Column: Adopting historic views for modern times

Expanding role for First Nations in managing environment

For thousands of years before North America became colonized by European explorers and subsequent waves of immigration, the land was occupied by Indigenous peoples.

They spoke different languages and lived in territories that didn’t have the borders and boundaries that exist today. And they sustained themselves living off the land, nurturing their environment in ways that modern practices ignored in the interests of encouraging massive resource production and urban growth.

That knowledge, which was passed down from generation to generation within Indigenous communities, was broken down while massive urban growth coupled with intensive resource extraction endangered our future water supply.

But looking at the state of our environment today has led to a reconciliation with historical practices on how to manage our water supply and our land.

This past year has seen several water use and climate change impact conferences take place across the Okanagan, and a notable participant at these events as keynote speakers have been First Nation representatives, both Indigenous band elders sharing their own knowledge passed down from their forefathers and a younger generation educated in modern environment management tools but trying to resurrect past land use practices long endeared to their own cultural values for literally centuries.

Deana Machin, strategic development manager for First Nations Fisheries Council, was as keynote speaker at the Environmental Water Flow Needs conference held in Kelowna this fall.

While Machin welcomes this new era of inclusivity, she says it’s just a first step in what will be a long and challenging road.

“We have to continue to work together but there is no end to that process,” Machin said. “It is tough and uncomfortable at first, but like anything it is about getting used to doing things differently, being more inclusive from a First Nations point of view and appreciating the different perspectives.

“It gets complicated as you get more people at the table going forward. We recognize it is not easy for different levels of government. While First Nations people are excited about doing this work and forging new relationships, there is also some apprehension given how this relationship has worked for the past 100 years.”

When Machin spokes to a conference room full of government and private consultant environment management officials at the conference, she made it clear that token representation at the decision-making table is not acceptable.

“There is no point in being welcomed to the table for discussion if the decisions are already made before we can have any input. You can’t bring us in at the end of that process, we need to be involved from the beginning.”

Machin cited at the conference how government biologists come and go, transferred from one job and one community or region to another, but for Indigenous people their relationship to their traditional territories never changes.

“We will still be here long after you are all gone,” she said.

While how that resonates in government circles remains an ongoing process, it is clearly taking hold within First Nations communities today, how a younger generation is seeking to reconnect with their past, a chain of knowledge passed down by village elders and knowledge keepers that was interrupted by destructive government policies such as residential schools.

Machin says issues affecting the Okanagan Valley watershed surrounding forestry, agriculture, land management and urban development tend to resolve ultimately around one key issue—water supply.

“Jurisdiction over water is so spread out among federal, provincial and even municipal government level interests, trying to engage in water governance doesn’t involve dealing with one central agency.

“For good or bad, all decisions made on land affects our watershed water supply….water is such a high priority for First Nations culturally and as a focal point of our survival.”

That rings true for the rest of us as well.

Barry Gerding is the senior regional reporter for Black Press in the Okanagan.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Perseid meteor shower at peak on Aug. 11 and 12

Find place away from city lights for optimal viewing

Billet homes needed for Shuswap hockey teams

Silverbacks, Eagles, Heat put out call for host homes for players

Hostility at Shuswap restaurant ignites campaign calling for respect

“If you can’t follow the rules, then stay home,” says BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association

Morning Start: The Exorcist film set was haunted

Your morning start for Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020

Salmon Arm pickleball club’s request for defibrillator will go to city budget

City council decides to forward request for Klahani Park to 2021 budget deliberations

COVID-19 exposure alert at Cactus Club in downtown Kelowna

Interior Health also reported three new cases of COVID-19 tied to Kelowna, bringing the total to 161

Brain safety top of mind for North Okanagan kids

Bylaw officers noticing a number of youth out riding bikes, scooters, skateboards without helmets

Lawsuit launched after Florida child handcuffed, booked and briefly jailed

Suit alleges “deliberate indifference” to what should have been handled as a behavioural issue

Russia approves vaccine, Putin hopes to begin mass production

Critic calls decision to proceed without thorough testing ‘dangerous and grossly immoral’

UPDATE: House fire spreads to nearby bush in North Okanagan

Small blaze burning near Vernon in Six Mile area

Man, 54, charged in connection with fatal attack of Red Deer doctor

Doctor was killed in his walk-in clinic on Monday

Summerland begins reopening aquatic centre

First phase of reopening planned for Sept. 8

Most Read