It’s a struggle to find adequate words to describe what was witnessed during the hearings on Wednesday. Speaker after speaker faced the panel and testified with dignity and eloquence. When someone finds the perfect words and delivers them with such purity, as so many did here in Bella Bella, it simply doesn’t do it justice to attempt to summarize. We will linking to clips as they become available because you should hear the words from the speakers themselves. I don’t know how many times someone moved the audience to tears or how many times a speech brought the audience to their feet.
What I can tell you is that we heard an elder tell her life story and her wish to have a healthy sustainable environment for future generations. We heard a woman speak on behalf of her father who survived residential school, fought for Canada during World War II, and is now having his country threaten to destroy his people’s way of life. There was a proud mother whose young children are already so connected to the water, a traditional harvester who shared treasured family stories, a doctor who has seen the devastating health effects that occurred when other communities have been deprived of their traditional foods. Seven courageous high school students stood in front of the panel and testified to why the proposed oil pipeline and tanker traffic are unacceptable to them. We heard from a cultural leader, an archaeologist, fishermen, and more. How many different times and how many different ways and how many different reasons to say “no” do the Heiltsuk and other coastal peoples have to give? I suppose the answer is as many as it takes them.
There are several more Heiltsuk registered to testify at these hearings, and it’s not clear how they could all possibly be given sufficient time to speak during the final morning of the hearings. The panel sat for only an additional two and a half hours on Wednesday evening to make up for the day and a half that they delayed the proceedings. The community was prepared, and in fact excited, to stay through the wee hours of the morning to ensure that all the speakers were given a voice. The panel did not share that same resolve. The chairwoman abruptly cut the hearings short at 8:30pm, despite having agreed to stay until 9:00pm. While First Nations should not be in a position where they are forced to share their knowledge and bear their souls in an effort to protect what is rightfully theirs, let us hope that they are at least given that opportunity when they have been promised it.