Last weekend, community members of Whitehorse and beyond gathered together in a healing ceremony for the survivors and victims of Canada’s long history with residential schools.
Together, members from the white, yellow, blue and red tribes carried the carefully carved healing totem to its new home on Main St. and First Ave. What a powerful way for us to show that we all carry this burden; we all have a part to play in supporting and acknowledging the multi-generational impacts that residential schools have left on First Nations communities across the country.
I find it disturbing that this past week, the governing party of our territorial government tabled legislation that intends to take away the veto power against oil and gas development from the Kaska, as well as other First Nations that have not yet signed a land claims agreement. This veto power had been guaranteed within the Umbrella Final Agreement, in many ways the most important treaty enacted in our territory in the last 100 years for building respect between colonizers and original peoples.
The Kaska have not signed a land claims agreement and so do not receive the same royalties from mining or oil and gas development that the other signed First Nations or the territorial government receive. If this veto is removed by our territorial legislature, there will be a lengthy and costly Supreme Court battle to pursue the rights guaranteed in the Umbrella Final Agreement.
So why is our government pursuing the “no veto” amendment? In the southeast corner of our territory, natural gas development has slumped. Prices for natural gas are currently sitting at about $3 a barrel and the North American market is inundated with the stuff.
However, across the B.C. border in Treaty 8 country, the Horn River is booming with natural gas development. The difference between these two regions is as simple as two words: hydraulic fracturing.
Conventional natural gas development can only extract so much gas out of the ground. Fracturing, or fracking, can get at the rest. All you need is a bunch of water … over a million litres per frack that must be treated with a toxic cocktail of chemicals, essentially removing it permanently from the water cycle, and afterwards storing the polluted results in wells deep in the Earth’s crust where we will never hear from it again. Unless perhaps the well fails … which has happened elsewhere and could happen in B.C. … and here if we permit fracking.
The “no veto” clause would permit the government to allow natural gas development in Kaska country – the First Nations would have no power to block it and they would be the primary losers if water quality in the area is destroyed.
So here we are as a territory, reaching out our hands in respect to First Nations people and the struggles they have had in the face of assimilation and colonization, and at the same time, disregarding the agreements we made and rights that we know that they held long before most of us even got here.