Editor’s Note: This is part seventeen of a series of testimonies given by our aboriginal neighbors. We are posting these in an attempt to allow everyone to better understand just how badly Canada has neglected the first nations of Canada. These are the words submitted to the JRP Hearings, to Enbridge and to the Government of Canada.
ORAL PRESENTATION BY CHIEF ALEC
CHIEF ALEC: Good afternoon, and thank you for allowing me the time.
Before I start, I’d like to address my Elders in our language. (Speaking in native language).
Thank you again, National Energy Board, for allowing me — to give me the time.
My English name is Frank J. Alec, as I mentioned, and I represent and uphold many generations of Hereditary Chieftainhood of where I’ve been raised and that is out in Old Fort Pendleton Bay and just recently up here on the Woyenne Reserve.
I am registered under the Lake Babine Nation. My father is from Old Fort and my mother is from Moricetown.
Like I said, I am a person that represents many generations of two nations that live side by side, and we have similar ceremonial practices. We have similar cultural practices. And my role as Hereditary Chief is to look after what I need to look after, which is the land base.
I am a trapper; I am a hunter. I trap — I’ve been trapping all my life and from what I read in between the lines here, the National Energy Board here is taking in the information so that you could use it to determine where it can go.
I fully understand that you are not the decision makers and I fully understand that this process is merely another process before the final decision is made. So therefore, the area that I’m trapping in our history and in our land base, I’m what they refer to as (speaking in Native language). That means, “I am given this piece of land, given this responsibility to manage a piece of land from our Hereditary Chief”.
We’ve been using the same area my grandfather has used, and his brothers have used this area. My father used the same area and now I am using that same area. The next people in line will be my sons. I have three sons. They will go up there and take over. And the next people that are following my sons are my grandsons to be. They will take over, and it goes on and on. That’s our tradition.
And what do we do on this land? We set traps. Before the times of my grandfather, the traps were deadfalls and then the trapping — the fur areas that — the fur eras had started to come around. Steel traps came around, leg holds. Some of these traps are still out there. They’re still under the big spruce trees. They’re still in proximity of the streams, of the areas where the mice are, the small rodents that the fur-bearing animals that we trap depend on and so forth.
The reason why I’m telling you this, is this is what’s out there. I know it’s out there because I’ve been trapping all my life. What I trap is the pine marten, the mink, otter, beaver, lynx, fisher, muskrat and wolverine. They’re still out there in the same areas where my grandfather has trapped and the people before me, before my grandfather.
And what do we do with the trapping? As you know the history, some of these furs were sold to other countries and they are still like that right now. But it was not too long ago that I reverted back to our traditional ways where I take the furs; I do not sell them any more. Rather, I give them away at the potlatch, our ceremony.
And when I give them away at the potlatch, I mention where the animal came from, exactly where the animal came from. And the Elders know what I’m talking about when I mean, when I say (speaking in Native language). That’s exactly where I caught the animal. And the Elders know what I’m talking about when I mention that. And I have to mention that to every animal I put forward in the potlatch.
And I still practise that. I’m a trapper. And I’m here to tell you that I still exist out there. And what does it have to do with this situation here? I will mention the word “proximity” later on, but in our culture, proximity means that our Chiefs, the Head Chiefs follow their ancestral rules, their laws, and so do I.
The Hereditary Chiefs that are sitting in the potlatch, they hold names that have a lot of histories and legends behind them. The legends and the history comes with the land base. It describes the Hereditary Chiefs. It reflects the Hereditary Chiefs and there are rules in there, roles in there that the Hereditary Chiefs uphold.
So going back to the animal that I caught and mentioning it to where I caught it, the Hereditary Chiefs, there’s a connection there.
What I’m doing is I’m connecting my submission here to the Hereditary Chiefs, that it is in close proximity and connected to the Hereditary Chiefs, our culture and our traditional ways. And that connection is, of course, the animals and the land where the animals roam. We still practise that out there. I am living proof.
Now, going back to the ceremony, I mentioned the animals, where I caught it. It signifies to the other Hereditary Chiefs in the ceremony or in the potlatch that that piece of land is still healthy, it’s still strong and is still vibrant with those animals.
The history of where I’m working, managing is no different from the other areas, especially when developments are happening. We all know, the Hereditary Chiefs, that developments are happening, forestry, mining.
And it wasn’t too long ago that we’ve started to realize that there are consultation words, there are consultation ways and means on how we could protect and how we could talk to the industry and the major licensees in leaving certain areas alone. And we use the legislations and the laws to help us on that.
Now, what does that have to do with this? It has a lot to do with it. In my submission here, I would say that the development is no different from what’s happening out there right now. It’s no different. I am familiar with the process.
I know that it will go through the same process. The National Energy Board will process the information and, from that point on, it will be processed with a decision somewhere along the line.
Before I get into that again, I want to go back on my role, on what I do on this land. It’s not only the trapping that I do; it’s hunting in these same areas.
I also take the freshwater fish that is out there and I also harvest, every year, the sockeye salmon. This is who I am. This is who my family is and this is how we are with — with this land.
Now, I am in proximity of where this development is going to be happening and when I mean “proximity”, what I mean by “proximity” is that the other Hereditary Chiefs that are going to be impacted, basically, it is impacting me as well because we are all as one in this tradition, in our cultural practices because we always alternate our traditional trapping, hunting.
We don’t want to over-hunt. We don’t want to over-trap one area. We always ask other Hereditary Chiefs if we could hunt and trap in that particular area so we could leave one area alone and let it regenerate. That’s what we do.
So being some kilometres away from the pipeline does not mean that it will not impact me. It will impact me and that is the reason why I took the time to come here and — and have a — have a say into this process.
Now, these are good words. These are words that I — that can be put on paper but, for me, I not only say, I also do. I want to show you what I mean. Gerry!
These are the animals I took from the — the lands that you’re talking about, where this is going to happen and the salmon where it came from.
— (A short pause/Courte pause)
CHIEF ALEC: This is a timber wolf. This is a timber wolf. It comes from the same land and then in the area where this development is going to happen. This is real. This is who I am. This is the marten, the pine marten that I trap every year.
This is who I am and this is who the Hereditary Chiefs and some of the members who are the children of the Hereditary Chiefs represent. This is where our tradition is. This is our culture.
And we cannot live without this sacred animal, our fish, the salmon. This is where we get our food. This is our staple diet. This is real. Our children eat this. The small children, they love their traditional foods. This is our staple diet. This is who we are. And this is real. I cannot get any real.
As I said, I can say a lot of good words but I always make a point of making it happen real and this is — this is what — this is who I am. This is who the Hereditary Chiefs are and our members. This is who we are. There’s not just me, there’s other hunters, there’s other trappers out there that are not able to speak today. They have their livelihoods, they have jobs; they don’t have the time. Nowadays, they have bills to pay too so I’m speaking on behalf of the trappers and the hunters.
And by the way, I also assisted a guide, a local guide here in Burns Lake, for the past two years and I’m sure they are — they are very, very concerned about their livelihood as well because foreign people come in here and they literally fall in love with this area, the way it is.
So I submit this to you that — that this is real, this is who we are and that’s the way we’d like — I’d like the submission to look like.
CHIEF ALEC: Before I — I give it to one of the Hereditary Chiefs here, I’ve always mentioned, in my lifetime talking to the governments, to the major licensees, to all of the developers, I’ve always made a point of letting them know that their laws, their own laws, are strong and there are — there’s a good purpose for their laws, especially when it comes down to the environment.
I want to make a final remark and I know, during the process, it certainly is going to be a remarkable turnaround if something should happen along the way. However, should this development proceed, the probability is not when or if, it will be a matter of time and, with the circumstances beyond anyone’s control, the end result is total destruction of the fish and the wildlife which, in turn, will destroy our food source and we will become nothing.
THE INTERPRETER: Chief Dunane has said to our Chiefs here in the room and around this table, before I stand, before I start — before I start talking to the JRP, I will talk to you in our own language so the people around this table can understand what I really mean.
Enbridge is going to talk; the recorders are marking our words around for the JRP. Enbridge and JRP are all going to deliberate on the words I say and make a decision. I am going to talk to them in their own language. I’m going to tell them how we live, how sockeye is important. I’m going to talk in English so they can hear me.
Sometimes nothing, sometimes our words aren’t heard and they fail to hear of our plight. And so that they’ll understand what I’m talking about and my words won’t fall on deaf ears, this will have to stop today.
There was one word he used, “negelde-dess.” “Negelde-dess” is when we use our father clan’s territory. We have only rights to our (speaking in native language) territory. Like me, I’m only allowed to use my mother’s but if I could, I’d get permission from my father to use his territory. That is called “negelde-dess.”
And the words that he used also was about a marten. This is when he was explaining how Chiefs will understand how our words are used in the potlatch to express where we got certain animals from. Translated he said, “This marten, I trapped it under a deadfall by the river.” And by those words, other Chiefs will understand where in his territory that this marten came from.
JLS ……For What It’s Worth