Jared Basil felt honoured.
The Lower Kootenay Band councillor travelled to Ymir last week to meet with community spokesperson Jason Leus, who has been spearheading an opposition movement to protest BCTS plans to log in their watershed — but he wasn’t expecting a quarter of the community to show up.
“We’re neighbours. The Lower Kootenay Band is just on the other side of this mountain,” Basil told the crowd, while standing next to their collection pond.
“My people have roamed this land for thousands of years, and it wouldn’t feel right knowing that there are people in our traditional territory whose voices aren’t being heard. We want to have a part of speaking up for rural communities.”
Basil informed the Nelson Star that Ymir’s watershed exists within his band’s traditional territory, which is known as ktunaxa ?amak’is (pronounced `Ta-na-ha ah-makis’). He’s been following the Ymir situation through the media for months now, and feels his band may have the political leverage to intervene.
As he put it: “Lip service isn’t going to cut it anymore.”
“Moving forward, the Ministry of Forest Lands and Natural Resources Operations (FLNRO) is mandated to work with the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations with respect to revitalizing land use planning in community watersheds,” he said.
“We’re hoping to use this case as an example to the federal government of how small communities don’t really have a say, but with the Lower Kootenay Band’s support and with our new mandate from Premier John Horgan we can utilize this as an opportunity to revitalize the process.”
Upon seeing what Leus described as the “shockingly low flow rate” of the collection pond, which has left the community incapable of defending itself from wildfires, Basil was further convinced that this particular community’s situation is more dire than some of the other contested watersheds in the area.
Leus wanted Basil to understand the urgency of the situation.
“I wanted him to understand the critical nature of the low flow supply to Ymir, particularly at the end of the summer. This is our only water source, we don’t have any other water source, this is it,” Leus said.
“I was speaking with our hydrologist Kim Green this morning and I showed her pictures of the current supply flow and her reaction was that of hundreds of watersheds she’s assessed this is one of the most critically low water flows she’s ever seen.”
Green is a Nelson-based watershed geoscientist and a geology instructor at Selkirk College. She clarified to the Star that Quartz Creek is not unique in terms of its low flow — other creeks are experiencing the same thing at this time of year.
“What is unique is that Quartz Creek is the water supply for a community of 400 people,” she said.
“Impacts to the water supply in terms of water quantity or timing of flows could be very detrimental. The water users are justified in their concerns and their desire to ensure that there is a clear understanding of the potential impacts to their water supply given proposed harvesting activities.”
All of this alarms Basil.
“It speaks to the irresponsibility of industry, that with a community relying on a water pool like this, with minimal capacity, to even consider moving forward with the proposed project in a way that will have any effect on this water source is irresponsible,” he said.
“That accountability needs to be held.”
Basil feels that as Canada continues in the Truth and Reconciliation process, it will become important for his band to become involved in a more fundamental way in the communities within ktunaxa ?amak’is.
“There’s going to be a necessity to listen. Our voice may not be loud and clear yet, but the fact is we need to start speaking with the same voice here in the Kootenay region — because we are small communities and it’s easy to overlook us down in southeastern B.C.,” he said.
“It’s important there’s that initial recognition and acknowledgement that aboriginal rights do exist, and going forward we’re hoping to project a much louder voice. At this point that acknowledgement from the federal government should be taken as a sign from the provincial government to take us seriously.”
Ymir resident Alan Perello was thrilled with Basil’s appearance, thanking him for his support and inviting him to call upon the community of Ymir if the Lower Kootenay Band ever needs anything. He’s on the action team opposing the project, and he was in high spirits following Basil’s announcement.
“I’m a British Columbian that understands a little bit of our history, so I know we’re on their unceded territory, so to have the true stewards of the land be on our side on this issue — I had goosebumps. This is the real boss, who hasn’t been acknowledged yet.”
Perello theorized this is only the beginning of an ongoing relationship between the Lower Kootenay Band and the community of Ymir.
“We’re on the cusp of a great change in forestry management: rather than looking at the forest as raw logs, we’re looking at the forest as the place we get water, where we get plants, and I think there’s a mushroom industry here — there’s more money in mushroom tourism that in mushrooms themselves,” he said.
“There’s so many ways we can use the forest that First Nations would agree with and support.”
Basil was impressed with Perello’s ideas, and expressed admiration for the community’s desire to use the forest sustainably.
“We’re hoping moving forward we can project partnership opportunities, we can project community opportunities. Already we have Lower Kootenay Band members to come out and assist in the mushroom harvesting,” he said.
“Our community members utilize this area, and moving forward with the community of Ymir, if we’re two voices together we can say a lot of things.”