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Sinixt in Vancouver Courts

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February 23, 2011

Sinixt in Vancouver Courts

"Extinct" nation defends traditional territory

by Gord Hill

Once described as "extinct," the Sinixt Nation is seeking a court injunction against logging in their territory. Image by Ryan James Terry.

VANCOUVER—Throughout January and early February 2011, members of the Sinixt Nation were in Vancouver attending a BC Supreme Court case resulting from their three-week-long anti-logging blockade in October 2010. In this case, Sunshine Logging Ltd., as well as the Attorney-General and Ministry of Forests, are respondents to the Sinixt injunction that was obtained at that time (and which granted a temporary halt to logging operations).

The territory of the Sinixt is located in the south-east region of the province in the Slocan Valley area between the Columbia and Kootenay Rivers (including the Upper and Lower Arrow Lakes, for which the Sinixt are also named). They began the blockade in October 2010 to protect Perry Ridge, the site of proposed logging. According to the Sinixt, Perry Ridge is an important archeological site as well as some of the last remaining untouched wilderness in their territory.

The Sinixt are an interior Salish people that were declared extinct by the federal government in 1956, effectively eliminating Sinixt from any benefits under the Indian Act, including a land base (i.e., a reserve). Their traditional territory spans the US–Canada border, which was established in 1846. Many Sinixt gravitated towards the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington State (which had several different tribal groups concentrated there, including Okanagan and Nez Perce). Some 80 per cent of Sinixt territory, however, is north of the border.

The Sinixt territory has been devastated by a century of industrial mining, logging and dams. Fifteen dams have been built in the region, centred around the Columbia River Basin. In fact, just one year after Canada declared the Sinixt extinct, the US–Canada Columbia River Treaty was signed (in 1957), granting the US access to vast amounts of water and hydroelectric energy from this dam system.

The dams, which have destroyed salmon habitat (a primary food source for the Columbia River peoples), are used to supply power to numerous metal smelters, including aluminum, zinc, and lead. Corporations such as Cominco (now owned by Teck Resources Ltd.) have dumped millions of tons of toxic pollutants into the Columbia River.

For the past 25 years, members of the Sinixt Nation have campaigned for recognition of their sovereignty and in defence of their land. Some also demand that the federal government re-establish the Arrow Lakes Indian Band and reserve.

Since 1989, the Sinixt have maintained a presence at Vallican along the Slocan River. The camp was established to protect burial grounds and archeological sites unearthed by road construction in 1987. At that time, the Ministry of Highways (which builds the roads and bridges for logging companies) made no effort to contact any Sinixt and instead deposited skeletal remains and archeological objects into museums.

In 1997, the Sinixt, along with local residents and environmentalists, blocked road construction on Perry Ridge. As many as 300 people participated. In 2000, non-Native residents of the area protested clear-cut logging by blockading the logging road. Most recently, on October 26, 2010, the Sinixt Nation asserted their sovereignty by initiating the Sinixt Slhu7kin' (Perry Ridge) Protection Camp on their ancestral lands.

In addition to government bureaucracy and intransigence, the Sinixt also face obstacles from neighbouring Indian Act band councils, including those of the Okanagon National Alliance and the Lower Kootenay Band, both of which claim Sinixt land as part of their traditional territories. In Washington state, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation has asserted itself as the sole representative of Sinixt in both the US and Canada.

Hearings into the case concluded on February 4, and, according to the Nelson Star, a decision could be rendered within the month. For updates, visit http://mediacoop.ca.

This article was originally published by the Vancouver Media Co-op.

Gord Hill is from the Kwakwaka'wakw Nation and has been active in Indigenous and anti-capitalist movements for many years, including writing and graphic arts under the pseudonym Zig Zag.

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