April 14, 2024
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WT Staff

Watershed Impacts Series
Interview with Chief Stu Jackson
Maximize community capacity, zero tolerance for negligence

March 14, 2024
updated 644 pm EDT

WT: Today I have with me Chief Stuart Jackson from the Pacific northwest. Thank you for doing this. Go ahead and introduce yourself and your community, your home place.

Chief Jackson: Hello. My name is Stu Jackson, and I am the current Chief of the Lower Nicola Indian Band, Nłeʔkepmxc Nation, the Thompson Nation, which is in the Fraser basin and plateau of British Columbia. Our community falls within the creeks, and we are recognised as people of the creeks in the Nicola Valley. We are in the central interior of British Columbia, and we are one of five nations that surround the Lower Nicola valley area. We are the largest band of the five nations in our territory and very pleased to be here.

WT: Welcome, we are pleased to hear from you. Tell us about the priorities of your community in terms of the must-haves, the non-negotiables. What are the features that have to be thriving in order for your community to be well and thriving?

CSJ: Priorities can be looked at in many contexts, I would say.

Something I think about as a leader in my community is, we are responsible for the engine of our community. What I mean by that is, an engine needs substance to run and operate. That engine can comprise of our identity as Nłeʔkepmxc peoples, that engine can comprise of our culture, our values, and our principles to the land, that is tmŪxʷ which means land in my language.

The other thing that also is part of this engine that we need to maintain, take care of and operate is economic development opportunity. That innovative vision maybe was something very new to us years ago, but as we became more educated and more sophisticated as Nłeʔkepmxc peoples, we realize that we need an economic development opportunity within so we can maintain this engine that we need to run, to take care of our people.

WT: Thatís a very good way of putting it, makes it really clear. That being said, I understand you have an industrial partner in your territory. Go ahead and tell us about your industrial partner and sources of economic development and enterprise in your community.

CSJ: Lower Nicola Indian Band is an organization that represents the membership that makes our community what it is. With that, we have programs and services that we deliver through contribution funding agreements through Indigenous Services Canada, along with some agreements we have with the province of BC. We also have a joint venture opportunity through our development corporation which is an economic arm for Lower Nicola Indian Band. We have agreements with the TransMountain pipeline and a local mine copper mine. Those are just a few relationships we have.

With those relationships thereís a cultural responsibility, thereís a social responsibility. More importantly, thereís an environmental responsibility with these relationships, that we foster and manage and monitor to protect our land and our water, our natural resources. So, with these partnerships, it's very important for us to be assured that they (industrial partners) are upholding their responsibilities. We need to undertake to address any situation that may come awry from a breach in any part of those agreements.

So, what we want to build with our partners is a very trusting relationship and thatís not easy.

We have proponents that work alongside us, we have companies like Ausenco working with us. Of course we have our legal team as well when we need it. We have environmental monitoring that we foster within our own community that we utilize to ensure that we are doing our due diligence as far as the stewardship we want to represent for our community with our land, our water, our wild life, our medicines and berries, and ceremonial areas that we still continue to use today.

So, it's wide a range of responsibility that we have, and we make it very clear to our partners how important it is for us to protect those values that identify us as Nłeʔkepmxc people. We also give notice to these proponents we work with that they have to take care of the land just as much as we do.

WT: How would you say overall the relationship is going with the industrial partners youíve taken on through your economic development wing, how would you characterize that, generally?

CSJ: Thereís growing pains every step of the way. Are our relationships in good standing? I would say, no they are not.

It's frustrating and it's challenging. As (leader) of the community I need to balance that it's not just about making money.

We have to understand, it's about reclamation and restoration and it's about making sure that if youíre going to come into our land and youíre going to leave it, that land needs to look like how it was in it's original state before you leave. Thatís challenging because that doesnít come without a cost, and you know we have to hold our partners feet to the fire. We want to work together, we want to benefit, we want to build capacity in our Nation with our people, but not at the cost of our watershed and our foliage and our general way of life.

WT: Has the community seen benefits, have jobs been created in this process?

: There's definitely been capacity in that regard. There's obvious revenue streams we have received, so monetarily speaking we do see some benefit. I may repeat myself, but one of the things Iím trying to build, and I donít know if itís a philosophical approach, is when I talk about building capacity within my community, it's not about money. It's about building our people.

It's not about a million dollars or 5 million dollars going into the engine of the Nation. Itís the opportunity these partners can provide in building machine operators, engineers, scientists, career opportunities where we create jobs where our band members are changing their quality of life because they are making a 6-figure salary, then you're building capacity. Then youíre winning. Now that to me is positivity.

If I were to take a look at a million dollars that they could inject into my community I would much rather see a million dollars being injected into my community members where I have 10 community members that are making up a million dollars and it's changing their quality of life, for themselves and for their children and their future. So, when you ask are they building and creating employment? Yes, they are. Are they doing a good job? No, they arenít. They can do much better. We can always do better and thatís something we need to monitor and enforce and reinvigorate that with our partners. We want to maximize that capacity to the highest part of the ceiling that we can. That, to me is success. That, to me, is progress.

WT: I donít mind you repeating yourself, youíve already stated that none of this counts if these non-negotiables arenít there as well. The water quality is not for sale, is what Iím hearing?

CSJ: In my view, and I know my leadership would support me, thereís zero tolerance for negligence when it comes to our natural resources.

Something I say from time to time, and I donít know if it's been regurgitated so much or if it's a cliche, but water is life. If we donít have our water, weíre not going to have life. So, when I look at our environment and what society is doing to our environment, if we canít do our due diligence in protecting our future, we are failing our future. So, when you start talking about contamination and contaminants that can desecrate a watershed, you have to understand what that watershed represents to the ranches, the small communities, the First Nations communities. If the watershed becomes decimated, then youíre decimating the people.

WT: Is there anything you would say to other communities that are also struggling with trying to manage these relationships with industrial partners?

CSJ: Maybe the short answer to that is, if you donít have the resources, and you donít have capacity as a community to support your cause, I think it's an opportunity to build relationships with your neighbours, your neighbouring Nations, even your rural communities. We are all living here, we are all here for the same reasons, so to me, numbers speak volumes. Building alliances with respective groups to get a message across, whether it's to a proponent or to the government, I think you can definitely influence the way things could get better. I guess my thinking is if youíre around a table and have 10 people youíre trying to work with to make a decision, Iíve always been told 10 heads are better than one. Perhaps, when you look at communities and how communities are coming together, 10 communities working together is better than just one community working for themselves.

WT: You reminded me to ask about the exit plan of industry. What youíve just described sounds like a case of residents vs transients. Is this about those people that have been before and will remain after, dealing with an industrial event of a limited period of time, ensuring the permanent resident communities are not decimated by a time-finite event?

CSJ: Absolutely. This is something Iíve mentioned with these billion-dollar corporations coming in and piecing together electric transmission lines, or a pipeline for oil, or a gas line for natural gas or hydro or any of these companies. They come to my table, and I always tell them,
"We live here, this is our home, this is not a drive through restaurant, this is not a car wash. We know that you are guests here, youíre on our land and youíre going to leave soon and were not going anywhere."
I always emphasize to them that we want them to respect the land they are working on and have respect for us, because this our home. How would they feel is we went to the streets of Toronto, or Mississauga and disregarded it? It's people's neighbourhoods, it's their water, it's their environment and we went in and did something wrong to comprise someone elseís environment? So thatís what I remind them of all the time, we know who you are, and we know why youíre here. Donít destroy our land.

The Nłeʔkepmxc Nation (pronounced Ng-khla-kap-muhx) is one of the Interior Salish first peoples in the Southern interior of British Columbia, along with the Secwe̓pemc (Shuswap), Lillooet, and Okanagan.
Excerpt from
Interview March 13, 2024 12 pm PST/3 pm EDT

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