“We’re here today to start a relationship that should have been done a long time ago,” said Wayne Christian, the Tribal Chief of the Secwepemc Nation. “This relationship is helping us return to the land.
“We know and understand in order for us to move forward we need to be engaged with people in the territory.”
The Relationship Protocol Agreement was celebrated in a ceremony at the Revelstoke Community Centre on May 31.
It began with a traditional prayer, followed by a hand drum song performed by Secwepemc people. There was a gift exchange between BC Hydro and the Chiefs or councillors from each of the nine Secwpemc bands, followed by speeches and lunch.
The agreement sets out the process for how the two parties will work together to mitigate impacts, identify economic opportunities and provide guidance on how to be good stewards of the environment.
Work on the agreement started almost three years ago when Christian sent a letter to Jessica McDonald, who had just been appointed the CEO of BC Hydro.
“We realized it was an important opportunity for us because he spoke about the amount of generation from these lands,” said McDonald. “We know how important it is to develop this relationship.”
Discussions began in earnest several months later and the agreement was developed over the past 2.5 years.
For the Secwepemc, one of the big issues that was raised was how the dams stopped the salmon from swimming to their fishing grounds upstream. Instead of eating fish, they were given Spam, said one elder.
Ryan Day, the Chief of the Bonaparte Indian Band, talked about how BC Hydro took energy from the water to benefit people across B.C. Now it was time to return energy to the water.
“The reciprocal relationship that we’re taking back, it’s long been lopsided by taking that power out of this watershed and sending it out, and it’s been taken and used by us, more broadly, as humans,” he said. “We have to spend the time and energy and put it back into our lands and waters, and live up to that responsibility of that reciprocal relationship.”
Areas that will be looked at going forward include reconciling historic grievances, mitigating past and ongoing impacts, looking at economic benefits to Secwepemc communities and participation in future BC Hydro activities in Secwepemc territory.
While the agreement discusses the impacts of the past, there was a big focus at the ceremony on moving forward.
“It’s time we look at what we need to do for the next 100 years. That to me is what this is all about,” said Christian. “We’re going to change how thing are happening in the territory so that those who are unborn will benefit.”
There was also recognition that this was just the start of the relationship and work would have to continually be done in the future. The agreement calls for the establishment of an executive committee, steering committee and working group to guide the relationship forward. It sets out a work plan for the next three years.
“It’s an opportunity to build a better future for generations to come,” said Chris O’Riley, the deputy-CEO of BC Hydro. “We’re absolutely committed to building on this relationship.”
“It’s very significant and I can really see the benefit of us working together collectively and working in collaboration and in partnership with BC Hydro, for the territory, for the water, for the grandchildren, for those yet unborn,” said Christian.