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“I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.” ~~ John G. Diefenbaker

ADAM OLSEN – The theme, and the frustration, is not new. Indigenous leaders have been expressing this same sentiment for decades

Talking with a few leaders of First Nations communities in Saanich North and the Islands and on the north coast recently, a common theme emerged ... frustration with the federal and provincial government.

The theme, and the frustration, is not new. Indigenous leaders have been expressing this same sentiment for decades.

The story-line goes something like this...

Our fish boats are tied to the docks and our people cannot fish. We are not allowed to harvest other seafood from the ocean like we have done for generations.”

The forests in our territory are being cut down and the logs are shipped to either a local mill owned by a foreign entity or they go to a mill offshore nearly raw. We see no benefit.”

Our communities are impoverished. We don’t have clean drinking water, the houses are falling apart, our families are overcrowded and the other poorly built infrastructure is decaying. Unemployment is high and the mental health and well-being is low.”

We have spent hundreds of hours consulting the provincial and federal government on their priorities: natural gas plants and pipelines, oil pipelines, port expansions, and anything else they want our support for. But! When we bring our priorities to the table, they have no mandate to discuss them with us.”

So, in order for us to support our people and communities to get the basic needs available to every other community around us, in order for us to get something for them, we are signing on for the benefits agreement on the natural gas plants and pipelines, oil pipelines, and port expansions.”

If Indigenous people want to engage the resource development they have been doing for ever, like if they want to fish, they get arrested and get told what they are doing is illegal.

Chasing the priorities of others

However, if Indigenous leaders choose to deliver on the governments’ priorities -- most recently to promote British Columbia fracked gas as “clean and green” to help replace Asia’s dirty coal combustion -- then the government paves the road with gold. They get entirely out of the way and maybe even send in the spin doctors to help craft the message.

It’s the same for the Trans Mountain Pipeline. How many times have we heard of all the communities who support the pipeline?

Some may; they have every right to. We know the reality is that the pipeline proponents rolled through First Nations communities dangling a few million dollars of “benefits” in exchange for silence and the ability to leverage the communities name in the positive marketing campaign.

The most grotesque aspect of this is that just before the final decision of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Cabinet to support the Trans Mountain Pipeline, the company went on a “last chance tour.”

First Nations were told that the project was going ahead no matter their support or not. They had only one chance left to join collect the so-called “benefits” and join the list of “supporters.”

It’s important we daylight these manipulations and understand the frustration of Indigenous leaders who are trying to do the best for their communities, and whose options have been limited by the provincial and federal governments.

What’s critical is that as we unpack our history and reconfigure these relationships going forward that we recognize and respect the priorities of Indigenous leaders and that, together, we develop and design truly collaborative tables for governance.

Adam Olsen ... is a Green Party Member of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia for Saanich North and the Islands. Born in Victoria, BC in 1976, Adam has lived, worked and played his entire life on the Saanich Peninsula. He is a member of Tsartlip First Nation (W̱JOȽEȽP), where he and his wife, Emily, are raising their two children, Silas and Ella.


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