Thursday, December 15, 2022

"What's your Nation?"

"What's your Nation?" That's one of the first questions I got asked in the First Nations Longhouse shortly after I was hired at UBC in 1996. I'd been invited to a board meeting with other Indigenous staff and faculty at the Longhouse (a monthly occurrence in those days). The meeting was in the afternoon. It was my turn to pick up my twin sons from kindergarten (it was half day in those days). I mentioned to the person calling me with the invite I would have my five year old sons with me,  which they simply ignored and said they looked forward to seeing me at the meeting.

Later that week I arrived at the meeting, sons in tow, and proceeded to have the perfect distracted parent experience as my sons settled in as any five year olds might when they'd rather be somewhere else.  It was in the midst of that meeting that the question came up.  Back home folks locate each other by who we're related to, in the university context where people come from all over the place and the chance of knowing each other's relatives is a bit less likely, identifying by our Nation is more common. Just the same I find a lot of folks I'm related to in Indigenous circles on campus, on staff, in my classes, and occasionally even among faculty. "What's your nation?" is a shorthand way of figuring out who one is and how one might be connected.

Being willing and able to locate oneself in a Nation and a family is a critical part of being Indigenous. Previously I have described this form of identity following Cherokee academic Jeff Corntassel take on Indigenous Identity. He defines it through a 'peoplehood' approach:  connected, committed, and claimed. That is a person is related in some manner through family and history to an existing First Nation. This person is involved in their community and maintains active linkages. The community itself acknowledges them as a member and claims the person as their own. People outside that intersection of 'c's might have Indigenous 'heritage' but, by this model are not Indigenous qua Indigenous. 

There are a lot of folks who might be connected but not claimed. They might be claimed but not connected. They might even be very committed to the cause (but not actually connected). This is often the place in which a university administrator shakes their head and says, "but it's so complicated" and then stays silent and inactive.  

I am well aware of the complexity of these matters professionally and personally.  Professionally I am an anthropologist and much of what anthropologists study is how people form themselves into meaning making groups built around identity and practice. Personally I am an enrolled member of the Tlingit and Haida Tribes of Alaska (a US federally recognized Tribe) and a Status Indian member of Gitxaała Nation in Canada. My mother was from a settler family. My father is First Nations. I grew up in town, not reserve. All of these things shape my personal sense of identity and play a role in the social reality of being Indigenous. Complex, but not really complicated.

Complications and complexity are insufficient rationales for administrators to remain silent when people occupy these spaces by pretending to be something that they are not. The question needs to be asked, "What's your Nation?"

This becomes particularly important when scarce resources -student fellowships and awards, research grants, positions of employment- are allocated in accordance with one's putative identity.  It should not be taken as an affront to be asked "What's your Nation? especially if it is part of how one is positioning themselves to gain access to things marked off for Indigenous people.

UBC has an obligation to own their own actions, not to go silent or pretend an Indigenous identity was not part of their consideration. Yet time rolls on and UBC remains silent at the upper levels compounding the ill effects caused by their continued inaction. 

Saturday, December 10, 2022

#UBCBoG 2022 Election Results

The 2022 Board of Governors election for faculty governors came to a close Thursday, Dec. 8th at 4pm. Results were announced to the candidates late Friday afternoon.

Declared elected were Anna Kindler (260 votes) and Charles Menzies (225 votes). 

560 of the eligible 2816 voters cast ballots. Most voters selected two candidates each. Based on the number of total votes cast (1051) and the potential total vote (560 x 2 = 1120) we can infer that 69 people plumped (voted for only one candidate).

The vote spread between the last elected and third ranked candidate was 17 votes. Total vote spread between first elected and fifth ranked candiate was 93 votes.

None of the candidates received a plurality of votes. Candidate shares of support (% of eligible voters who voted for them) range from a high of 46% to a low of 30%. Both elected candidates each received more than 40%. During the last election (2016) both elected candidates were elected with 50% or more. 

Overall close to 20% of those eligible voted, which is significantly more than for the last actual election in 2016 in which 15% voted. The 2020 election was by acclamation so no one voted for the two declared elected candidates in that election.

2016 Election results.

Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Ubyssey election profile transcript.

Last Friday I was interviewed by The Ubyssey for a profile piece on faculty candidates for the current board of governors' election. This is a slightly cleaned up version of my answers. I have removed comments from the reporter and inserted simple questions in their place.


Q. Why are you running for the board?


[00:00:33.190] - Charles

I was on the board three years ago, I served one term. About six years ago I ran for the board because the University Board of Governors had taken to meeting behind closed doors, avoiding publicizing what they were talking about. And [they] were literally caught scampering around campus avoiding the press. And that point in time faculty voted a motion of non-confidence in the Board of Governors. And I thought at the time we needed people on the board who were willing to speak with a different voice, weren't afraid of speaking out publicly. And so I ran. And was elected that time. And at the end of that term things looked like they'd improved a bit. They had a board, a chair of the board, who was willing to push the administration to keep things in the open. It wasn't perfect, but it looked like things [had] been done and it would be nice to have some people in there who were kind of less publicly expressive. But it seems that the board has become more entrenched [in secrecy]. The Pandemic gave them the opportunity to retrench behind closed doors. They've been massively defensive. The meeting to come up on December 5, for example, has literally 90 minutes of public debate.


Everything else has gone to be either closed meeting or consent agenda where the full board won't talk about it. The board will probably say the material has been discussed in the committee meetings. The committees are now structured so they're [a] subset of the full board. And not all board members are either welcome to attend those meetings, nor are they encouraged to, given the fact [of] the way it's set up. So that means a small subset of the board is making decisions that have major importance and then it just gets tossed to the consent agenda and then they meet behind closed doors. That needs to be addressed. Mark Maclean who isn't running this time, has been very public towards the end of his term about this. And I think that it's unfortunate that a large public institution's board of governors would use such kind of managerial secrecy to govern itself


Q. What are your specific goals?


[00:03:05.880] - Charles

While the two basic principles that motivate me are what you might call ecologically grounded growth and paying attention to the primary mission of the university. This institution is currently in a visioning exercise. They're trying to scale up massively the campus facilities, the residential components, and it's all being framed as an ecologically growth based program. I'm not convinced, but I think when we look at this, we need to ask, do we have to be constantly growing? How do we maintain the core academic mission of the university? And to do so in a way that's ecologically grounded, that recognizes the climate emergency that we're in, that attends to the academic mission, not the corporate profits of the development sector that is very large, even under, a nominally centrist government (the provincial government). We actually have a board of governors that still favour a development orientation on campus, which isn't really in the best interest, I would argue, of students, staff or faculty or the people of the province British Columbia. I've lived on this campus for 26 years. I've worked on this campus for 26 years. My kids grew up here. They went to school in the nearby schools.


We first rented from UBC Housing, then we rented from Village Gate Homes, and then we were able to buy a condominium in a co-development for faculty and staff at university. … During this time I've sat on our Faculty Association executive a number of times. I've been an elected resident director on the University of Neighborhood Association. And of course, I’m currently sitting on the Senate in Vancouver as a joint faculty senator. And through living here, working here, playing here, raising a family here, being involved in these things, you meet a whole range of people from across campus. So I think I find myself with a kind of interesting point of view of seeing a wide perspective of people. I think had I just lived off campus, I would have a very different viewpoint of the situation. But by living here and working here and being so involved, we recognize the things that we really do. And I think that brings me right back to the idea about how we structure this question about growth.


I think as a society we really have to ask quite seriously about whether how we do [development]. I'm not opposed to, [not saying] do nothing. That's the wrong approach. But it has to be an informed model [or growth] that is actually consistent with asking with literally with each building we put up, each job we create, with each sort of program we structure: ‘What's the actual long term cumulative effects of doing this?’ So far, we [consider] every piece of [development] segment by segment, 


Q. What is the relevance of your past experience?

[00:06:27.060] - Charles

I think one of the things that tends to happen is the people who go to the board tend to be department heads, deans, associate dean, things like that. And they're really tied into the management track at university. For better, for worse, I have not been part of the management system on this campus. I've been involved in the front line of faculty teaching my four courses a year, like regular faculty in arts do, doing the different service activities, doing my research, doing publications, doing grants, training students, doing all that work. And when you do that, after a quarter century, you start to realize there's things that don't work. …  So you recognize these problems, and when you see it from the grassroots level, you see it differently than when you're sitting up in the management level of things.


That's a different vantage point. We need that viewpoint [management’s]. I don't disagree with that. Point is we need to make sure that the kind of grassroots, that actual faculty member who's been in the trenches all through the years doing the work, that's the voice we [also] need sitting on the board at the governors’ table. Because otherwise people are kind of too isolated from what's actually been happening. And there's a kind of bubble built around the dean's office, the president's office, the senior management offices, where they kind of inform each other of what they're doing, and that closes in [on them]. And when you're down here, and like I am living here talking to people, I meet a lot of different people from different things, different walks of life, literally as I'm walking and running across campus. And we need that voice because the board of governors doesn’t really know anything [about UBC]. The people who are appointed, they don't know anything really about UBC, they don't live here, they don't work here. They maybe went to school here years ago, or they have a child that might be going to school here, or a husband or relative or something like that.


Someone's [on the board needs] to have an actual connection. [From the grassroots we] see a different level. They [appointed governors] actually need to hear that voice. And that's where the faculty, the staff and the student representatives really come in and play a major role, because we are so closely tied to [the on the ground experience], that our voices need to be heard and we need to be confident and willing to articulate a clear, independent voice as faculty, students, or staff represent on the board. I think that's more important than anything.


Q. What would you like to accomplish?

[00:09:45.870] - Charles

I think it's really quite simple. More meetings in public. Open meetings. I find it hard to actually believe there's so much business going on that somehow needs to be kept closed. I think that something else is happening. That there's just a reluctance to be viewed and people feel uncomfortable [being seen]. And I get it. When I make decisions about teaching my classes and a student comes and asks me a question, a query something, Yeah, I don't necessarily want them to see all my back ruminations on how to do that, but I actually think [sharing that helps] explains to the student. [If I share] all the process I've gone through, [how I] establish this particular type of assignment or this decision on how to do things? It helps them understand, and they can, like, say, oh, I agree with you. You're right. [Or], actually, professor, did you notice when you said that you actually avoided, miss a whole category of things that you should have thought about? If I don't share that information with the student, I have no way to learn from that experience. If the board doesn't share what they're talking about behind closed doors, if there's no way of releasing it, we have no basis to evaluate or understand what they're doing.


So the solution is simple more meetings in public. I actually think that more people who appointed the board have a public duty to be public and expressive of the decision-making process in what they're thinking of. They shouldn't be allowed to sit in quiet in the background not being observed by the general public. Under the Liberals. I will say this lately, as I said at the time, a lot of the Liberal appointees, they thought it's a plum to get a UBC appointment. And it was more prestige than. Of course, in their version, they tell you it was public service. There was a kind of prestige mark. I had an associate of an in law of mine who was a hardcore Liberal who really said that there was a kind of ranking of who you got [what appointment]. I don't think the NDP is approaching that yet. You have to be in power a little bit longer before that starts to kick into play. It's generally happened the last time they were in power. By the time the end of the 90s came around, the people they were pointing to boards, it was patronage appointments type stuff, but they're appointed they have a public duty.


So we need to know where they stand on the issues that they're voting on, because they're making, they decide about tuition, how many people I'm almost willing to bet on this, how many of the board members are going to necessarily say anything very much about tuition? Probably the students, a number of the faculty and the staff reps are probably the ones who say the most about it. And you'll get the people who say why we do need to have tuition fee increases from that core? And then there'll probably be a good chunk. Hopefully I'll be wrong if they read this before the meeting, but there'll be a good chunk that will just say nothing and it will go through. But I think people should have an obligation if they have given such an important thing. This is a multi billion dollar enterprise. We need to know where they stand and all these issues. We need to know what they think about development. We need to know what they think and not just a vote. That's not actually how they think. Get to the positions that they've arrived at that should be public. That's a kind of radical perspective.


A lot of people don't think that's appropriate and they especially don't think it's appropriate in the corporate board. But this isn't a corporate board. This is a public university board. And so it makes it all totally different.


Q. Anything else to say?


[00:13:25.620] - Charles

I'd say that any two out of the five people whose names have been put would make amazing and excellent Board of Governors members, and I think that we're blessed to have so many people. The last election we had didn't have an election. When you look at the people I see, there are four colleagues who have all put their names forward,  all of them I know. I admire, respect and value each of them and would be pleased to see any of them be a member of the Board of Governors.


Saturday, December 3, 2022

#UBCBoG Faculty Elections - last chance to vote

Voting in the UBC Board of Governors' faculty elections ends at 4pm on December 8th.

If you haven't yet voted and want to here's how:  

To Vote  

  1. Go to:
  2. Click “CWL login” on the right hand side to login with your CWL credentials
  3. Click “Vote” next to the “UBC Vancouver Faculty Representative - Board of Governors (2022-2023 Triennial Elections)”
  4. Vote for your preferred candidates (up to 2) by clicking on the box next to the candidate’s name
  5. Click on “Submit Vote” then click “ok” to confirm your submission before logging out

Polls will be open via WebVote from the morning of Thursday 24 November 2022 until 4 pm on Thursday 8 December 2022.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Student Governors call out lack of #UBCBoG Transparency

UBC-V student governors took to twitter November 30th to call out #UBCBoG's lack of transparency.  December 5th's full meeting of the board has a mere one hour of public discussion. 

Over the past three years the current board has winnowed down public meetings from a day and a half to one hour. They have shifted much of the decision making into committees of the board, which are restricted to small subsets of the full board and few of those decisions make it on the floor of the whole board for discussion. 

Link to full thread.

Link to full thread.

Not since the Board forced a university president to resign has it hid behind closed door in camera meetings so extensively. That moment resulted in a faculty vote of non-confidence in the Board of Governors. The closed door actions of the board motivated me to run for election to the board in 2016. Over the 2017-2020 term the board had it's own little Prague Spring and more issues ended up in open meetings, more discussion was held, and the administration faced closer scrutiny for its decisions. But it didn't last.

Under the technocratic guises of efficiency the current board leadership has essentially removed the possibility of public scrutiny from the boards' own actions and, consequently, from the actions of the university administration. But it goes beyond that. They have also used an expansive definition of conflict of interest to exclude faculty and student governors from key committees and important decisions

UBC is a public institution. As such it has obligations to the people of British Columbia that differ from typical Non-government organizations or private corporations. An environmental or civil society NGO is only beholden to its board and funders. A private corporation to its shareholders. But a public university has an obligation far more profound, it needs to be responsible to the entire province. It is not sufficient that unelected government appointees are informed. That is not sufficient to carry out the duty to the people of BC. 

UBC's Board of Governors needs to take UBC's own publicity materials to heart, be bold, be innovative, be open.

Read UBC's guide on writing boldly at this link.

Our Board of Governors needs to reestablish open, transparent, and democratic practice that serve the best interests of the university. That is not achieved by locking themselves behind closed doors. Governors are there becuase it is presumed they have something important to say. That they bring a particular expertise, knowledge. or life experience to the table. To sit quietly behind closed doors seems unbefitting of a research university that is supposed to lead boldly.

Monday, November 28, 2022

Campaign: week one

I extend my thanks to those colleagues who have already voted, and to those who let me know they were supporting me. I always feel honoured to be trusted by colleagues who offer me support. I also appreciate those colleagues who may disagree with me, may not wish to support me, and find the way to share positively our differences. What makes a university work is our ability to ensure and maintain support for a diversity of perspectives in the engagement of research and teaching.

Voting remains open until December 8th at 4pm. 

Here are the instructions to vote:

To Vote  

  1. Go to:
  2. Click “CWL login” on the right hand side to login with your CWL credentials
  3. Click “Vote” next to the “UBC Vancouver Faculty Representative - Board of Governors (2022-2023 Triennial Elections)”
  4. Vote for your preferred candidates (up to 2) by clicking on the box next to the candidate’s name
  5. Click on “Submit Vote” then click “ok” to confirm your submission before logging out

Polls will be open via WebVote from the morning of Thursday 24 November 2022 until 4 pm on Thursday 8 December 2022.


I have enjoyed the chance to talk with colleagues over this past week about issues that are important to us and to our university. Two related issues have come up:  housing and campus growth. The current Campus Vision 2050 also shines a spot light on these questions.

I am a proponent of restricting campus development in ways that focus solely on the university's academic mission. That means orienting housing developments in the residential areas in ways that allow those faculty (and staff & students) who want to live on campus to be able to do so.  The university has restricted its faculty housing to rental or leasehold, but there are many other housing options that could be included in the mix (co-housing, coops, shared equity, etc). I have been a campus resident since being hired at UBC. My family and I know only too well the difficulties of Vancouver housing.  Our family of four spent our first several years in an 800 sq ft apartment on Osoyoos Crescent, another half dozen years renting from UBC's Village Gate Homes. We now live in one of the few co-development housing projects built by UBC in Hawthorn Place. The Board is a place where we can actively make a difference in housing supply on campus, but  we need clear strong support from governors to do this. Having faculty representatives who understand this is important in making the case at the Board. As we move forward with Campus Vision 2050 we need to ensure university-connected housing is the priority.

We also live in the midst of a climate emergency. In this context we need to be very careful about how we proceed with campus growth. Growth and expansion simply for the sake of growth is no longer socially responsible. However, we have to ensure we maintain what we have, keep up with changes in faculty laboratory and physical plant needs, and ensure our classrooms can support modern teaching.  Many of our buildings no longer provide what the building people call 'thermal comfort.' Many of these buildings also lack in proper and effective ventilation systems capable of keeping people safe with airborne viruses. We need to rebuild a lot of campus infrastructure. 


Living and working on this campus, raising our family here, has kept me connected with many facets of our university world. Living here I meet colleagues I might never have meet if I lived off campus.  I find value in working with colleagues, neighbour's, and friends to keep our community of scholars a great place to be, and strive to make it even better. 

I trust that you will find reason to count me among your choice for faculty governor when you vote in this election.


Monday, October 31, 2022

Seeking Election to UBC's Board of Governors

My paperwork has now been accepted and I am officially a candidate.

I seek your support for election to UBC's Board of Governors.  I last served as an elected faculty governor from 2017-2020. During that term I served as chair of the Learning and Research committee. I was the inaugural vice-chair of the Indigenous Engagement committee. In 2020, rather than run again, I sought a position on UBC-V’s senate and am currently a joint faculties senator.

I have been a faculty member at UBC since 1996. I’ve served four terms as Member-at-Large on the Faculty Association of UBC (FAUBC), 2001-2007, 2012-2014. As a resident of the university area, I’ve served two terms as elected Director of the University Neighbourhoods Association (UNA), 2012-2016. 

My research focuses on First Nations’ natural resource management, decolonization, and social justice and fairness in human relations. 

When I ran for election in 2016 I said “It’s time for a change in how the BoG responds to faculty members.” During that term things did improve a bit. We’re now learning the situation has turned backwards.  Much of the board’s work occurs behind closed doors. Elected governors have been excluded from key decisions. 


We need voices willing to speak out to keep the BoG transparent.


I am dedicated to working to ensure open and transparent democratic practices in the governance of our university. I would be pleased to speak with any who have questions about my candidacy. I can be found on twitter @charlesmenzies. I also author a faculty issues blog called and a local newsletter “A Campus Resident.” 


My thanks to the colleagues who agreed to sign my nomination form. You come from across our campus, some I have known for a long time, some I have only recently got to know. I value the trust you placed in me by signing my nomination form.

During my last term as an elected governor I made a point of publicly commenting on issues in front of the board.  You can find an archive of my comments on this blog site. 



Saturday, October 29, 2022

Katzie First Nation sues BC Hydro over impact to Alouette River salmon | Vancouver Sun interview

 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

That's interesting.


[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

I see.


[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. 


Thursday, September 29, 2022

Nuchatlaht First Nation fights to reclaim territory in landmark court case

 Global BC reporter, Kylie Stanton, interviewed me for her story on the Nachatlaht rights and title case. Here is her story. 


The full transcript of my comments, for context, are printed below. Lightly edited for clarity. Section quoted in newscast is bolded and underlined.

[00:02:02.590] - Kylie

… Charles this case is being called a landmark case. It could be precedent setting in terms of the way that the BC government deals with these declarations and the land back movement. … What is it that you think is driving this issue that's brought it to court? …


[00:02:46.870] - Charles

Well, there's a couple of things that are kind of interesting about this case. For one, they're looking at a relatively speaking small piece of land. So there's a very specific focus. But this is outside something that's called specific claims, which is a different category of legal claims. And so often times some of the smaller land claims cases, I'd say with the Squamish Land Court case that fit under specific claims. There was a case with Hagwiget up in the north that was against specific claims. So there's a different category of things that have occurred so that's kind of unusual that they've gone the litigation route with this particular avenue. Also just the nature of some of the issues about the way the court determines how, under Canadian law, aboriginal rights and title are passed along. So one of the big differences that people, the Canadian government considers, according to the constitution and legal history, sort of structure, is that there has to be a kind of continuous chain from a pre contact existing polity or entity and then that kind of carries its way forward. Of course, the reality is today many different First Nations are combinations of different groups of people.


[00:03:55.090] - Charles

Sometimes they're not actually in the places originally from, or if you were trying to sort this all out in a different direction. So I think there's elements of that here, where you've got a very small community that has members from other locations also making claims to a specific place that maybe other groups also have claims to, but they're making a particular way that is actually stands up and makes that unique. For those of us who are really into this kind of stuff, the nuance and very detailed complexity is quite interesting from an intellectual perspective. For the regular observer, they're going to look at this and think, what the hell, what gives here? It's like a small chunk of land, a small group of people. How come people can't get along with it? But of course, as logging proceeds and removes the timber from the land, the land gets fundamentally changed, ceases to be what it was to begin with. So part of what's at stake here is that First Nation is trying to prevent the logging from continuing. So at least there's something left at the end of the day. And the left, it's not necessarily the value in the timber, it's the value of the timber, of the fact of it being there, and the different types of life and practices and histories to carry on.


[00:05:00.980] - Charles

So that's kind of a combination answer. What might make this, particularly, I have noticed, because you can't help but observing people, colleagues talk about different things that are paying attention to, there are some peculiarities as well about the case and different things. The way the Crown has been arguing that essentially there's kind of limitations and saying that it isn’t the right people and all this kind of stuff. But at a political level, if we're talking about reconciliation and trying to resolve things, there's a real question about why is the government continuing? Why is the Crown continuously and without hesitation basically fighting back on everything all the time? And everywhere you look there's a similar kind of issues. Only rarely do they actually make it in to court. But it's practically the entire playing field across the province of BC.


[00:05:53.800] - Kylie

…  you're saying this happens all the time, this pushback [from government] is happening all the time. [But], isn't this supposed to just be a part of reconciliation, our way of moving forward by repatriating these lands? ...


[00:06:30.450] - Charles

And it doesn't seem to matter whether it's a Socred government, a Liberal government, an NDP government, whomever it seems to be, they act and behave like the Crown [because they are the crown]. And the Crown is pretty belligerent in an interesting way about what's going on. But when I say it's happening all over the course of BC; essentially what's going on is people will be saying, let's say a government official will come to a First Nation. There's a project going on. And they'll basically say:


“Let's just sign an agreement. A memorandum of understanding. And we realize it's a big issue. But we'll just do a memorandum of understanding right now. And are you willing to accept some cash. Some job. Something else? And we'll put off the big issue.” 


So they keep putting off the big issue. But ultimately, and I think the big issue will actually come home and will be a big explosion that people [non-Indigenous people] won't really understand. They'll be shocked when it actually works in the favour of First Nations. So you take a look at the Chilcotin case. Which actually declared Land Title exists (which is a pre-UNDRIP decision). And you also see some of the court decisions they're challenging something called this idea of universal possession.


[00:07:41.010] - Charles

This kind of radical sense of possession the Crown has claimed. Court cases started to chip away at that. Which basically moves us to an idea of shared governance with the Crown and First Nations. That idea, when people start to realize that that is likely what's happening, moving forward will be a bit shocking for people because they don't understand it. And if the government was really moving and working in that kind of direction to begin with, we would have a much smoother, more comfortable going in that direction. And we have lots of examples of First Nations being very happy to co-partner with non-First Nations, both governments and private industry and NGOs all over the place. So it's not like there'll be a big disaster. But I think we're actually moving toward the idea of this kind of shared governance. You see examples in New Zealand, this idea emerging and very likely what's properly happening to be happening here, especially if the government forces everything into the court, because these court cases keep constantly ratcheting things forward in this direction.


[00:08:44.530] - Kylie

[asked to explain shared governance]


[00:09:05.420] - Charles

No, because that's why I say the crown is quite belligerent in it's refusal to accept the possibility of there being other models. They will enter into co-management agreements, which doesn't question the underlying rights or title. It doesn't redress this. But some of the things that happen in New Zealand actually point in this direction where between the Maori and the New Zealand State, this recognition that there's actually a kind of shared governance between the crown and Maori, and that really transforms the situation. So it doesn't give one more power over the other, but it really is conceptually a different way of thinking. It's like having two crowns ruling one land, I guess you could put it that way, which may be a way of thinking of it.


[00:09:49.150] - Charles

I suspect by looking at some of the way the court decisions are moving and some of the different decisions, it's conceivable. And clearly it strikes me as a reasonable and appropriate kind of measured policy to put into place. If I always like to ask my students, if they had a magic wand, what would they change? Well, if I had a magic wand, that's what I immediately pop in the head of all the different political leaders in the province to make them think about shared governance without hesitation. That would be my sort of wave of the wand.


[00:10:23.710] - Kylie

[asked if I thought this was precedent setting]


[00:10:33.730] - Charles

I think very likely that this goes forward. If they don't win, it won't necessarily be precedent setting because a lot of times things shift around. So there's been First Nations that have lost court cases, and so it ends up, like with the Lax Kw'alaams and the fishing rights for Salmon case. They lost that one. But that doesn't preclude another First Nations from gaining the same right. It might actually inhibit their ability.  But a positive win, actually, because the way the court system and the judicial decisions work in a precedent setting will actually make a difference. So I think that's how I would frame it. Of course, a more learned legal scholar might have a totally different take on this than what I.


[00:11:13.850] - Kylie

Thank you so much for your time.