Thousands Stand in Solidarity with Wet’suwet’en Land Defenders

Today marked an international day of action and solidarity with the Unist’ot’en Camp and Gidimt’en Checkpoint. Over 67 international events from Vancouver to London took place on January 8 with more scheduled for the rest of the week, including Seattle’s event on the January 11. 

Members of Unist’ot’en (C’ihlts’ehkhyu/Big Frog Clan) have been occupying the lands around the Morice (Wedzin Kwah) River since 2009 in opposition to various and ongoing proposals of bitumen and natural gas pipelines throughtheir unceded territory. Though the projects have received consent from elected members of the Wet’suwet’en Chief and Council, the voices of hereditary Chiefs who oppose these projects have continuously been ignored by the government and industry. Under ‘Anuc niwh’it’en (Wet’suwet’en law) all five clans of the Wet’suwet’en have unanimously opposed all pipeline proposals.

According to the Indian Act, elected Chiefs have jurisdiction only over reserve lands, thereby have no ability to grant permission for projects within the larger territory stewarded by hereditary Chiefs of the Nation. Furthermore, the 1997 Delgamuukw decision by the Supreme Court of Canada, which recognized that Aboriginal title still exists in places where Indigenous nations have never signed a treaty with the Crown. In fact, the court was talking about the land where this standoff between the Nation and RCMP is taking place.

Unist’ot’en members stand at a checkpoint in 2012.

Following approval of a Coastal GasLink pipeline project by the BC government in Novemeber 2018, members of the Nation stood before BC Supreme Court Justice Marguerite Church to defend their sovereignty. The project aims to transport fracked gas through a 670-kilometer pipeline across their territories to refineries in Kitimat and ultimately to export markets in Asia. 

Unist’ot’en spokesperson, Freda Huson has stated, in regards to the ongoing occupation and defence of the land:

“I am here in my home, on my land. I am not a criminal for protecting my most critical infrastructure which is my berries, my medicine, my water, my right to teach future Unist’ot’en generations how to live in right relationship with the land. Without water, no human will survive and these projects like TransCanada’s Coastal Gaslink threatens the water. We are the land, the land is us.”

The Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), in a press release in early December, spoke against the BC government approval of the project, calling for the rights of the Unist’ot’en people. 

“The Unist’ot’en camp is a non-violent gathering of Indigenous land defenders and members of the Unist’ot’en house group in Wet’suwet’en territory in northern BC. Under the authority of Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, these land defenders are actively practicing their inherent Indigenous Title and Rights to protect the land and pursue their right to self-determination. 

A central tenant to the standards and rights affirmed within the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which both Canada and BC have endorsed and committed to implement, is the right of Indigenous peoples to protect their lands and territories, to maintain and strengthen their distinctive spiritual relationship with the lands and to own, use, develop and control those lands. Article 8 of the UN Declaration calls on States to provide effective mechanisms for prevention of any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing indigenous peoples of their lands, territories or resources.”

On December 14, the Court ruled in favour of an injunction against the Unist’ot’en occupation that would allow workers to pass the constructed checkpoint over the Morice River held by the Nation. This injunction is allowed to be supported by RCMP should there be push back.

On January 6-7, RCMP began moving into the nearby towns of Smithers and Houston in preparation to enact the injunction. Following movement on the checkpoint on January 7, 14 people were arrested including Gitdumden spokesperson Molly Wickham. One elder was released and 13 land defenders and supporters will be appearing in court in Prince George today. The armed RCMP movement on the checkpoint has raised provincial, national, and international support and attention, with media from New York Times, Toronto Star, as well as independent videographers present.

Dogwood BC, who have a focus on power relations within the province stated in a facebook post on January 7:

“History will not look kindly on politicians who condone the use of force against local people on behalf of a multinational oil and gas consortium. I hope the response from British Columbians to these events give our leaders pause as they contemplate their next move.”

Following the RCMP enforcement of the injunction, UBCIC President Grand Chief Stewart Philip stated “We strongly condemn the RCMP’s use of intimidation, harassment, and ongoing threats of forceful intervention and removal of the Wet’suwet’en land defenders from Wet’suwet’en unceded territory. The RCMP’s actions are in direct contradiction to both governments’ stated commitments to true reconciliation, and to full implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which is a global human rights standard. We demand that Canada and BC call on the RCMP and Coastal GasLink to respect the Unist’ot’en/ Giltseyu-Dark House on unceded lands. The provincial and federal governments must revoke the permits for this project until the standards of free, prior and informed consent are met.” 

The actions of industry, the BC Government, and the RCMP against the Unist’ot’en members and allies speak loudly to the difference between the language of reconciliation used by all levels of government and the actions required to make reconciliation happen. 

At the time of this publication, the Unist’ot’en Camp states it is on high alert for a similar violent invasion of their checkpoint while thousands around the world rally in solidarity. 

Tuition Waiver Program

Though the program continues to benefit former youth-in-care greater supports are needed to ensure student success

Since the announcement in 2017 that tuition for former youth in care would be waived at all 25 public post-secondary institutions of BC, many youth have become a part of our college and university communities. This was part of a government strategy to address inequality faced by youth in care through a more comprehensive program, building on an existing system that had been in place since 2008.

During the fall 2017 term, 229 students across the province received the funding. In early 2018, it was announced that beyond funding for the institutional fees, youth in the program would also receive assistance for rent, child and health care. 

For young people in foster care, the accomplishment of graduating from high school is only the beginning. Faced with an uncertain future without a solid family foundation, many former youth in care struggle once they are no longer in the provincial government system. Without this funding many former youth in care would not be able to access a post-secondary education, but it is not only funding that is needed.  

Selkirk College’s Healthy Campus Advisor Leslie Comrie states although the College is “able to provide good supports to these students, a comprehensive bridging program from secondary to post secondary would be so helpful as the expectations and culture of high school and college is quite different.” 

Rose Rollier-Spencer, a former youth-in-care and Selkirk student, explains this further, stating that “Selkirk College has helped me develop the skills of communication and confidence, but it’s still hard to communicate because I think that people are looking at me like I’m an idiot,” she says. “Selkirk College has made me realize my limits. I can push myself to a certain point, but I can’t push past that point. If I push myself past that point, I am useless to the college and myself.”

The five former youth-in-care that will be attending Selkirk during the coming January 2019 term will be supported by the Healthy Campus Advisor as well as the Financial Aid administrator and counselling staff.  

Comrie explains that “support occurs on many levels, from guidance through the complexities of applying to a program or course of studies, help with filling out applications and one on one counseling through difficult times. The Healthy Campus Advisor liaises with foster parents and MCFD staff to smooth the way to independence.” She goes on to state how a peer-to-peer mentoring program would greatly complement those supports offered by the institution.

Access to education is a key indicator of success for not just individuals, but also their communities.

Comrie articulates this, saying that “helping former youth in care successfully navigate post secondary education supports not only the student but also the communities in which they live. An educated and employed work force helps our province thrive.” 

With the government recognizing the benefits for addressing inequalities through education for former youth in care and calls from student groups and post-secondary institutions across the province, the upcoming BC Budget 2019 will hopefully address affordability for all students in BC facing increasing tuition fees and student debt.

BC Awaits Proportional Representation Results

Santanna Hernandez, Chairperson of Selkirk College Students’ Union, along with thousands of young voters, returns her referendum ballot at a local Service BC Location

| Chantelle Spicer |

With the deadline to submit all mail-in ballots on the proportional representation referendum having come and gone, British Columbians now wait to see how our democracy will proceed. As of December 7, Elections BC had received an estimated 1,356,000 returned ballots, or roughly 41% of registered voters with the highest returns coming from Vancouver Island. 

The No BC Proportional Representation Society faced criticism in its  campaign for inciting fear of neo-nazi and fringe party politics emerging in BC due to proportional representation, which led to an ad being temporarily pulled and edited.

Following the deadline, Bill Tieleman, Vote No spokesman, along with Andrew Wilkinson and many of the BC Liberals, have stated that returns under 50% of eligible voters should mean that the referendum be deemed illegitimate. 

Torrence Costa, campaigner for the Wilderness Committee, believes a lower return on the referendum is indicative of disenfranchisement with the current first-past-the-post system. 

Many municipal elections throughout the province receive far less than 40% voter turnout and remain binding and supported by their communities.

Ann Remnant of Fair Vote – Kootenays chapter states the protestations of Wilkinson and Tenneman regarding returns “have everything to do with trying to undermine the process and nothing to do with the actual turnout. Judging by their NO campaign, they will say anything to discredit the process, the turnout, the results.” 

For students like Kim Pham, Secretary of the Selkirk College Students’ Union, this as “a great opportunity for students to have their voice heard at the decision-making table. It means a more democratic and fairer government, especially for students which are usually considered or consider themselves a minority group.”

In her work advocating for proportional representation on campus, she observed that many students she interacted with assumed their votes mean nothing. She states “many students get excited knowing that with this new voting system, their vote would actually get counted. This referendum brings hope to many people, especially students.”

During the campaigning period, many rallies and town halls from both sides of the campaign took place throughout the Kootenay region to educate voters on the referendum and what it could mean for rural areas.

Remnant states proportional representation could mean the Kootenays would “be part of a regional group that can work together on issues which affect all of us. I see this as a positive, we are linked by roads, waterways, industry, tourism, and more.”

Once the results are finalized, Elections BC states they will be released to the Speaker of the B.C. Legislature and to the public via the Elections BC website, social media channels, and a news release. Elections BC spokeswoman Rebecca Penz said final turnout numbers will continue to be reported into early next week, with the hopes of releasing the results by Christmas. 

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FEATURE: Kootenay Studio Arts – Jewelry

Kootenay Studio Arts (KSA) at Selkirk College’s Victoria Street campus will be putting on it’s annual Year End Show and Sale on June 22nd and 23rd this year.


Petition Signers Invited to Discuss Diversity Issues with College President

Recently, an informal petition was circulated regarding a concern about lack of diversity in senior management at Selkirk College. The petition was started in response to the recent hiring of a Vice-President of Education in May.

The petition hoped to bring about an employment equity policy at Selkirk College and was to be presented to the Board of Governors last Tuesday, however the board chair, Sharel Wallace, said, “The Board has not received the petition. We have heard rumours of a petition, but no one has presented it to the Board.”

The Sentinel’s editor, Whitney Rothwell attended the public portion of the Board of Governors meeting and the petition was not presented during that time. 

When asked in an email about the petition, Lui Marinelli, President of the Selkirk College Faculty Association said “I honestly don’t know what exactly happened at the board meeting.” and adds that, “The SCFA supports equity hiring practices and the executive will be promoting this concept at labour management meetings. Currently there isn’t an equity hiring policy to help guide the college.”

In an interview last week, Angus Graeme, Selkirk College president, told the Sentinel, “under our governance model, the Board is not charged with hiring processes or the recruitment of anyone other than me, so they would look at it as a policy issue for me to deal with.” adding that it’s not a Board of Governor’s issue. Graeme also said that he prefers people come to his office to address this type of concern saying, “I’m pretty approachable. If it’s a concern and the group (petition signers) wants to come en masse into my office, by all means, I’m not afraid of that.”

The petition has since been taken offline.

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Trevor Unruh on Touring with The Carbons

Trevor Unruh

Nouns are Slowing Down our Speech, Study Finds

| by: Whitney Rothwell |

New research has found that nouns cause us to hesitate or pause when speaking more often than other articles of speech such as verbs. A study from University of Zurich says that we tend to hesitate and pause with sounds like “uh”, “like” and “um” mostly before nouns. The effect is much less frequent before verbs. 

Choosing whether to include, replace, or omit a noun, forces us to think a little more when uttering them.

Naturally when we speak, we unconsciously pronounce some words more slowly than others and add arbitrary sounds when we pause. Examining these slow-down effects can be integral in understanding how our brains process language.

To learn about how these effects work, researchers analyzed thousands of recordings of spontaneous speech from linguistically and culturally diverse populations around the world. The regions studied included the Amazon rainforest, Siberia, the Himalayas, the Kalahari desert, as well as English and Dutch speaking countries. 

The speed of speaking was measured in sounds per second and researchers noted whenever speakers made short pauses. The results show we have more difficulties when we have to plan before saying a specific word.

“We discovered that in this diverse sample of languages, there is a robust tendency for slow-down effects before nouns as compared to verbs,” explain research team leaders Balthazar Bickel and Frank Seifart. “The reason is that nouns are more difficult to plan because they’re usually only used when they represent new information.” 

When the information they represent is already known, nouns are replaced with pronouns (e.g., she, he, they) or omitted, as in the following examples: “My friend came back. She (my friend) took a seat” or “My friend came back and took a seat”.

It turns out that choosing whether to include, replace, or omit a noun, forces us to think a little more when uttering them. This replacement principle doesn’t apply to verbs, which are used regardless of whether they represent new or old information.

These findings shed light on how grammar evolves and how languages work in their natural environments. This is increasingly important in a digital age where language faces new frontiers and challenges, like communicating with artificial systems which may not slow down in speaking as humans naturally do. 

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Storm – Creative Non-Fiction by Paula Snow

Bang. Bang! Orangutan! Bump and swish; burble and slosh. Something’s rolling, rolling, rolling, back and forth, up on deck.