2010 A YEAR FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE ISSUES

Newspapers and TV shows always feature the Year in Review, who were the Newsmakers, what issues dominated the media. I have always been frustrated that issues relating to First Nations rarely ever get included in these kinds of stories. Looking back over this year I wanted to highlight the issues that I feel made an impact or that were a recurring story.
VANCOUVER OLYMPICS
The Year began with a lot of focus on the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and Whistler. What was different in these Olympics from others is that First Nations were an integral part of everything. The opening ceremonies started with four welcoming figures rising from the floor and the Four Host Nations, Squamish, Lil’wat, Tseil Waututh and Musqueam welcoming the World into their territories. Indigenous youth from all across Canada danced continuously to honour the parade of athletes entering the arena. Those of us watching were thrilled to see the Chiefs of the four Host Nations sitting with the Heads of State from around the world and being acknowledged as the chiefs of their territories.
 The Four Host Nations Pavilion had 242,000 people visit in 16 days. More than 85,000 people visited the aboriginal Artisan Village and Business showcase. The Olympic torch went through 118 aboriginal communities. The Four Host Nations choosing to be involved in the Olympics allowed for exposure and being able to tell their stories both god and bad.
 Frank Paul
Frank Paul died on December 5, 1998, when police officers dumped his unconscious body in an alley where he died of hypothermia. 12 years later, the injustices of his death are still being debated and so far no one has been held responsible for his death. It took until 2007 to get the government to agree to a public inquiry and it was November 2007 before a hearing began. During 2008 the inquiry continued with many bumps along the way. Procedural issues were raised. Finally in April 2009 an interim report was released by Justice Davies while other issues regarding the inquiry made their way through the court system. In November 2010 the hearing resumed after the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the judge and prosecutors had to testify. On December 15, the inquiry finally ended with a final report due by May 2011. 
The Frank Paul inquiry raised many questions including who should charge police in misconduct cases like this one, issues of investigative transparency and accountability, deaths in custody, how to deal with people who are drunk, not just thrown in jail or back in the street and independent investigations of police conduct. The Frank Paul inquiry is a great example of how far the police, the government and other institutions will go to fight against finding out the real truth of what happened and how it can be prevented.  It is amazing how one person can create change in the system, even if that change takes 13 years to achieve and he is not alive to see it. Frank Paul is only a symptom of what is wrong in the system and how indigenous people are treated in the system and there must be many more changes and recognition of the systemic racism that exists and how it can be eradicated. In May, the report will be tabled, it will then be a political issue to ensure that the recommendations of the inquiry are implemented.
JUSTICE FOR INDIGENOUS WOMEN: Missing women and the PIckton case
How long have we as Indigenous people, leaders, and families been talking about aboriginal women who go missing without a trace whether it is on the Trail of Tears where 18 women have disappeared or in the city of Vancouver or elsewhere in the country. It seems to take an incredible effort to get the attention of the police, the Solicitor and Attorney Generals and the justice system to react. Is it because it is indigenous women? Is it because they just don’t care? Is it because the system cannot handle all the extra work that is needed to investigate these reports? Certainly, media has now been covering these stories more and helping to focus attention on the injustices of the system that ignores these issues and hopes they will go away.
In September, a Working Group of senior Federal Officials came out with 52 Recommendations on how to protect women who live high risk life styles. This study took 4 years to complete. They found that many of the women that were victims were aboriginal. (report can be found at http://www.scics.gc.ca/cinfo10/830992005_e.pdf ) It is always good that issues are studied but ensuring that the recommendations are implemented are key if we want to change anything. At this time I am not sure how or when these recommendations will be used if at all. The Federal government in October announced a $10 million fund to deal with the missing and murdered women. They said they were motivated by a report from Native Women’s Association that had documented 600 cases of missing and murdered aboriginal women over 30 years. This announcement came 8 years after the arrest of Robert Pickton. The response time of the Government in these issues is inexcusable.
 We only have to look to the Pickton case as a good illustration of how long it takes the system to react when it involve indigenous women. That case has been an embarrassment to the Vancouver police Department and the RCMP. Through a lot of agitating, there will now be a public inquiry into the Pickton case. A lot of people are concerned that Wally Oppal, the former Attorney General who did not call for a public inquiry into this case has been appointed to do the inquiry. Terms of reference were not drafted with indigenous leaders and affected families input. You wonder what it takes for the government to learn how to do thing properly, be inclusive and take issues seriously that affect indigenous women and people in general.
TASEKO AND PROSPERITY MINE
The issue of Prosperity mine has been in the news for a few years as the mine went through the environmental processes. The destruction of Fish Lake has been the critical issue, draining of the lake and the killing of all the fish species in that particular lake. It also had other environmental impacts. The federal government finally said No again On November 5, 2010. The federal government apparently has been saying no to this project for 17 years and in particular since 1995, but the company just did not listen. Taseko was successful in getting approval through the provincial environmental assessment process that was politically driven and much less rigorous than the federal independent panel process. It was a good day for the First Nations whose territories would be impacted that their rights would be protected from development that would have adverse affects on them. Sometimes things do work out for First Nations people.
FISHERIES
There were many fisheries issues in the spotlight this year. The biggest being the bumper crop of sockeye salmon in the Fraser River. 35 million sockeye salmon compared to the 1 million in 2009 and 3 very abysmal years before that. The bumper crop have people speculating as to whether this is a one off and Dr. Timothy Parsons, a scientist who has studied this area, has suggest that it has to do with the Kasatochi Volcano  whose iron rich ash caused an explosion of phytoplankton which led to the large return of sockeye. The Cohen inquiry that was established to look into the low sockeye runs in the Fraser River in 2009 and previous commenced their hearings in November and December, were swamped with documents and witnesses. Another inquiry and another question as to what will happen to the recommendations and whether the real issue of declining salmon stocks can be determined from such an inquiry. 
ENBRIDGE NORTHERN PIPELINE PROJECT
The issue of the pipelines across Alberta and BC continues to be a major issue. The Joint Review Panel had hearings and is considering information it received. BC First Nations opposition to this pipeline in BC has been unanimous and the voices of those First Nations have been reflected regularly in the media. The ban on oil tankers on the West Coast by Parliament that passed 143 to 138 in the house on December 7th was a boost to First Nations position on this project.  Enbridge’s conduct in cleaning up the pipeline rupture on the Michigan River has played a part in keeping the story alive and well. Also the big BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has shown people the reality of the effects of offshore oil and gas and the impact of oils spills on people’s livelihoods and the environment. First Nations are not alone in their opposition of the pipeline as the Union of BC Municipalities passed a motion at their annual convention against the pipeline. UBCM represents 180 communities.
RUN OF THE RIVER PROJECTS
Run of the River Projects seem to get a lot of press. These projects are considered green and create green credits. They are very simple. An intake is located on a river/stream that takes water out of the system for a short distance, runs the water down a penstock and is then run through a generator, creating electricity and the water is returned to the stream. Run of the river projects are non consumptive.  These projects vary in how much power is created and each project  needs to be looked at on its own merits. These projects make a lot of sense for First Nations as they can determine where in their territories they would locate them, set environmental standards they want to live with beyond the provincial standards, and create revenue and jobs for their communities. A lot of media stories around these projects deal with First Nations partnering up with power companies or power companies or the BC Government not properly consulting with First Nations. 
This year, the Clean Energy Act was passed by the BC Government which encourages opportunities for First Nations to get involved in creating Clean Energy. BC is in need of power as it is a net importer of power. BC is also in need of being regionally independent for production of power. There are remote First Nations communities that rely on diesel generators and with the ability to create most of their power from a run of the river project can help that community and reduce greenhouse gases. This is an area for First Nations to look into and understand as there is a lot of misinformation being generated by people who do not know all the facts. 
STEWART PHILLIP’s RE-ELECTION
In September Stewart Phillip was re elected for another term. He has served 5 terms as President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. Phillips is a savvy politician and is a leader who brings with him experience, knowledge and relationships. There has been younger, ambitious, energetic politicians being elected but it is important to balance that with someone who knows the system. One thing I find about Grand Chief Stewart Phillip’s leadership style is that he is always using his political voice on many issues affecting First Nations people and promoting our rights and bringing attention to important issues. We need this political voice to give a platform for our issues and bring attention to them so that real change can happen.
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
These are my highlights for the year 2010. I hope in 2011 that the social justice issues that have dominated the stage can be resolved and that justice, fairness and equity will come to indigenous peoples and that real solutions can be found for our beloved woman that have gone missing or who were murdered. I know in 2011 there will be more issues on proposed developments whether it is Site C or Enbridge or the Raven Coal project. Developments affect First Nations rights and title and the struggle will continue to protect the land for future generations. As First Nations people we need to push our issues to be election issues or we will not be able to make the necessary changes we need so desperately to improve the lives of our people. So when I look back at 2010, it is good that many of our issues were reported and highlighted.

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