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

If you believe that their watershed should be protected there is even an online petition you can sign at

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.

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Thursday, March 04, 2010

2010 Olympics shone a welcome spotlight on a new generation of “kick-ass” Canadians

Being 44 years old, I grew up in the ennui days of Canada. Tedious times marked by interminable constitutional wrangling, separatist referenda and a national inferiority complex that was at times nothing short of nauseating.

Long gone (or at least soon to be) were the Canadian heroes who took Vimy Ridge, or ferociously stormed the beaches of Normandy a generation later. Then there were the upstart engineers who built a fighter jet, the Avro Arrow, that would take the Americans 20 years to surpass in performance. But Diefenbaker killed that project and with it seemed to die the idea that Canada could be best at anything in the world.

Then came the FLQ and then the separatists, a long string of deficit budgets, Meech Lake and over time Canada seemed so much less than it had ever been before.

Sure there were flashes of inspiration such as the epic hockey series between Canada and the Soviet Union, where we beat the best players the red army had to offer. But all too often there was a sense of discord and even of pettiness.

There was jealousy between the regions, a West that wanted in and a Quebec that wanted out. There was jealousy between generations, such as the bitterness of Gen Xers watching the best jobs being occupied by complacent baby boomers and Gen Yers who wonder how they might ever realize the dream of home ownership.

But then came the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics. Here we were a country that had hosted the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal and the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary who had yet to win a single gold medal on home soil.

Sure the government and even some corporations had deigned to actually invest some millions of dollars in our athletes so that Canada might “own the podium.” Hardly had the games begun when the derision in the media began. Own the podium? How utterly ridiculous we’re Canadian, that’s absurd!

Fortunately there was a group that wasn’t listening and that was our athletes and all the fans who flocked to see them. Soon the unthinkable happened. Our athletes started winning, not just silver and bronze but gold. And what started as a trickle became a flood when Jon Montgomery, who won gold in the Skeleton, took a victory march in Whistler. He was handed a full pitcher of beer and in triumph downed a third of it before he got to the stands to greet the cheering crowds.

The Kick Ass Canadians had arrived on the world stage. Gone was the hand wringing and self doubt of an older generation, replaced by a new generation that wasn’t afraid to win and be the best in the world, not despite but because they are Canadian.

And win they did 14 Gold medals the most of any nation competing in this year’s winter Olympics. Suddenly it didn’t matter whether an athlete was from Quebec or Manitoba or Nova Scotia, what mattered was that they were Canadian. At every event in the audience was a sea of people waving Canadian flags and wearing Canada jackets, red and white was everywhere.

We cheered on our own but we also cheered on others such as Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong, the self styled Snow Leopard skier from Ghana. We also mourned the shocking death of Georgian Luger Nodar Kumaritashvili and celebrated the bravery and determination of Canada’s Joannie Rochette who won bronze just days after her mother passed away.

As Canadians we went delirious with joy and patriotism as first our women and then our men’s hockey teams beat the Americans to win gold. While at the same time we laughed and cheered as Stephen Colbert gently mocked us while discretely singing the praises of Vancouver and our country.

The truth is that there have always been many Canadians who felt we were the best, but we held our views in check because of all the self-doubters. We felt that we were somehow being un-Canadian when we showed our patriotism. That time I hope has now finally passed.

These athletes who came from all regions of our country and all different ethnic backgrounds showed us that is okay to love our country and to be the best and to let the world know we feel that way as well. It is not gauche it is not unseemly it is in fact exhilarating.

And to the politicians in Ottawa who seemed so embarrassed that they had spent taxpayers money to help our athletes own the podium I simply say thank you. The success of our athletes has done far more to unite Canada than anything else you could have spent that money on.

Let us continue to support our athletes, not just those that may win Olympic gold but those who compete in our neighborhoods. Let us make sure that any girl or boy who wants to dance or play a competitive sport has the opportunity to do so.

As individuals and as a nation, let us no longer find refuge in mediocrity, let us instead be the kick ass Canadians we actually all are.

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