On Aug 16, members of the Nuxalk Nation, including both hereditary and elected leadership, handed an eviction notice to workers of the mining company Juggernaut Exploration Ltd.
“We are the lawful authority with jurisdiction here. Our sovereignty is neither granted by nor subject to the opinion of others. At no time has the British Crown, Canada or the province of British Columbia had jurisdiction over the people of Nuxalk,” Nuskmata (Jacinda Mack) read from a statement on Aug 16.
“We do not consent to any mining activities, including exploration. We do not recognize permits and tenures issued by British Columbia.”
Nuskmata is the spokesperson for the ancestral governance of the Nuxalk Nation on mining issues. For the past ten years, she has been advocating for communities and speaking about the impacts of the industry, including the 2014 Mount Polley tailings pond spill — considered the largest mining disaster in Canadian history.
“That was in my mother’s homeland, and there’s now this in my father’s homeland,” Nuskmata tells IndigiNews over the phone.
‘It would impact every aspect of our life in a negative way’
The Vancouver-based company received two five-year permits for mining exploration activities from the province of B.C. for work on Qw’miixw (Mount Pootlass), a glaciated peak four kilometres from the occupied village of Q’umk’uts (present day Bella Coola), and above Nutcucts’kwani (Necleetsconnay) River.
“Mt. Pootlass is the mountain of our head hereditary chief, where that family ancestry is from,” says Nuskmata. “It is a spiritual place with stories of supernatural beings.”
The other site drains into the Noeick River, a salmon bearing river, she explains, and then into South Bentink Arm, at another important village site called Talyu, which community members also plans to reclaim.
“They picked the worst possible places they could to mine,” says Nuskmata. “It would flow directly into our river, it would go into the estuary, into all of the marine and sacred areas. It would impact every aspect of our life in a negative way.”
While the company is currently limited to exploratory activity, if they moved forward, it would open the door to other mining companies interested in these deglaciated areas in Nuxalkulmc (sovereign unceded Nuxalk territory), Nuskmata says.
The nation’s concerns aren’t strictly environmental, Nuskmata says. They’re also concerned about the social impacts of an influx of workers in a small community, she says. And then there’s the way the provincial and federal governments have dealt with this issue.
This story isn’t a new one, she says.
“This is the continuation of illegal colonial occupation and genocide on our people.”
‘Crippling and collapsing entire ecosystems’
Nuskmata isn’t only concerned about mining, she’s concerned about “industrial extraction in any form,” in a time of unprecedented climate change across the world, in the middle of a shape-shifting global pandemic, wildfires, droughts and floods.
“The capitalist system is crippling and collapsing entire ecosystems — that we’re a part of — with blind ambition and greed,” she says. “We need to be thinking about the bigger picture, long-term — we’re in this incredible crisis right now.”
It’s time to return to systems of governance that are based on sustainability and “not taking more than you need,” looking at ways to restore, rather than extract, she says.
“We’re saying no to mining, but it’s a spark in the community to talk about these bigger issues, to bring people together and reimagine a future where we’re actually healthy, and safe, living within our ecosystem in a good way.”
‘This is a sovereignty issue’
In 2019, the Nuxalk hereditary leadership signed an agreement with the band office and the elected chief and council (who have jurisdiction over federally-funded programs and services delivered on reserve), saying that all would work together for the benefit of the Nation, Nuskmata says.
“This is critical, because predictably what happens is the company will go to the band office and completely dismiss ancestral governance,” Nuskmata says. “But what we’re saying is that we have an understanding that we’re Nuxalk first, we’re all here, and we have a responsibility to protect our lands, and that comes before any type of colonial institution and our community recognizes that difference.”
This is a sovereignty issue, Nuskmata says, and her community has come together with one unified voice, saying no to mining activity in the valley and pushing back on “the divide and conquer trap of companies, the province and Canada.”
According to B.C.’s Minister of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation, consultation between the Province and Nuxalk Nation regarding the two mining permits took place in “accordance with the Coastal First Nations Reconciliation Protocol, to which the Nuxalk Nation is a signatory,” but Nuskmata says “there has been no deal of any kind.”
“The province is the one who has been issuing these illegal permits,” Nuskmata. “They’re wasting everybody’s time and money.”
Letters have been sent to the province and feds, on behalf of the joint leadership, Nuskmata says, but they’ve received no response.
“I really think that it’s up to the people to be engaged in this, because that’s where the real change happens,” Nuskmata says. “Coming together, better communication, better relationships, that’s what everybody wants, we want the same things — to be happy and healthy and live in a peaceful way.”
More people are beginning to understand the history of the valley, she says, information that has been suppressed from the general public, including “the violence that has been inflicted, in order to get to the gold in our mountains.”
Neighbours want to learn more about Nuxalk ancestral governance and laws, “the laws of the land and waters,” she says.
“Real reconciliation is happening in communities on the ground,” Nuskmata says. “People are working together to educate themselves, share that knowledge and stand together to create a better kind of society.”
Broadcasting the laws of the land and waters
Helping to keep the roughly 2,000 people who live in the valley informed is the Nuxalk Radio station, which “broadcasts the laws of the lands and waters.”
“It’s a critical piece in our sovereignty,” Nuskmata says. “The radio station has been amazing in encouraging language revival — there’s this renaissance happening.”
One of the conditions of employment at the radio station is that hosts need to be learning the Nuxalk language and incorporating it in their programming. When it started in 2014, DJs had some degree of Nuxalk, Nuskmata says, but now people are speaking it everyday, teaching it to their children, rapping in the language.
“The more we learn it, the deeper we understand how our relationships to the land are rooted in love, rooted in responsibility, reciprocity,” Nuskmata says.
It’s these ancestral laws — love, responsibility, and reciprocity, that call Nuxalk people to stand up against industrial activity that will harm their community, lands and waters, and future generations, she says.
Nuskmata is currently involved in rebuilding her ancestral village of Nusq’lst, a village that was decimated by smallpox. Since the nation has taken action on the Vancouver-based mining company, two more people have come forward to start their process of rebuilding homes in the village, she says.
“That’s really exciting,” she says. “That’s the goal of all of this pushback — to educate and inspire people to stand up to their responsibilities and take action, to move back to our lands.”