7th May 2015
Posted on May 5, 2015
by Brian Wilford
In the Just When You Thought Things Couldn’t Get Any Worse Department:
Now the Nanoose First Nation wants to be consulted on the Englishman River Water Service’s plans to build a $37-million intake and water-treatment plant on the Englishman River.
First the ERWS was derailed from its timeline, set by Island Health, to have the treatment plant up and running by Dec. 31, 2016 by failing to secure timely senior-government funding.
Then it suffered another setback last Feb. 23 when Fisheries and Oceans Canada ruled the project’s proposed new intake poses “serious harm to fish.”
Now, with the health-authority deadline an impossibility and both ERWS project manager Mike Squire and Parksville Mayor Marc Lefebvre warning that the city of 12,000 could run short of water this summer or next, the Nanoose Nation pops up and says: “Hey, remember us?’
In a letter to the City and the Regional District of Nanaimo from NFN Coun. Brent Edwards dated Mar. 19, and stamped “received” by the RDN April 10, the tiny First Nation notes that the ERWS project falls within its traditional territory.
While the NFN’s reserves total just 54 hectares, its traditional territory covers 3,000 hectares, including a burial site at Craig Bay and the Englishman River.
In 1997, the Supreme Court of Canada, in Delgamuukw v. British Columbia, acknowledged aboriginal title and established a duty to consult with First Nations and to substantially address their concerns.
In June 2014, the SCC further defined aboriginal title as meaning control of ancestral lands and the right to use them for modern economic purposes, without destroying those lands for future generations.
Tellingly, the Nanoose Nation’s Mar. 19 letter begins with a sign that noses are out of joint: “RE. Englishman River Water Supply Project.
“We are writing to provide Nanoose First Nation’s initial comments on the above-noted Application.”
Note the word “initial.”
The ERWS Joint Venture Agreement between the City and RDN was signed July 1, 2011, so, according to the NFN, this is ‘first contact’ after four years.
Having established that the ERWS project is within NFN traditional territory, Coun. Edwards continues: “The proposed project set out in the Application (the “Project”) has the potential to adversely affect and/or infringe Nanoose’s Douglas Treaty and Aboriginal rights.”
It affects their ability to exercise those rights “by adversely affecting habitat and animal populations in the area as well as other resources on which we rely to exercise our Treaty and Aboriginal rights.”
Edwards goes on to say the band is “concerned” about the impacts on their “traditional pursuits.”
“The land sustains us and is at the heart of our culture, traditions, identity, spirituality and rights. Without a meaningful, reasonable and sustainable means of exercising our rights, our very way of life and culture becomes ever more at risk.
“Approving projects without full and accurate information contributes to the further destruction of our rights and culture. The issue is not whether the Project will adversely affect our rights, but by how much.”
Then the band, on behalf of itself and the Crown, demands to see the full project file, including “information on how Nanoose was consulted.”
It also demands to know “how you intend to consult with Nanoose” and “how you intend to engage with Nanoose to understand Nanoose’s information requirements to fully and meaningfully assess the potential direct, indirect and cumulative impacts of the Project on Nanoose’s rights and interests.”
In November 2013, prior to the June 2014 SCC ruling, the NFN sent a similar letter to the RDN regarding the proposed $2.3-billion Fairwinds residential subdivision, delaying the project for some nine months.
Bob Rogers, RDN Area Director for Nanoose Bay, said he did not want to comment on the latest letter prior to the Thursday, May 7 meeting of the ERWS management board, where the letter is on the agenda.
NFN representatives could not be reached for comment.