Editor’s Note: This is part thirty-four 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 LEON CHALIFOUX:
CHIEF CHALIFOUX: Good morning. First of all, I would like to thank the Treaty 6 Elders for the smudging this morning and the prayer for us. Last night, too, we also held a pipe ceremony for us today and we did a prayer for ourselves and for the Panel to strongly hear our words.
As was mentioned in the treaty, the prior Chief that — these medicines, this sacred items come from the land and our people still very, very much use these things today. So it’s — let’s not forever forget that.
I’m Chief Leon Chalifoux. I’m the elected Chief of the Swan River First Nation. I’ve been in the Council since 1996. In 2002, I was elected Chief and that remains up until today. I’m also a livelihood Chief with the Treaty 8 First Nations of Alberta, the portfolio of livelihood.
I’m 44 years old, 45 next month. I am a parent. I do have three children; I have three grandchildren. I’m fortunate, my parents are also still with me. Our — my mushum and kokum left some time ago. So I had spent a lot of time when I was young — lived with them as well. So I learned a lot of our ways from my mushum and kokum and many of my uncles, aunties, et cetera.
I am a hunter; I am a fisher; I do gather; I do practice our spiritual ways; that will never change. That’s what our Treaty protected, no government or nobody is supposed to touch us about that, so we have some clear protection there.
We are a Woodland Cree Nation. We have a registered population of approximately 1,100 members. We have approximately 360 on the Reserve and many of them are actively engaged in our traditional ways.
We have two Reserves, the south shore of Lesser Slave Lake, Swan River 150E, and we also have Asino River, just to the west — or sorry, to the east of us, 150F.
A little bit of history on why we are here. Swan River First Nation is one of the negotiators and a signatory to Treaty Number 8 in 1899. That Treaty had afforded us many protections and as well as it protected our way of life and how we use the land and how we relate to the land.
So a lot of our treaties were oral promises, like your forest and river life will never change; everything you have now you will always retain; we will not interfere with your religious ways; there will be no competition for resources.
These are very strong elements in which our negotiators in those days agreed — eventually agreed to sign, is because it wasn’t to — it had not effect on us, we had everything that we always had and then we had to — we did negotiate additional benefits, such as education and such.
These are a clear gain as to what we have already had, which was our Aboriginal rights and title, so I want to make that point.
One of our fundamental promises is that we would continue to hunt, trap, gather, fish and carry out our practices as we had always done. This was as long as the sun shines and the rivers flow. So this agreement is very, very strong, and very, very long.
Our Treaty was also a sharing agreement with the newcomers but we did not agree, and we would never agree that the Crown in its taking up of lands would take up so much that we could not continue to exercise our ways.
And you’ll hear a little bit of our ways and how we use the land and how we’re impacted by some of these things, but we need to make that clear, that without consultation, without Treaty rights we wouldn’t be sitting in front of you here today. So that’s kind of why we’re here now, based on the consultation process.
Our Treaty, in Section 35 of the Canada Constitution protects our traditional ways. It protects our patterns of land use and how we use the land. And I think it’s very well known that land use is very critical for First Nations to maintain their culture and their heritage. There’s many teachings out on the land.
We’ve been — Swan River has so many concerns with development, the massive amount of development in our territory. We have waste treatment plants. We have pipeline spills. We have all kinds of things like that. We have studied the land; we have found contamination in the water. We have a 30-kilometre radius of certain areas where we cannot exercise our use — use our land because of pollutants, because of PCBs, et cetera, those types of contaminations.
This is — this causes great concern because now where we once were we had vibrant land. It’s been so much taken up that we’re forced to travel, and travel farther and farther and farther away to hunt, to gather, because if we — I think some of the submissions we made we provided some mapping and if you were to refer to those mapping you will see the great disturbance in our territory already, in a small area we’ve identified, a study area. And it’s only a small area because of the limitations on funding we have to actually get the footprints and then the health of the land out there.
So we’re always limited as to what we could say, what we could do because either the Crown or industry don’t want to help with providing a lot of the capacity that’s needed to do a meaningful job. They will just help you a little bit to give you only what I would refer to as a half-ass job.
Again, I can’t not — I need to talk more about the development that is there and the species that are affected and our people that are affected by not able to find some of these species now, whether it’s a moose or whether it’s our plant, our herb, our medicine.
You know, for years we’ve been telling the Alberta Crown that there’s problems, there’s not enough moose, the territory where we’re hunting in is being clear-cutted, we have flooding problems, run-off — rain run-off, we have a lot of siltation problems. We’ve had contaminated game. I guess I could be more specific and to say the moose, the deer, the elk, all these different things but it’s basically the ungulates.
And if I don’t — I hate to be specific because when you’re specific you’re — again, you’re limiting yourself because whatever you’re bringing forward it’s — you’re only talking about that one specific thing. So when we’re talking — if we were to talk flora and fauna, you know, this is what’s being contaminated out there, you know.
We’ve always exercised our traditional ways. We’ve always eaten traditional foods. Absent the traditional foods, because we cannot find them in our territory no more, due to development is what we believe, we’re now forced to spend more time into the stores and buying all these different foods that are not really appropriate, I guess, for the physiologies of our body.
So we have high rates of — we have diabetes, we have cancers, we have aneurysms, we have so many new diseases coming to our nation that we don’t know what to do about this but it’s there. We feel that if our lands were left alone and lands were left clean and healthy that our people would be healthy. You know, a healthy land would mean a healthy people.
But we have no control. The Crown and its representatives are in full control of the land, full in control of who is allowed to develop, who is allowed to do this and that and all we have is a consultation process that, for the most part, just allows us really to blow off steam. So we hope that things change and we hope for meaningful — I’d like to say “discussions” but it needs to be more than discussions, I think action needs to take place.
Albertans, Canadians in general, they have no knowledge really of our Treaty. They have no knowledge of what it really done for the people of Treaty 8, specifically the Swan River people, to maintain our ways.
It was so important that our religious interference would not be there, that it was actually — it was talked about in negotiations, and they weren’t to interfere with our ways, and our religion, our spirituality, but residential schools changed that now, they took a lot of that way from us, forcefully. I have to say it’s forcefully because we didn’t agree to that, as evidenced in our Treaty negotiations.
Now, a lot of culture was lost on that process. A lot of our ways were — I’d like to say they were lost but they’re still there. Like it’s pretty hard to kill the Indian in the Indian because the spirit is very strong, so it needs to be understood that way.
So on one hand we have the residential schools trying to destroy our culture and now we have — and then we get through that, now we’re here and we’re still using the land, we’re still teaching our young people how to hunt, how to go out on the land and survive.
So we’ve been doing — we’ve been having boy’s camps is what we’re calling hunting camps. So we take our young youth, our young guys out there and this has been going on about close to 40 years.
So we take them out there and we teach them. I myself was one of them, I was a youth; I was very young when I was out on one of those camps learning about this and then I was able to go out on my own and do my thing.
And now, the ones that we’ve — I was a supervisor as well on some of these youth trips and they’re now out there on their own hunting now, so our ways we learn are out of the land and that still exists today and it’s very strong and we don’t want that interfered with. Our Treaty had protected that.
I will talk a little bit about the spills but we’ll have other members, some of the group will be talking to other things here as well, so I’ll only touch a little bit on where my mind takes me as I go through my notes here so…
I think I have talked about the development already and our continued ability to exercise our rights in gathering and hunting and occupying our territory out there, and due the mapping in some of the work that we’ve been doing, our territory, we believe has reached already a critical threshold. We don’t know it’ll come back and what’s left is contaminated, so we have great concerns about that.
We have many impacts in our territory since 1950’s or so, that’s when the Swan Hills’ area and so forth, that whole — it’s hard to talk because the more you say sometimes the more you limit yourself when you talk.
So we have a Treaty 8 territory where we exercise our rights, basically, our Aboriginal rights and titles. So that’s the Treaty 8 territory. This was set aside for the use and benefit of our people. That’s what our negotiators have done for us.
They didn’t agree that they would take up, again, so much land that we can’t go hunt, we can’t go gather, we can’t go stay at this, we can’t go have our ceremonies our there because it’s just like a massive wave of roads and pipelines so we have no remoteness.
There’s absolutely no where we can go out there where we can have our — have our time to ourselves, I guess, and quiet. You know, we need quiet when we do our prayer and our ceremonies, but if we have trucks and rigs all these things driving by us, no matter where we are at out there, we have concerns with that.
I don’t know who, whether it’s the JRP or whether it’s the Crown or it’s Proponent that deals with cumulative effects, you know, like you cannot look at this pipeline in isolation of any other existing development out there, so I don’t know where that’s at.
I think that cumulative effects assessments are very, very necessary. It gives you a better picture of the eco systems of the plant communities that are there, of the whole area generally speaking.
We’ve had spills and releases from the Swan Hills waste treatment plant. In the beginning it was a 50 kilometre radius, I believe, that could be corrected, that we could not use our resources there, very, very — I think it was — we couldn’t do it. But then eventually it changed to where we could only consume very little, very, very little.
We know of many spills out in our territory. It causes us great concern because when we live our way of life out on the land are we now poisoning ourselves because of somebody’s development, somebody’s lack of consultation on a given project or a more broader basis to address cumulative effects and I don’t know what kind of protections are on our waterways or even in our air.
We’ve had many concerns with Alberta about the lack of air monitoring, the lack of water monitoring in our traditional territory. I believe they more do it so in and around the communities, the cities.
So if you were to take a trip out to our territory in any — just breathe the air out there and then you tell me, you can get a really good picture from this what you smell in the air out there, it’s not clean.
You can see the waterways, they’re not clean; there’s plenty of rust, and you can see the discolouration of plants out on our territory; and we can see all the deformities in some of the moose and some of game and the fish. Like this has been going on for years and I don’t see it stopping until the land is fixed, it’s reclaimed.
To this very day we still have an advisory in and around the Swan Hills area that really limits our consumption on our traditional foods that were protected under Treaty.
A lot of our members are hunters and gatherers and they do practice our ways but we have a lot of fear of contamination and it’s already evidence, there’s science around that already. And we’ve already mentioned the impacts and the lack of moose in our territory.
There’s huge forestry activities in our territory. There’s thousands of kilometres of pipelines and right-a-ways and gates and clear-cutting, like the list goes on.
We are forced to go further away; we are forced to go more to the east. We’re forced to go more south. We already travel further than the route of the pipeline. We’ve already been going further than that now, and in and around the area where the pipeline is.
It’s really hard — it’s really hard to be an Indian, I guess. And it’s really expensive because we now have to travel, like I said, hour, maybe two and then, we know the price of fuel and we have to take our food, we have to take water because can no longer drink the water in our streams out there, they’re contaminated. So there are many issues.
I speak a little bit over the importance to the lands and in relation to our culture and our wellbeing as Cree people as Swan River people.
We are very, very — I guess — saddened and hurt and concerned that our resources are diminishing, you know. It’s really hard because our Treaty protected this for us; the Crown has not lived up to that obligation.
Our whole traditional territory has become industrialized, and I’ve mentioned already there’s contamination and there’s likely going to be more contamination and there’s likely going to be more pipeline spills, there’s likely going to be more tank — like there’s just spills, we just need to reduce.
We’ve talked about already, a little bit about our food and how we’re now — we’re being forced to purchase more from the stores rather than exercise our way of life on our land and providing our food and some of these things for us as well. This causes hardships on us.
I think I’ve already touched a little on the consequences of our physical wellbeing by changing foods, you know, from a traditional food to more process type western foods.
In a study I participated in many years ago, I believe it was the U of A, that said that in order for our bodies as — I’ll use Cree for an example — to change over from our traditional foods over to the western foods is about a 500 year process, I understand, for our bodies to adapt and maybe be healthy eating it, presently, it’s not. I think it’s only been a little over 100 years since some of these foods come to us and we start using them. Now we have many health problems, we have lots of health problems.
We firmly believe that the Crown has taken no steps to assess what is required by the Swan River First Nation to protect our meaningful exercise of our constitutionally protected rights or to manage the development of Swan Hills to ensure that our rights continue in perpetuity, as long as the sun shines and river flows.
We’ve entered into consultation arrangements with the Gateway or Enbridge people back a long time ago, and in the very beginning it was never a good relationship that we had. We were being told in the very beginning that “You’re so far away that you don’t matter”, you know, whatever the distance is. I don’t know the processes that are unilaterally developed and imposed on us so I don’t know many of those.
But when we’re being told that “Oh, you’re so far away this isn’t going to have an impact on you, and we’ll show you our maps so you’ve got some of this information before you already” so we didn’t agree with that statement. We challenged them and they come around and they decided to consult with us.
So that was again, if they would have done it on their own good will it would have been okay, but no, we had to challenge, we had to force them to the table.
We’ve had many concerns with some of the information requests because a lot of the information is not coming back to us that we requested. So we don’t know when we’ll get that. So we’re hoping at some point in time that we get that soon.
We were — in our agreement with — in our protocol agreement with Enbridge folks we were supposed to be fully involved in the environmental work. We did get to do a little bit. We were also supposed to get copies of the report, the environmental assessment. I guess that would be the wildlife, the fisheries, those types of reports. We were promised that.
We had a meeting in Calgary with the folks, the representatives of Enbridge. They promised that we would get this report the next day and that one of our members or one of our employees would be picking it up the next day. They also promised us $20,000 to have a third party review these documents.
It wasn’t until — I don’t know how long — how much time had passed, but we find out that we were lied to; that the report was never done, it was probably never, ever going to be given to us. And when it was going to finally be given to us we were asked to sign a confidentiality agreement around that so we couldn’t really do nothing with it, and only to find out a couple — or just shortly afterwards that they released it publicly, these reports.
So we feel we’re being silenced somehow and we feel that we’re being left out of a process that we agreed that we’d be fully involved in the environmental work.
So it wasn’t until we met with Roger Harris I think — then he was the Vice-President — where he was the one who told us that well — that the work was not done and that we weren’t going to get it. Like he knew this and then yet the representatives of Enbridge were telling us we were going to get it. So we’re waiting for it; we’re trying to do our work and trying to make proper assessments of what’s before us. So we didn’t get that.
And then, like I mentioned, when we did — we were finally offered the work we were asked to sign a be-quiet agreement and only to have them release it publicly later on, like just shortly after. So we feel there’s something wrong there. We feel that we were treated very badly there.
And I think it was before Christmas we had a meeting with them. They did — we did provide — we did get some funding from CEAA to participate, although it doesn’t really cover what we really need to do, you know, to get a real snapshot of the land, of the territory, of what is actually going on. I believe it was 25,000.
We did some mapping work. We did a few things, you know, and it doesn’t — money don’t last when — like without funding, without capacity and then you want to asses projects, you want to assess impacts, without those it’s impossible. And we’re never provided what we need, we’re always limited, we’re always limited.
We need to look at a more bigger picture.
We understand that this JRP is a national process, it’s a federal process because of the interprovincial boundary crossings. So it’s a kind of a national process, I would assume. Okay, and I believe for the First Nations it’s also a national concern as well, as we share and feel the same concerns for the B.C. First Nations.
We also share concerns and feel for the First Nations in the Oil Sands regions who are faced with this development, likely to increase as a result if the pipeline is to go ahead.
You know, I know some of the Chiefs in those areas and I know the impacts that they are faced with. So we need to look at this from not only maybe one Nation but all the Nations involved because it is a national process. So if Canada is taking a national approach then the Nations should be heard on a national basis as well, not on an individual basis, I believe.
In closing, and this part of my talk, the bottom line is we need to protect our culture and our way of life. We see the developments and we see no limits in place to make sure that our children and our future generations can still have the land and resources and occupy areas of land where they can hunt, gather and be Cree people.
Now, we see all the development out there. We’re engaged in some of the consultation on massive development. Last year alone our consultation offices tried to deal with 421 referrals alone, you know, that’s — and then we’re doing this with cutbacks from Alberta on their capacity funding they are providing to our consultation office. They give us a cut of 16 percent. And then the workload actually tripled and then we’re getting cutback or limits — again limits. But we try to do what we can.
We’re very concerned on the land. We’ve spent money getting mapping done, footprints done. We’re trying to — we’ve developed a database. We want to record and maintain all this information so that development is more respectful of I guess the Cree people and how our uses of the land are.
And we always feel we always have to prove — prove your “Indianness”. I always feel offended by that, you know, how we use the land. Like it’s — maybe it’s Canada’s fault or maybe it’s our fault for not teaching the general public of Canadians and Albertans alone of the First Nations, of our Treaty, of our way of life, of these things.
So maybe something needs to happen there. Education needs to come to the people out there because I don’t think they know what our Treaty was about but we are willing to teach them.
We are not opposed to development. We will oppose development that don’t respect our Treaty rights. We need to maintain our culture and community and that always comes first for us. We’ll always use the land. We’ll always use what is handed down to us, the knowledge of using the land from our Elders.
We will be taking a hard look at this process. I do want to make comments that we were limited as to the study area on the project. I do want to make those comments. I want to let that be known to the Panel. Again, it’s likely due to funding; it’s likely due to whatever. It’s nothing to do with what we want, obviously, so that’s a shame.
So there is more work we would have liked to have done but we were — we’re not a rich nation. We can’t just readily come up with funding to just pay our experts to do this work for us, so I think it’s already well known of the inadequate funding that’s provided to First Nations anyway, so — and then the loss of the territory and earning livelihoods and earning a living, this has great impacts to us.
We have not formally taken a position on the Gateway pipeline as of this time. I have mentioned earlier, we have not gotten all the information we need to make — to help us to make these decisions, along with our community. Our community has been engaged with this. They are — they have great concerns as well, and the group here today is speaking on behalf of the Swan River First Nation as well, so…
This is quite new to me, this whole process of what it is we’re trying to do here. And I do understand there will be another hearing again down the road. Is that more of an argumentative type hearing, or…
I know we have — as we go further west to us where we have caribou herds, into the Little Smoky area. Caribou herds are in dire shape. They are at risk of extirpation. Our members of Swan River First Nation have Treaty rights to hunt caribou. This is part of our way of life but the members have chosen at this time not to hunt the herds because of the declining numbers and the risk, so this is an ongoing infringement of our Treaty.
The pipeline will cross through critical habitat for the Little Smoky herd, and the Little Smoky herd is important to Swan River First Nation.
There are about 78 individual caribou remaining. According to Environment Canada this puts the herd at high risk of extirpation. Environment Canada estimates that 95 percent of the required habitat is presently disturbed. Drastic and immediate emergency measures are required to protect the herd, and the pipeline will further fragment and disturb the habitat of this herd.
Just give me a second to go through my notes to make sure I’ve covered what I wanted to say.
— (A short pause/Courte pause)
CHIEF CHALIFOUX: Okay. I think I’ve got a lot said, there will be more people speaking to some of the issues.
An education needs to happen on the Treaty. I know we’re trying to show impacts to the people of Swan River First Nation. You can’t exclude the Treaty from that because the Treaty protected us from that, so we need to somehow address that down the road, how our Treaty will be respected through this process.
I believe the — is it the CEAA, the Act itself does not address Treaty rights, that’s what I’ve been understanding so I don’t know. I’m not an expert in the Act. I don’t know if I would want to be in the present form.
So this is — will be all I’ll say for now. I thank you for listening.
MR. NELSON: I just wanted to note for the benefit of the Panel that Chief Chalifoux spoke about the Swan Hills waste treatment centre and I think you’ll hear about that from other presenters as well. And if you look on the map, just to locate it for you so you have a sense of what’s being referred to, it’s the red star almost in the centre there.
You’ll see it’s right in the heart of the — what’s referred to as the Swan Hills region, and so Swan River First Nation reserves are on the southern — there you go. Swan River First Nations reserves are just on the southern shores of Lesser Slave Lake. This is generally referred to as the Swan Hills region, and this is where the waste treatment centre is. And then you’ll see the pipeline corridor.
This is an earlier version, but it gives you a general idea of where the pipeline corridor is going through.
In the traditional use study that was submitted by Swan River First Nation — I don’t want to give evidence here, but you’ll find more information about the details of the leakage from the waste treatment centre in the 1990s and the issue with PCB contamination and the radius where the provincial advisory is not to consume resources from within there. So there’s more detailed information there.
I just wanted to make that clear for you because I think it’s being referenced indirectly, and to provide some context for what’s being discussed by the presenters.
CHIEF CHALIFOUX: It would have been nice if we could have showed the — I do believe we presented a disturbance map. It would have been nice for the Panel to see it here and then let the public as well see what we’re talking about when we mention massive amount of development.
I don’t know if we’re able to show that. It was submitted as evidence, I believe. And if we could just have a quick view just to show — you know, give a visual of what we’re talking about. Is that possible?
MR. NELSON: Yeah. So I do have it with me. Perhaps I could arrange to have it provided for you while the other presenters are presenting.
It was submitted in the written evidence by the deadline, so it’s not at the introduction of new evidence, it would be a reference to existing evidence.
CHIEF CHALIFOUX: But it lays out a picture. It shows you visually — and there it is.
MR. NELSON: That was very quick. Thank you.
Once again, your support staff is very helpful.
So we’re not making argument based on this today.
CHIEF CHALIFOUX: No.
MR. NELSON: But this will give you a sense — actually, I think it’s on — if you look at page 5 of the report, it shows a time lapse. It might be a little — it might be before that, actually. Here you go.
So this is the disturbance mapping. It’s done from satellite photos, so it’s really a snapshot of linear disturbance on the ground in the Swan Hills region. So this is the region you’ll see.
That’s Lesser Slave Lake to the north, and then the Swan Hills area, which is really the backyard for the Swan River First Nation. You’ll see since 1988 there’s already a high level of disturbance, but by 2009 the red represents disturbance; the green is intact landscape.
Very little left in terms of intact landscape. And that’s what the presenters are speaking to when they say that within their lifetimes they’ve seen that territory right in their backyard go from relatively productive to a situation where they’re having difficulty finding moose to hunt and other resources.
MEMBER MATTHEWS: Thank you, Chief, for your presentation.
You mentioned that the community has to travel further in order to hunt. You mentioned the direction of east and south. So is that like — is that within the corridor area of the pipeline, proposed pipeline where we’re —
CHIEF CHALIFOUX: South, yes. It is along the Fox Creek area and the Berlin area. We do have our boy camps in that area as well, we do camp in that territory, so we are out there. Yes.
JLS ……For What It’s Worth