News / Vancouver

After Site C, NDP 'batting zero' on reconciliation: Order of Canada inductee

'Heavy hearted' approval of $11B dam harmed Indigenous trust, said Judith Sayers. 'In 2018, he's going to have to prove himself.'

Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council since fall 2017 and former chief of Hupacasath First Nation, was named a member of the Order of Canada on Dec. 29, 2017.

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Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-Chah-Nulth Tribal Council since fall 2017 and former chief of Hupacasath First Nation, was named a member of the Order of Canada on Dec. 29, 2017.

B.C.'s NDP will have a very hard time regaining Indigenous trust in the New Year after its Site C dam approval last month, argued a First Nations leader awarded the one of Canada's top civilian honours last week

Judith Sayers — made an Order of Canada officer Dec. 29 — told Metro many Indigenous people were stung by Premier John Horgan ignoring many First Nations' objections to the $11-billion dam.

"That was really not a relationship-building kind of exercise," said Sayers (Kekinusuqs), president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, in a phone interview. "It was really discouraging."

But even more "devastating," she said, were the words with which Horgan chose to communicate his reluctant decision — made, he claimed, "with a heavy heart" to avoid a 12 per cent rate hike if he cut the province's losses to date.

"I’m not the first person to stand before you and disappoint Indigenous people," Horgan told reporters Dec. 11. "But I am, I think, the first to stand before you and say I’m going to do my level best to make amends for a whole host of decisions previous governments have made."

That remark was widely shared by many Indigenous people on social media, and Sayers didn't mince words.

"That was his thought?" she said. "It just really further angered and discouraged me — 'I can disappoint you because other people have, I'm just another one in a long string?'

"That's one of the worst things I've ever heard him say … and just didn't show the kind of attitude I was hoping for him or that he had promised First Nations people."

As for making amends for such decisions, Sayers said that once the Peace Valley is flooded, the Treaty 8 First Nations burial and sacred sites will be destroyed "forever." That, she added, bodes poorly for all First Nations in B.C.

"You can't make amends for that," she said. "Money can't bring those things back; other land doesn't bring those things back.

"He ran roughshod over First Nations rights and burial sites. You start thinking, is he just going to do this with everything, or is he really going to make a commitment to change things — to truly work with First Nations in decision-making and gaining consent?"

Sayers' hope for the New Year is for "progress" on First Nations' "free, prior and informed consent" to what happens on their traditional territories, as required by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) endorsed by the NDP.

The party vowed during the election that "It's time to act on reconciliation, not just talk." After coming to power in July, Horgan tasked ministers with adopting UNDRIP — which some believe creates an Indigenous veto over resource projects — "transform(ing) the treaty process," and addressing Indigenous over-representation in the justice and prison system, for example.

Despite hopes at "very promising" election commitments, Sayers assesssed the party's performance to date: "I haven't seen any real successes on how they are working better with First Nations," she said. "The NDP are batting zero.

"Horgan made some good promises. In 2018, he's going to have to prove himself."

As for her Order of Canada honours, Sayers chuckled describing getting the news by phone: "I thought, 'What am I nominated for?'" she recalled. "I had no idea I was even being considered!"

Reconciliation was also top-of-mind for another B.C. Order of Canada inductee. Also named an officer was Gwawaenuk First Nation hereditary chief Robert Joseph, founder of Reconciliation Canada.

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