BC FIRST NATIONS & THE MOUNTAIN PINE BEETLE EPIDEMIC
Developing a Strategy and Action Plan & Implementing the "New Relationship"
September 19-20, 2005 - Civic Centre, Prince George
For Immediate Release
September 8, 2005
Burns Lake, B.C. - Chief Robert Charlie of the Burns Lake Indian Band called the current Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic sweeping across his region and the province a 'mega-disaster.' He stated that he can't travel in his area "more than a minute or two" without seeing the tell-tale red that indicates the bug's presence and the tree's demise.
"It's a natural disaster that you don't expect to see in your lifetime," said Chief Charlie. "But it's here and it's a mega-disaster that's going to cause mega-problems, not just for First Nations but for everyone in this province. It's kinda scary and it's starting to create uncertainty about the future."
Chief Charlie said First Nations have spiritual, economic and community affairs at stake and so it only makes sense for them to meaningfully participate in official plans to address the immediate and looming impacts of the epidemic.
However, he doesn't like what he's seen so far. "I've seen a lot of activities around the issue, but none to do with First Nations. And when I hear reports about millions going to municipalities, I wonder where we fit in the picture as First Nations."
He pointed out that the bug-kill timber lies in territories where First Nations have legitimate interests. "Yet what I fear is that big industry will take what they can, people will take the work, and when the resource runs out we'll be the ones holding the bag."
The Chief is concerned that a "mad rush" on harvesting will harm or alter the ecology permanently. He cited unknown impacts on soils and plants, hydrology and slope stability, and on wildlife and fishery values. "We know there's a problem, but we can't just allow a free for all for the next few years. There's has to be some serious, serious consideration on how we take things out," he stressed.
He said First Nations have a land-based philosophy fostered over generations. Therefore, he believes First Nations hold remedial solutions or at least part of them. But, he cautioned, "if we're not involved or participating then will nothing happens for us."
Furthermore, he questioned how a short-term increase in the annual allowable cut will impact treaty negotiations. "Everyone knows that when you gain more responsibilities for services and so on, you need more revenue. But how will that happen when the cut is reduced?"
Chief Charlie will be attending the emergency forum in Prince George on September 19-20, where the immediate and long-term impacts of the Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic on B.C. First Nations will be addressed. The forum is being co-hosted by the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council and First Nations Leadership Council of BC, which is composed of the executives of the First Nations Summit, Union of BC Indian Chiefs, and the BC Assembly of First Nations.
Patrick Michell, Chief of the Stellat'en First Nation and Vice-Chief of the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council said the initiative will bring together 86 First Nations impacted or potentially affected by the beetle's infestation. "This epidemic is an extremely serious crisis," stated Chief Michell. "As it runs its course, it will challenge our communities by placing extraordinary pressures on each First Nation's ability to sustain and thrive."
Shawn Atleo, BC Regional Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, said "The forum will result in a much needed action plan for First Nations as we move forward with the vision set out in the New Relationship document, especially on shared forestry and land use decisions."
"This coming together of our communities will enable us to address the challenges of the Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic from environmental, ecological, social, cultural and economic perspectives, as well as assist us to identify economic opportunities now and into the future," said Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.
"The Mountain Pine Beetle epidemic creates a set of incredibly large and difficult challenges for all in the impacted areas. First Nations will need to work with the federal and provincial governments and coordinate their efforts with municipalities to meet these challenges head on," said Grand Chief Ed John of the First Nations Summit Task Group.
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For further comment from Chief Robert Charlie contact him at 250-692-7717. For further comment on the BC First Nations & The Mountain Pine Beetle: Developing a Strategy and Action Plan Forum see contacts below. For additional information on the forum, visit www.cstc.bc.ca/mpb/.
UBCIC is a NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.