It is not the picturesque landscapes seen on postcards or the stunning images aimed at drawing tourism to Northern British Columbia. The dirt road that leads to Mount Milligan, is a grim reminder of human neglect and the real cost of development…
Large and multiple plots of land along the stretch of Highway 27, that runs from Fort St. James to the Mount Milligan Mine site, have been a primary source for one of British Columbia’s major industries. Tree logging has been practiced here, and a major source of revenue for the province, for decades. Today, much of which resembles a cemetery for what was once, one can only imagine, a primary forest on one of Canada’s most beautiful landscapes.
“Things look much different now” said Carla Jack, a member of the Nak’azdli community who lives, and has lived in the region since she was a child. “It’s been about 10 years since we got a week-long freeze needed to kill off the Pine Beetle that migrated here from the States” she adds. As the temperature rose, in came the foreign specie that has devastated countless acres of forests that have thrived here for centuries.
The provinces’s argument for its clear cutting approach “is awful” says Jack, “the government is being lazy and cost consuming.” Instead of trying to preserve the young and healthy trees that could allow for a natural regrowth and recuperation of these forests through selective logging, bulldozers (slashers or tree harvesters) are getting rid of them all.
It’s not hard to wonder how clear cutting impacts the region’s wildlife. Black bears, moose, and coyotes can be seen roaming the open landscapes, sniffing the remains of leftover logs and picking at the soil largely covered by fire pits and ashes.
The impact though, also affects a culture. The Nak’azdli peoples have for centuries relied on the trees in the region for medicines, not to mention shelter and natural survival. Pine tress produce a sap that has been used, through traditional knowledge and healing practices, as the main ingredient in medicine that suppresses and cures coughs and other illnesses. “At the base of these forests” adds Rosemarie Sam, “is where we pick our tea leaves.”
Sam, also a member of the Nak’azdli community, tells me that when clear cutting first began, again as part the province’s approach to ridding the region of the invasive Pine Beetle, the community marked off the areas they so desperately hoped would be spared. “Our tea leaves grow at the base of the forest near its creaks…our markers, didn’t stop them.”
Now a profound sadness resonates in the voices of those who truly understand the real impact of governmental and corporate initiatives, actions driven by the decisions of people far removed from those who truly understand it, with whom there is little consultation, and far less consideration. It this the modern day reality?
From everything that I have personally witnessed – absolutely.
I travelled here to attend a Farewell Ceremony at the 18 mile marker of the road that leads to Thompson Creek’s Mount Milligan mining site slatted to commence production in a matter of weeks. A low-grade coper and gold extraction site built on the traditional territory of Nak’azdli community.
Not long ago the site where Anne Marie Sam took her daughter to teach her about her land, will now be replaced by 350-metre deep open pit and tailing ponds.
I asked Jocelyn Fraser, a Thomspon Creek public relations representative who flew in for the day from the company’s Canadian headquarters in Vancouver to oversee the ceremony taking place, whether the she feels her company has engaged in consultation with the traditional keepers of the land.
“It’s not so much about consultation” she says, “as it is about having discussions and establishing a good relationships.” There’s a big difference between the two…consultation is not only a requirement of government but also the ethical responsibility of industry. It implies feedback that could impact policy, whereas discussion, to put it mildly, is the equivalent of a chat.
The platters of fresh fruits and cookies, as well as the three Porta Potties brought in by Thompson Creek, where welcomed accommodations by those who gathered for the ceremony. But as the five Nak’azdli women who performed a three-hour farewell ceremony on the four corners of the site returned with heavy hearts and tears to the gathering spot on Mile 18, an unspoken reality remained…the point of no return.
“It’s a 1.5 billion dollar project, we’re more than 90 percent of the way through construction, so it’s certainly a project that we feel confident is going to go ahead. We’ve been working very hard to bring the project into production on schedule and we very much recognize the importance of all of our First Nations communities in the surrounding area, Nak’azdli and some of the other bands, and our other stakeholders as well” said Fraser.
The event on May 19th, 2013, is best summarized by the words of Anne Marie Sam: “In our language we don’t say goodbye, we say we will see you again. In 20 years, when they close the mine, we are the ones who will still be here.”
The Nak’azdli people will for sure be here, what is uncertain is what will remain of the land, as they will forever remember it.
“The Farewell Ceremony: Nak’azdli People of Canada”
By: Maggie Padlewska / One Year One World
A SPECIAL THANK YOU TO: The Nak’azdli Community, Amnesty International & The Indigenous Peoples Rights Centre