community.
In 2013, Kanaka Bar opened the massive Kwoiek Creek run-of-river hydro plant. The run-of-river project produces approximately 215 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity per year, enough to power up to 22,000 homes. Some of the revenue from renewables funds the band's housing program, food self-sufficiency project and solar project.
HlGaagilda (Skidegate) is becoming a city of the future. In an effort to decrease diesel consumption, the community installed heat pumps in almost all of its 350 homes and solar panels on all major buildings. Heat pumps save people about $100/month, which works out to over $400,000/year, solar energy offsets demand of electricity from diesel generation and the community has taken efforts to build capacity within the community and educate members on sustainable energy efficiency.
Barbara Stevens, chief administrative officer of the Skidegate Band Council; Billy Yovanovich, chief band councilor; and Trent Moraes, a councillor, spoke with National Observer about the past, present and future of the renewable energy initiatives.
The courts have served as an important place for the assertion of international, human and collective rights and title to land, waters and traditional territories. This year was no exception.
History was made on Aug. 30, 2018 when the Federal Court of Appeal quashed the government's approval of the Trans Mountain pipeline project. The court found that Trudeau’s cabinet made its decision without considering all evidence and had failed its legal duty to consult First Nations affected by the expansion.
The decision, the first major court defeat for the project, required the federal energy regulator or its successor to redo a federal environmental evaluation and to correct a “critical” mistake of ignoring the consequences of increased oil tanker traffic off the coast of British Columbia. There have been more than 250 ‘duty to consult’ court victories by Indigenous groups to date.
On Oct. 31, 2016, the second mate of the U.S-owned tugboat Nathan E. Stewart was alone on the bridge and fell asleep, causing the tug and associated barge to run aground in the Gale Pass of traditional Heiltsuk territory, spilling 110,000 litres of diesel fuel, lubricants, heavy oils and pollutants into the water, contaminating an important Heiltsuk food harvesting, village and cultural site.
On. Oct. 10, 2018, the Heiltsuk First Nation filed a claim to the B.C. Supreme Court, against the federal and provincial governments, as well as the Kirby Corporation, for the spill.
"After the spill, Heiltsuk determined that for justice to be achieved, we needed to draw from all the legal tools at our disposal," Chief λáλíyasila Frank Brown said at the press release for the announcement. "Heiltsuk convened the Dáduqvḷá Committee to apply our own legal order, our Ǧviḷás - our laws, as well as to file a civil claim within the external court of Canada. This civil claim builds on the findings of our adjudication report."
On Nov. 26, 2018, TransCanada filed an injunction against Freda Huson, spokesperson for the Unist'ot'en House (C’ihlts’ehkhyu / Big Frog Clan), and her husband Warner Naziel (Dinï ze’ Smogelgem, Hereditary Chief of the Laksamshu Clan) for defending their traditional territories. The interim injunction was approved by a B.C. judge, allowing Coastal GasLink to remove the gate that blocks access to the road leading to the pipeline site. The judge also granted an extension of the time for the defendants to file and serve an application response and a response to civil claim to Jan. 31, 2019.
Since the interim injunction was approved, members of another Wet'suwet'en Clan, the Gitdumt'en Clan, set up another check-point, outside the injunction zone. TransCanada filed for an amendment to the injunction, to include the second road block and on Dec. 21, 2018, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Marguerite Church ruled in favor of the amendment. There have been mass gatherings and shows of solidarity across the country and beyond, as the stand-off escalates and informative conversations around Canadian, Indigenous, hereditary, and elected governance bleed into a new year.
First Nations in B.C. marked important milestones in territorial jurisdiction, reconciliation efforts, cultural reclamation and professional distinction this year.
The Tsilhqot'in Nation located in interior B.C., became the first Nation in Canada to prove their title over a portion of their land in a groundbreaking 2014 Supreme Court of Canada decision. They are still working to extend title over their full traditional territories. A part of the Tsilhqot'in Nation's court settlement and reconciliation process included Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s official exoneration of six of their war heroes.
In the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, Prime Minister Trudeau offered an apology on behalf of the colony of B.C. who took the lives of six Tsilhqot'in war heroes 150 years ago. A more important event for Tsilhqot'in leadership took place on Tsilhqot'in title land, when Trudeau traveled to the Xeni Gwet'in territory and exonerated the chiefs a second time, face-to-face with the community.
While the Tsilhqot'in Nation, led in part by a strong group of elected chiefs representing all six Tsilhqot'in communities, demonstrated tribal leadership and sovereignty, First Nations women were busy organizing their own historic gatherings.
The Haíłzaqv (Heiltsuk) and Haida Nations share a long history. In part, to acknowledge their coastal relationships and unity, and recommit to a peace treaty signed in 2014/2015 and make plans for a collective future. The days were themed: "Building Relationships and Sharing Knowledge" and "Taking Action and Creating Change."
Attendees included Heiltsuk and Haida chiefs, elders, high-ranking women, youth, and council members from the Heiltsuk Tribal Council, the Council of the Haida Nation, the Old Masset Village Council and the Skidegate Band Council. Participants held panels on cultural health and wellness, identified and addressed top challenges impacting their communities and established solutions moving forward.
While National Observer had the honour of covering this historic gathering, it was impossible to ignore other positive stories stirring on the island - from the impressive clean energy alternatives to groundbreaking language revitalization efforts.
In many corners of the world, people work tirelessly to learn land-based languages old as time, remembering, reawakening and revitalizing alternative ways forward. In Haida Gwaii, an archipelago off the northwest coast of British Columbia, many indomitable spirits and multi-layered moving parts are tending to the fire of the Haida language. From the Skidegate Haida Immersion Program, which connects elders to state-of-the-art technology, to a team of hardworking teachers in Masset, the Haida's approach to language revitalization sets an example for Indigenous communities worldwide.
Jaskwaan (Amanda) Bedard was recently hired in Masset as the Haida language and culture curriculum teacher and was one of many women interviewed about Haida language initiatives. Bedard said learning her language has helped her learn about herself and that nurturing the Haida language is invaluable. "Everything is connected to everything else," she told National Observer. "The strength of Indigenous peoples speaking the language of the land contributes to the strength of humanity."
Indigenous women have been leading, not just in court rooms and classrooms, but on softball pitches and in the sky too.
Hunter Lang, 16, from Port Moody, helped Team B.C. win a bronze medal in the U16 age division last year and her team – the Coquitlam Classics – won a silver medal at the 2017 U16 B provincial championships. Lang was one of 12 recipients recognized with a 2017 Premier’s Award for Aboriginal Youth Excellence in Sport, presented in March this year.
While youth won awards for softball, archery and rowing, another Indigenous woman bought her own plane and launched her own airline, IskwewAIR. When the spotlight hit her and newspapers requested to share her story of success, Teara Fraser, Cree and Métis, shared her personal motto: dream it, design it, do it - hoping to inspire other aspiring women entrepreneurs.
Fraser, the first Indigenous woman in Canada to own and operate an airline, didn't become a pilot until she was 30 years old. Now, at the age of 45, she bought a plane and is launching an airline dedicated to the strength and success of Indigenous women. IskwewAIR will start flying on Mar. 8, 2019 and operate out of the Vancouver International Airport's south terminal.
The airline will begin with charter flights, as the team determines more regular routes. At the moment, Fraser told National Observer, the company is examining ways they can connect to remote communities, including Indigenous communities across the province that aren't as well-serviced as other destinations. She hopes her airline will also help strengthen Aboriginal tourism in Canada.
It's not all pipelines and politics, when it comes to the ways that communities and community champions have led the way for generations to come, reclaiming 'cool culture' with ancestral style.
In January, National Observer profiled five Indigenous women entrepreneurs remixing tradition, creating pieces for ceremony, powwows, self-care and fashion — making the world more beautiful with every bead, shell and prayer-filled piece of work. Lenise Omeasoo of Antelope-women Designs, Arianna Johnny-Wadsworth of Quw'utsun' Made, Caroline Blechert of Creations for Continuity, Sharifah Marsden and Vyna Brown of CopperCanoeWoman Creations talked about how they made it in the world of business and art as Indigenous women from all directions.
Also carving and riding the emerging Indigenous business wave are five Indigenous tattoo artists who spoke earlier this year about their work, visions for the future and commitment to reawakening traditional tattoo practices in a contemporary reality.
Tattoo practitioners are revitalizing their cultural tattooing practices, speaking out against cultural appropriation and healing their communities in the process. An exhibition at the Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art, called Body Language: Reawakening Cultural Tattooing of the Northwest, showcases the incredible work of Dion Kaszas, Dean Hunt, Nakkita Trimble, Corey Bulpitt and Nahaan.
“What is now known in the art world as 'northwest art' and 'northwest coast formline' has always been a visual language for the Nisga’a — a language that informs belonging, territory, community and place,” Trimble said after the opening of the exhibition, during a panel discussion on June 8, 2018. “It’s all written in the design. If you’re trained to read the language, you can see who someone is, who their chief is, what territory they come from, where their hunting, fishing and harvesting rights are and what it means to put it on a certain part of the body.”
Emerging Indigenous filmmakers feature Indigenous cowboys of B.C. 'In the Valley of Wild Horses' [VIDEO]
Indigenous filmmakers Asia Youngman and Trevor Mack joined forced to create a short documentary In the Valley of Wild Horses which premiered in the Vancouver International Film Festival on Oct. 1, 2018. The film follows the annual wagon trip put on by members of the Xeni Gwet'in community, who identify themselves as "Indigenous cowboys," and embark on their journey to reconnect youth to their history, land and culture. Mack and Youngman invited members of the Xeni Gwet'in community, featured in the film, to attend the Vancouver premier, before taking the doc to Tsilhqot'in title land, for a community-viewing.
Demonstrating class and the strength of spirit, two communities came together to transform a tragedy into an act of love. The story involves blood, history — and a little Nuu-chah-nulth girl named Maggie Sutlej. When the Ahousaht First Nation and the Khalsa Aid Society realized the pieces of their connected stories, they took reconciliACTION into their own hands and made a commitment to work together for a brighter future.
What is more empowering than a woman standing up for her rights, family and wellbeing of future generations?
Kanahus Manuel has been called many names — a political activist, a pipeline protestor, a tiny house warrior, but she identifies first and foremost as a mother. Manuel and family members continue to make news headlines for resisting pipeline activity in their traditional territory.
"Everyone will be tested, when the time comes and they meet our ancestors," Manuel said in an interview. "That’s when the real judgment happens. People can judge the tactics, what our people are doing, but we know what we’re doing is right, when we say we’re standing here to protect water for our children, and those yet unborn - that’s our tribal law. As women we know it, because we birth these babies."
While First Nations made massive moves over the past year, they showed no sign of slowing down. National Observer remains committed to bearing witness to the many historic political and environmental steps taken in courts, at check-points, and in communities; to document the way that history recreates herself with every passing moon. Stay tuned.