A Royal Visit to Bella Bella and The Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy Initiative: A Story “Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing”?

“Dear Sir and Father, We take this opportunity of your visiting Kamloops to speak a few words to you.  We welcome you here, and we are glad we have met you in our country.  We want you to be interested in us, and to understand more fully the conditions under which we live.  We expect much of you, as the head of this great Canadian Nation, and feel confident that you will see that we receive fair and honourable treatment.  Our confidence in you has increased since we have noted of late the attitude of your government towards the Indian rights movement if this country and we hope that with your help our wrongs may at last be righted.”

~Extract from letter written to Sir Wilfrid Laurier by Chiefs of the Shuswap, Okanagan and Cocteau Tribes of British Columbia, presented at Kamloops, BC August 25, 1910.


Source: www.straight.com

The recent visit of Britain’s Prince William and Kate to Bella Bella BC immediately reminded me of Thomas Highway’s play, Ernestine Shuswap gets her Trout.  This story takes place in Kamloops, BC, and shows us the preparations of four First Nations women as they get ready for the arrival of Sir Wilfrid Laurier (the Big Kahoona of Canada) to their Reserve.  During the course of the play, we learn firsthand about the harmful impacts of colonial laws and settler society on the culture and well-being of the Shuswap First Nation.  The sad conclusion to the play results in great loss and disappointment as Laurier drives right on by the Reserve without ever stopping.  Despite profound efforts to make his arrival perfect, the special feast prepared for him goes untouched.  Nothing has changed, and the women are left with trying to make sense of it all.  In the words of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, it was a “tale…full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.

While Britain’s “Big Kahoonas” did in fact stop in Bella Bella recently, their whirlwind tour of BC seems reminiscent of Highway’s tale.  The Heiltsuk First Nation claims Bella Bella as the central part of their traditional territory.  Bella Bella is found on the west coast of BC, about 500 km north of Vancouver.


Source: http://www.rcinet.ca

Heiltsuk territory is also centred in BC’s Great Bear Rain forest – a protected coastal area which was integral to the Royal Family’s visit.  This unique temperate rain forest ecosystem covers more than 6.4 million hectares between BC’s Discovery Islands and the southern extent of Alaska.  85% of the forests in this region are currently protected from logging activity. (http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2016/09/26/royal-tour-bella-bella-bc_n_12201336.html)


Source: www.cbc.ca

I have been closely following the preparations of the Bella Bella community for the Royal visit over the last two weeks.  During this time, the Heiltsuk have been extremely busy planning feasts, ceremonies and construction to get ready for the event.  It was the hope of the community that everything would be ‘perfect’ for the big day.  Despite the pouring rain on the day of the big visit, the Big Kahoonas did arrive, and the welcoming ceremony did take place.  Things may not have been perfect, but Prince William, Kate and their children were still honoured.

William and Kate were presented with honourary paddles, witnessed traditional dances and songs, met with hereditary chiefs, and even had the opportunity to walk along the newly constructed board walk on a rain forest trail.  While the planned helicopter and boat tours failed to happen, the Heiltsuk provided a beautiful cultural welcome to the Royal couple.  Several media images also featured BC Premier Christy Clark – wearing clothing adorned with coastal First Nations’ artwork.  Her choice of dress suggested an alliance with BC First Nations, which belied her stance on resource projects which negatively impact the same groups, especially with government announcements yet to come! Several news sources suggest that, while the arrival of the Royal family was met with cheers, Clark was booed as she made her appearance.

Royal Visit 20160926

Source: www.huffingtonpost.ca  (Photo: Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)


Source: www.thestar.com


Source: www.bbc.com

The Royal visit was a historic event, despite the pouring rain and a rainforest walk marked – as one party member remarked – “putrid with the smell of rotting fish”, as the group encountered many dead and dying salmon along the river banks. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/) It would seem that the Royal family does not often encounter the annual salmon cycle in their daily lives!

Much like Highway’s play, the “Great Kahoona” soon moved on, and the Heiltsuk community was left to contemplate the divide between them and a colonial government who pays little attention to the rights and needs of First Nations peoples.  It remains to be seen whether or not the Royal inclusion of the Great Bear Rain forest into the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy Initiative will make a difference in Canada’s desire to protect unique resources and to strengthen its relationship with its First Nation communities.

During their visit, Prince William made a speech about the importance of the Great Bear Rain forest to the world, in which he stated:

“The Commonwealth has at its heart always been about the values that bind its people,” he said. “This project, focusing on our shared natural heritage, is no different. The establishment of the Canopy is a loud and unambiguous statement that the citizens of all Commonwealth countries believe that nature is fundamental to the health of our societies. When we protect our rivers, oceans, atmospheres, or like today, our forests, we are telling our children that their future prosperity cannot be disconnected from the health of the natural world.”

He concluded, informing the gathering that the Queen was “immensely grateful to Indigenous people and the people of Canada, for the leadership they have shown”. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/)


Source: www.thechronicleherald.com

 The Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy (QCC) Initiative was created in 2015 during a meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Malta.  This initiative includes 53 countries which are a part of the established Commonwealth.  The key objectives of this initiative include, (1) raising awareness of the value for preserving Indigenous forest systems, (2) creating a network of forest conservation projects, (3) improving the capacity of commonwealth members to work collectively toward forest conservation, (4) enable best practices for sharing knowledge and innovation in forest conservation, and, (5) “create a physical and lasting legacy of the Queen’s leadership of the Commonwealth”. (http://queenscommonwealthcanopy.org/)


Source: http://www.antigua-barbuda.com

BC Premier Christy Clark was quick to unveil her own support of the royal announcement. According to Clark, the Great Bear Rainforest is:

“A jewel in the crown of British Columbia’s magnificent landscape…(and) has been largely protected from logging in a landmark agreement between First Nations, forest companies, environmental groups and the government… It is proof of what we can do if we decide to find a common purpose.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2016/02/01/great-bear-rainforest-bc-logging_n_9133798.html)

Clark went on to proclaim that she had established a $1,000,000 trust to protect the rainforest and commemorate the Royal Family’s visit to BC. (https://news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2016PREM0113-001799)

This… despite the fact that Clark has, and continues to, support resource extraction projects which put both environment and communities at risk in the Great Bear Rain forest ecosystem.  These efforts include annual Grizzly bear hunts, oil pipelines, and LNG refinery projects.  It might seem that Clark’s love and support of the coastal rain forests is “full of sound and fury… signifying nothing”!

Christy Clark

Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca

The Royal family soon completed their whirlwind tour of BC and the Yukon.  During this time, the Heiltsuk and many other communities made special preparations to make the visit a ‘perfect’ one.  Prince William and Kate were wined and dined, and treated to unique ceremonies and local delicacies.  As soon as they had left, however, the royal hype quickly became a distant memory.  The negative relationship between the Canadian Government and First Nations is so severe that some Indigenous leaders refused to meet with or acknowledge the Royal couple (  Despite the inclusion of the Great Bear Rain forest in the Commonwealth Canopy Initiative, Canadian policies regarding its land and resources became ‘business as usual’.  To paraphrase Hamlet, “Something is rotten in (the State of Canada)” – and it is more than dead and dying salmon!

Governmental resource policies which threaten both the Great Bear Rain forest and the livelihoods of First Nations and resource communities continue to be enacted and approved.  BC continues to allow its annual Grizzly Bear hunt in sensitive rain forest areas (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/bc-grizzly-bear-hunt-to-include-great-bear-rainforest/article29506503/).  Logging, mining, hydroelectric projects, open-net salmon aquaculture, and pipelines are allowed to continue – despite the objections of scientists, activists, and First Nations alike.


Source: www.nationalobserver.com

Despite Trudeau’s campaign promises to First Nations, the Liberal government has approved the Petronus LNG project – a controversial natural gas pipeline which runs directly through the Great Bear Rain forest.  For more on this project, check out my previous blog-post:  https://spatialintegrity.co/2016/05/21/first-blog-post/ This project, which has been contested by several First Nations communities and environmental scientists, has been championed by BC Premier Christy Clark for several years.  Check out this news report:  http://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/trudeau-government-approves-pacific-northwest-lng-project-1.3091447

Let’s approve those conflicted projects as quickly as possible, people!

The Great Kahoonas have ‘left the building’!

Once again, it seems that the promises made by Trudeau’s Liberal Government to Canada’s First Nations are taking a back seat to unsustainable resource extraction policies for the future – policies which benefit only a few, and do little to help First Nations communities.  Trudeau – whatever happened to #RealChange?!


Source: www.liberal.ca

Until next time, this is Spatial Integrity – Making the Invisible, Visible!


Pipelines and Indigenous Communities: DAPL and the Standing Rock Sioux


Source: http://www.rabble.ca

 “Energy Transfer Partners has demonstrated time and time again that the bottom line for them is money. The bottom line for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe is and will always be protecting our lands, people, water and sacred sites from the devastation of this pipeline.”  ~ Dave Archambault II, chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe

Many of my blog posts have touched on what can happen when governments and resource industries fail to collaborate with the people who are most impacted by resource extraction.  Violent conflict can occur when people’s needs are not heard, diminished or dismissed.  This is proving the case in the current protests happening in North Dakota (ND).

The Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) project will connect the Bakken and Three Forks oil fields in ND to refineries in Patoka, Illinois.  The proposed 30 inch diameter pipeline is expected to carry crude oil for almost 2,000 miles.  The projected transport capacity of this pipeline will average 500,000 barrels of crude a day![1]  The company responsible for this project claims that it is necessary, due to transport safety concerns by rail and trucking.  All in all, pipeline construction is expected to total more than 3.8 billion dollars, and run through four U.S. states.[2]

The primary conflict over this project comes from the Standing Rock Reservation, a Treaty space set aside for the Sioux tribe.  Protests over the construction of this pipeline, which runs less than a mile upstream from the Reservation, have been ongoing since April of this year.[3]  The Standing Rock Sioux object to the project, with very valid concerns over the impacts the pipeline will have on water resources and several sacred sites the pipeline runs through.


Although there are many objections with the pipeline as a whole, the real conflict lies with a portion of the project which runs just along the northern edge of the Reservation. This section runs approximately 38 km, and potentially affects the Cannonball and Cedar Rivers.


Source: www.ndstudies.gov

Energy Transfer Partners, a Dallas-based company involved in the project, insists they are protecting important cultural sites.  According to them, they “(have) taken and continue to take every reasonable precaution” to protect these areas.[4]  Tribal cultural experts have shown that there are many human remains in the area, and have worked to make sure the spaces are protected.

Because of these issues, the Standing Rock Sioux issued a law suit which challenges the project on the basis it violates Federal and Treaty laws (including the National Historic Preservation Act), and would disturb sacred sites.  Standing Rock then established a protest camp at the northern edge of the Reservation, in order to hold back construction while legal actions took place. In order to disperse protesters, State officials have tried several tactics, including removing sources of clean water from any areas surrounding the protest site.  Despite this, the camp has grown steadily since April, and includes several Native and First Nations communities, and well as concerned non-Indigenous protesters and well-known celebrities such as Shailene Woodley (Divergent).


 Source: www.commondreams.org

Things became violent on September 3, 2016.  In actions which defy logic, a private security company in charge of guarding the construction site used attack dogs and pepper spray against the occupants engaging in peaceful protest.  At least 30 people were pepper-sprayed by the guards, and six people were bitten and required medical attention.


Source: www.nydailynews.com


Source: www.lapostexaminer.com


Source: www.abcnews.go.com

On September 9th, the ND State Court denied the Sioux request to halt pipeline construction, based on documented impact statements for environmental, water, and cultural sites.  Shortly afterwards, President Obama issued a declaration that the work was to be halted in the area surrounding Standing Rock Reservation.  In a statement put out by the Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior, and the U.S. Army, “Construction of the pipeline on Army Corps land bordering or under Lake Oahe will not go forward at this time.  We request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe”.[5]

Despite this, construction on the pipeline continues, and the North Dakota National Guard has been called to the location.  Over 20 people have been arrested during a recent armed confrontation.  Several prominent politicians have become involved, including Jill Stein (Green Party Presidential Candidate) and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders.


Source: www.warriorpublications.wordpress.com

Stein took part in a protest action in solidarity with the Sioux on September 6.  After spray painting on a bulldozer, she has been charged with counts of misdemeanor, criminal trespass and criminal mischief.  According to her, it would have been “inappropriate for me not to have done my small part to support Standing Rock Sioux.”[6]


Source: www.duluthnewstribune.com

Bernie Sanders attended a rally at the White House on Tuesday, September 13.  During this rally, Sanders called for a “full environmental and cultural impact analysis of the pipeline. When that analysis takes place, this pipeline will not continue.”[7]  Sanders also questioned our reliance on fossil fuels, and called for more initiatives in alternative energy research.  Check him out here:


Protest actions have grown steadily since the National Guard was called out a week ago.  Solidarity Actions are taking place all over the world, including Europe, Japan and New Zealand.  Recent marches have occurred in New York City, Los Angeles, and even London, England.  In Canada, recent actions have taken place in Toronto, Vancouver, and several other municipalities.  Indigenous communities across the world are standing in solidarity with the Standing Rock Sioux.


Source: www.680news.com


Source: www.warriorpublication.wordpress.com

The outcome of this controversial project remains to be seen.  The ongoing conflicts will not stop, however, until Enbridge halts construction on the DAPL and enters in true consultations with the many opposing voices.  Perhaps, in the words of Bernie Sanders, it is also time to re-evaluate our reliance on fossil fuels, and “(transform) our energy systems away from oil, away from pipelines”.

Until next time, this is Spatial Integrity – making the Invisible, Visible!



[1] www.daplpipelinefacts.com

[2] http://ind.pn/2cVk16V

[3] http://ind.pn/2cVk16V

[4] www.cbc.ca/news/business/dakota-access-pipeline-hearing-1.3749872

[5] http://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/09/the-obama-administration-temporarily-blocks-the-dakota-access-pipeline/499454/

[6] http://www.cnbc.com/2016/09/09/jill-stein-to-return-to-north-dakota-to-face-pipeline-protest-related-charges.html

[7] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2016/09/14/bernie-sanders-pledges-end-of-the-exploitation-of-native-american-people-in-fight-against-dakota-pipeline/