Friday, March 05, 2010
The Okanagan Water War
If you go out in the woods near Vernon, BC you’re in for a big surprise. The Okanagan Indian Band has blockaded a major logging road. Why? It’s not just the usual battle over Aboriginal Title and Rights, although that is certainly part of it. It’s because Tolko intends to commence logging of the watershed that supplies the majority of the 1,800 residents of the Okanagan Indian Band with their drinking water.
You would think that in this day and age that protection of your drinking water was established. Up until 1962 it was. But it was back in the early 1960s that the then Social credit government of WAC Bennett decided to open up many of these protected watersheds to commercial logging.
Of course most municipalities quickly moved to protect their drinking water supplies. It would be a cold day in hell before any forest company was allowed to go log near the watersheds that supply Metro Vancouver or Greater Victoria with their drinking water. But for many rural areas and nearly everyone living on reserve no such protection exists.
Also despite its fiduciary obligation to those citizens it placed on reserves, Canada did absolutely nothing to protect the drinking water supplies for indigenous communities while the hills above these reserves were parceled out by the Province of British Columbia to various forestry companies.
Of course having created this problem what have the decision makers in Ottawa and Victoria done about this mess? So far they have done absolutely nothing. They have been content to see the situation escalate because of much of this was happening when our and their attention was focused on the 2010 Olympics.
The courts haven’t been much help either. Despite the fact that title to the area is a matter that is in dispute and before the courts, the Wilson case, the courts have refused to grant an injunction against the logging so that a proper archeological assessment of the area can be done.
With all legal avenues having been exhausted, and continued indifference from the politicians in Victoria and Ottawa, the Okanagan Indian Band has set up an information picket on Westside Road, a paved road which runs through their reserve. High up in the hills they have established a camp and full blockade of a logging road near Bouleau Lake.
The Okanagan Nation Alliance, the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and the AFN have all spoken out in support of the Okanagan Indian Band. The Western Canada Wilderness Committee and the BC Tap Water Alliance have even sent representatives to the blockade.
The Colville Tribes, the other half of the Okanagan Nation that ended up on the US side of the 49th parallel has also sent a strongly written statement to Prime Minister Harper in support of the Okanagan Indian Band. Many other First Nations and Environmental organizations are stepping forward to lend their support as well.
The one federal agency that has been watching this all very closely has been the RCMP. Essentially without some political leadership from Ottawa and Victoria this conflict could all too easily escalate into violence.
The solution to me is an obvious one. Tolko should go log elsewhere and the 1,800 residents of the Okanagan Indian Band should have the watershed that supplies their drinking water fully protected. Obviously Tolko should be paid some compensation by Ottawa and/or BC for their loss, which amounts to about a three day supply of fiber for their mill in Armstrong.
This being the 21st century the Okanagan Indian Band has set up a facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=318070971723&ref=ts
If you believe that their watershed should be protected there is even an online petition you can sign at http://www.petitionspot.com/petitions/brownscreek
Tolko is not the enemy in this situation, government mismanagement and indifference is. The only thing that will change that is if the politicians in Ottawa and Victoria see that there are actually enough people who care about the issue of safe drinking water to make them resolve this conflict.
This blog has also been published at Vancouverite.com