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Time to use new ways

Economy: Chief stresses importance of sustainability.
A number of workshop participants were eager to speak to Adams Lake Indian Band Chief Robin Billy following his keynote address at the Moving Forward Together workshop held Wednesday

A new way of doing things.

This was a theme of sorts for the latest Moving Forward Together Workshop held at the Quaaout Lodge on June 10.

Keynote speaker Chief Robin Billy of the Adams Lake Indian Band spoke on integrating Secwepemc knowledge and traditional wisdom with today’s community planning.

“We really have to change the way we do things,” he said, after speaking of the Mt. Polley Mine disaster, the recent fuel spill off Vancouver, deforestation, water pollution of area lakes, the push for more oil and gas pipelines and climate change.

“In a real sense we hold our laws within ourselves,” he said, noting the stories that have guided the Secwepemc people for thousands of years emphasize environmental responsibility.

“It’s our choice to dump bilge water in the lake. It’s our choice if you’re going to build a cabin to build a composting toilet...”

Billy talked about his own background.

“I grew up on the land as a young child, picking berries. I was taught to hunt, gathering roots... knowing the importance of traditional foods for health.”

“Growing up in that kind of lifestyle leads you to protect the earth,” he said.

After high school in Chase he went to the University of Manitoba where one of the programs he enrolled in was begun by former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Phil Fontaine. Elders across Canada participated, sharing knowledge of land, principles, values and practices around land management.

Returning with a science degree, Billy worked with the Kam-loops Indian Band as environmental coordinator, where he developed a new environmental assessment process.

He talked of the history of the Secwepemc territory, and the effects of settlers and government policy, including the breaking of historical agreements over land and the Indian Act.

He hates the term ‘lazy Indian.’

“I’ve always worked hard and we were legislated out of the economy.”

He spoke of the evolution of case law in B.C., pointing out that a lot of First Nations are fighting for land title and rights.

“A lot of people will have to start accepting the facts, we’ve never signed a treaty or gave up land. We have a role to protect our territory.”

He said an economy based on sustainability could mean many things, from eco-tourism to sustainable forestry. He referred to the Site C dam planned for the Peace River, a “big sexy project,” noting B.C. is falling behind the whole nation in terms of wind development, for instance.

“Flood off a lot of agricultural land, flood off sacred sites – there might be a better way...”

Another new way of doing things relating to the Together Shuswap event was the focus on youth, the future leaders.

Amy Greenwood with the Fraser Basin Council helped convene the youth engagement part of the workshop.

“We were really impressed by the level of participation,” she said, noting about 18 young people and young adults from ages 16 to 24 took part, including two youth facilitators, Natalya Melnychuk from Sorrento and Brock Endean from Chase.

One of the key items identified, Greenwood  said, was the need to establish a formalized “youth council” or youth advisory group to help identify more effective ways to engage youth in important community discussions and decision-making processes.

She said the main themes for youth were: • developing alternative transportation rather than private cars so more youth can connect with each other; • creating open spaces and meeting places where youth can come together; and, particularly from First Nations youth, • making it possible to learn more about traditional practices from more elders.


Martha Wickett

About the Author: Martha Wickett

came to Salmon Arm in May of 2004 to work at the Observer. I was looking for a change from the hustle and bustle of the Lower Mainland, where I had spent more than a decade working in community newspapers.
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