The BC Liberal government continues to show contempt and disrespect towards Indigenous people in this province. The latest example of this comes from the Nicola Valley, in the interior of the province, where local First Nations have been fighting to stop the dumping of toxic sewage, known as bio-solids, on their lands. While the environmental and health aspects of this issue have been often highlighted, this is also a larger issue of the rights of Indigenous people to their land and resources, and to determine what happens in their territory without having government and businesses impose their agenda on them.
Dumping Waste on Native Land
In October 2014, the Regional District of the Central Okanagan (RDCO) entered in to a five-year contract with an Fraser Valley-based company, BioCentral, to receive compost and biosolids at a location near Merritt. Bio-solids are the sludge that are a by-product produced during the treatment of raw sewage. The RDCO has a contract to haul biosolids from a plant in West Kelowna to BioCentral's composting facility. The area where the biosolids are to be spread is known as Dry Lake, a 320-acre parcel of land that is near drinking water wells, housing developments and streams that flow in to the Nicola River, the valley's main water source and an important salmon spawning ground. The local First Nations, as well as local residents, were never informed about this dumping and found out through second-hand information. When this was discovered, the local First Nations, whose members harvest food from the local lands and waterways, declared a moratorium on the dumping of biosolids.
In early March 2015, the Friends of the Nicola Valley, a community group organized to oppose the dumping of bio-solids, blocked Highway 8, the main highway leading in to the valley, to stop the company from delivering more biosolids to the composting site and dumping near their homes. In response, BioCentral announced it would impose its own moratorium on importing biosolids into the area until an agreement between the provincial Ministry of Environment (MOE) and the affected First Nations could be reached.
The provincial government intervened; however it would not honour or enforce the moratorium announced by the First Nations. On April 15th, frustrated by the lack of response from the government, five Nicola Valley Chiefs and their representatives (Chief Harvey McLeod of Upper Nicola, Chief Marcel Shackelly of Nooaitch, Chief Aaron Sam of Lower Nicola, Chief Percy Joe of Shackan and Chief Lee Spahan of Coldwater), as well as supporters from Friends of the Nicola Valley, occupied Premier Christy Clarke's office in West Kelowna to draw attention to their grievances and force the government to act. Chief Aaron Sam stated, “The Nicola Valley First Nations hold and exercise Aboriginal Title and Rights over areas where biowaste operations are currently being carried out, and where future biowaste operations have been proposed. The biowaste operations affect our Aboriginal Title and Rights. The Province of British Columbia is obligated to consult and accommodate us in relation to the impacts of biowaste operations on our Rights and Title”. Their demands were simple and straight-forward: that the provincial government collaborate on a process to gather and share information about bio-waste, manage and address impacts, and protect lands and wildlife in the valley. “Trucking thousands of tons of sewage treatment waste to be spread onto our farms, ranches and forests is not healthy for our lands. The traditional practices of harvesting from our lands and waterways has been jeopardized by this risky practice,” the group said in a press release issued on the first day of the sit-in.” On the sixth day, they left the office peacefully in an act of good faith after the provincial government promised to have a high-level meeting to discuss the issue.
On May 19th, a caravan left the Coldwater reserve near Merritt. Led by local band chiefs, they walked, went by horseback and drove to the provincial legislature in Victoria to deliver the self-imposed moratorium on spreading biosolids in the Nicola Valley. With a bag of soil and water that they brought with them from home, they hoped to build awareness surrounding the biosolids issue and let the provincial government know that the issue is not going away.
BC Liberals Ignore First Nations
On June 5th, the Interior Health Authority produced a letter declaring that the procedure of dumping biosolids in the Nicola Valley is unlikely to harm human health. The provincial government has essentially given the go-ahead to the practice and not honoured the moratorium declared by the Nicola Valley First Nations.
The fact that the BC government has treated the Nicola Valley First Nations with such contempt only falls in line with the colonial policies that Indigenous people in BC, as well as all over Canada, have suffered from since the beginning of colonization. It really makes one wonder, though, that after all Native people have been through with the loss of land, the genocidal residential schools and Canada's other crimes, that today the government is denying them the right to protect the integrity of what they have left.
Despite the refusal of the provincial government to honour the wishes of the Nicola Valley First Nations, leaders and activists from those communities, as well as the Friends of the Nicola Valley, continue to plan their next steps to oppose the poisoning of their land.
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