I was interviewed for a story about a recent court filing by Katzie First Nation. I include, below, the section of the story that quoted me and the full text of my interview. Most of the journalist's comments are edited out to highlight specific questions asked and my response offered.
I am quoted near the end of the story as follows:
Charles Menzies, an anthropology professor at the University of B.C., predicted that if a dollar value was assigned to the lost salmon, the number would be “astronomically big.”
But mitigation does not simply equate to the number of fish lost when a dam is built.
“Community practices were disrupted,” he said, as well as an entire “way of life.”
Menzies said the Katzie likely felt they had no other choice in turning to the court.
Here's the interview transcript behind the quote.
[00:00:22.800] - Glenda Luymes
Okay, awesome. I'm just writing a story today about the court filing, from the Katzie First Nation. … I just wondered what your thoughts are on this situation, if there's a broader context that this comes in, and if mitigated, what kind of mitigation would ever make up for the losses on that river to the traditional territory?
[00:02:48.040] - Charles
Yeah, one of the things to note is that from the early part of the 20th century, from the early 1900s, through to well, in the 70s … there's a lot of industrial actions on the land that took place with impunity, like Hydro, DFO (dept of fisheries and oceans), forestry, Ministry of Forests, and with different private companies. Basically, [they] just did a lot of things without any recourse to First Nations … So, for example, up in the Skeena of river system at Hagwilget, DFO decided there was a rock in the way in the 1940s or 50s I think it was, and they blew it up and it destroyed a fishing site. That one actually became a comprehensive court, not a comprehensive, a specific claims litigation which DFO and the government of Canada eventually back out and paid them multiple units of millions of dollars. And why I mentioned Hagwilget case is that really relates, what the Hagwilget were arguing, I presume, really roughly applies to the case you have here. Something very similar is that the community of practice was disrupted.
[00:04:12.360] - Charles
So the ability of the Hagwilget people to continue to fish salmon in their traditional manner in their usual and accustomed places was disrupted and that had a whole cycle of different disruptions. And the various court documents around that, and expert opinion reports, really documented the extent to which the Hagwilget way of life in terms of fishing was disrupted because of this action. Now in the 50s DFO had promised to make compensation to the Hagwilget community. “We're going to give you some cans of salmon that are made commercially. We're going to get you nets, we're going to let you have fish down river in the commercial fishery.” They promised stuff, but it was deemed that it really didn't equate [to the lost fishing site] and it wasn't really a parallel or a fair or adequate compensation. That's why the government decided to settle it because I suspect had they let it continue through the court cases, they were at risk to lose significantly more than they actually paid out, which somewhere between 20 and $25 million to the Hagwilget. Here we have a situation where state owned enterprise BC hydro disrupted through power things in the 1920s and then when they renegotiated 95, they would sort of mitigate these impacts.
[00:06:02.010] - Charles
… I shouldn't presume what Hydro may have offered in the 1920s or their antecedent, clearly they made promises in the mid 1990s and this is I think a period when they're trying to [do an] awful lot more hydro development with run river of contracts and stuff like that.
[00:06:37.740] - Glenda Luymes
[00:06:39.260] - Charles
But the difficulty is this caused [disruption in a way of life], it continues in an ongoing disruption to a way of life, [undermining Katzie’s ] capacity to harvest and probably result[ed] in changing a fishing pattern in addition. So not being able to fish in the Alouette would force them probably downstream into the main trunk of the Fraser River.
[00:07:04.090] - Glenda Luymes
Yeah the significance of a change like that, it's not just one place replacing another or some canned fish replacing a whole way of life. Can you talk a little bit more about that.
[00:07:26.060] - Charles
A fellow called Joe Jorgenson talking about the Exxon Valdez oil spill and how it affected his indigenous communities in Cooks Inlet. And he described it, and he framed it as kind of the idea, the notion of a community of practice. And so it just wasn't like you lose an object of some value, but around when the particular practice that is engaged [in was disrupted]. … It's not just harvesting fish, catching the fish, processing the fish, but teaching and learning, inter-generational transfer of knowledge occurs to that place. And it's not just in the abstract but happening in a particular location. All of this really augments and it sort of exponentially increases the implications, … , the negative implications of this kind of disruption. And of course, if the hope was brought back by the hydro thing in the mid 90 days, [with Hydro saying] “we're going to fix this,” and then they didn't actually follow through on it. They basically make it even significantly worse than the earlier afront. But often times people will say, well, how much does it cost to pay this out? They want a dollar value it, and you can kind of do those sorts of exercises, but it's really kind of hard to do because what you're really saying, you try to put dollar value on cultural beliefs, practices and long transmission of experience, there really is no dollar value for that; but you can do it.
[00:09:08.070] - Charles
There's people who trained to do that. But the numbers become so astronomically big that it's kind of hard to envision what that actually means.
[00:09:18.410] - Glenda Luymes
It's interesting. Yeah. I don't want to speak for the Katzie First Nation or try to try to figure out what they're hoping for, but yeah, I wanted to ask that question, like, what would be enough?
[00:09:51.820] - Charles
So if we just look at the general and aggravated damages, say, as an anthropologist, if I was asked to actually write a report and assessment. When you start hearing they've been displaced from being able to practice salmon fishing in this area, you can actually cost out the value of the salmon harvesting that was disrupted to them by looking at the records, … how many families were engaged in harvesting in this system. And you can kind of run these calculations, and that's when the numbers start getting really big because then you bring in an accountant to amortize that over time. So it's not just a rough abstract number without running through the things. I did a similar report for another community, and I calculated over a 40 year period of time something in the neighborhood of about $100 million of lost fishing opportunity, as well as the additional sort of side benefits of trade and exchange, etc. that happened. That's why I say these are large numbers, because people don't understand how much fish people were catching when they were operating fairly unmolested by colonial forces. And in the early 20s, even though the industrial fishery on the Fraser River are happening because they would have been harvesting household based production at a quite high level.
[00:11:17.590] - Charles
It's not just sockeye. I mean, you've got dogs, pinks, spring coho, a whole range of salmon species included. And of course, there's salmon. That's the target. There's a whole range of other species that also get affected. You change the water flow in, you're going to disrupt the hydrology of the whole system. That affects things. Like, oolichan and sturgeon, there's a kind of cumulative effect.
[00:11:52.310] - Glenda Luymes
Would you hazard a guess on how hydro would address this or what their next move is, or why this has gone to court, and why it's taken 25 years.
[00:12:08.210] - Charles
These things take a long time. And people, in my case [when I reflect on] back home in the community, despite all evidence to the contrary, people are often very optimistic that people who come and make deals with them are being honest, even though our history shows, right from the first time settlers arrived on these shores in their merchant ships and made promises, they never really held up their end of the deal. Yet, despite that, people tend to be really positive and willing to accept that people are going to be, actually live up to their words because they operate in the world. I don't know the specifics here, but that would be my sort of background on abstract statement about what's going on, why they take so long. And then it's like the final action because the developer, the government, whatever agency it is, has been dragging its feet and you feel like you have no other choice but to seek a court resolution course. Court cases take a long time and they're really expensive.
[00:13:15.630] - Charles
You bring an expert witness or two up to the table and you're talking thousands and thousands of dollars plus the legal team's cost. So this is really prohibitive for communities. So for community to push this point to feel the need to do this, they really run all their sense of optimism and patience been run out.
[00:13:43.310] - Glenda Luymes
[00:13:58.390] - Charles
[quoting from court claim] "Provided evidence in Katzie Elders regarding the extensive impact of DC hydro's operation of things." And I just noticed that they basically got rid of, that type of development destroyed the sockeye run, which would have been a really important one. So you've totally removed one entire run of salmon out of this river. It looked like they really worked hard to try to put them together. Of course this is Katzie's claim and hydro, and the province will probably file their own. Obviously.
[00:14:54.260] - Glenda Luymes
[00:14:59.210] - Charles
Once they done this, how do they put sockeye back in the system? They're not cheap.
[00:15:05.740] - Glenda Luymes
There's one suggestion a little later on that if things can't be mitigated, then perhaps there might be a way to have a portion of the profits that the dam generates.
[00:15:35.210] - Charles
I will say that I'm always skeptical, when very often when companies come to Community and promise a share of the profit. And I'm just enough of a cynic when I see how books are accounted for. We have to be very clear about whether that's actually profit because companies sometimes way they write the book, they don't actually have profit.
[00:15:58.840] - Glenda Luymes
[00:16:33.960] - Charles
Yes, they say profits derived from Alouette River system. That's a possibility. Not being a lawyer, I always have to be wary about the meaning in the legal terms. But my sense of just observing when I've been in Community, I've seen deals that have been made for a certain share of the profits. Then the company never make any profits. But they generate lots of revenue. The people who work for the company are getting money and there are dividends being paid out to shareholders and stuff but the company just doesn't seem to make profit. So maybe I'm being too cynical here.
[00:17:15.670] - Charles
How they calculate that, clearly some payments, some reasonable payment to cover this. But I would suspect in order for that to work they would file some kind of expert opinion reports saying what's the total value of salmon and other fish and cultural values between it as lost since 1920 and particularly also since 1995. There will be some kind of document that would calculate what that would look like.
[00:17:47.620] - Glenda Luymes
[00:17:48.660] - Charles
And of course hydro would find an expert to try to suggest that the diminished value now were no were near what the First Nation has claimed and you get this kind of back and forth, … I can also imagine there's going to be biological fisheries experts giving opinion about what could have been done to keep the stock in the river, what could be done to get the sockeye back and whether that's even possible. I mean that's outside my area
[00:18:31.760] - Glenda Luymes
But it seems like you said it seems a very big that it will be expensive.
[00:18:43.460] - Charles
The Hagwilgyt case, for example, they lost access to a fishing site for about 50 years and the government paid out, the federal government paid about $25 million for that. And that was even though the rock that was going on the river river has been something that had fallen in modern, recent memory. So it wasn't even something that they'd done for millennia before. … DFO blew it up, didn't compensate them adequately, wouldn't, and when it went to the court case, it was 25 million. So looking at the parallels between the [river] systems here and this stuff, I suspect that's in the rough equivalent zone in terms of a parallel case which basically prevented community from being able to fish in their normal accustomed location.
[00:19:52.630] - Glenda Luymes
Yeah, great. I think that's the questions that I had. I really appreciate this. It really helps to explain the things that aren't said in the court documents or just take out the context that this falls into. So, yes, I appreciate it.