Following the provincial government’s December 11 decision to push forward construction of the Site C Dam in the Peace River Valley, CiTR’s Indigenous Collective has examined the political rhetoric used by B.C. NDP in justifying their decision. As a collective, we have formed three primary critiques. While the current NDP government presents itself as committed to reconciliation—they ran an election campaign that promised to improve government relationships with First Nations—the recent Site C decision combined with other campaign betrayals, indicate otherwise. Here are the Indigenous Collective’s reactions and criticisms:
First, Horgan and the NDP leveraged an emotional performance which purported the erroneous notion that they were suffering alongside Indigenous communities in the Peace River Valley. This was a weak attempt to appease critics and sympathize with FIrst Nations who oppose the project. As Andrew Frank noted in a recent opinion piece for the Georgia Straight; “To add insult to injury,” the Horgan administration “performed crisis communication talking points and encouraged cabinet ministers to express their conflicted emotions during the [December 11] announcement.” Horgan stated that he made the decision with “a heavy heart” while MLA Bowinn Ma posted on Facebook: “Me and my colleagues share your grief… More than a few tears were shed as we came to face reality […] of the situation as it stands today.” The rather ironic performance of sympathy and supposed “shared grief” fell flat with the Indigenous Collective. Horgan’s NDP need to either own their decision to continue with construction or stop the project, rather than continue with their disingenuous emotional parade to improve public opinion. As Michael Forsman noted on Twitter, “If MLAs ‘feel the pain’ of perpetuating injustice to human rights, doing wrong to the economy, and exacerbating climate damage, then the responsible solution is to correct the decision. Come on, BC NDP, stop #SiteC.”
Second, the economic factors cited by the administration as the rationale for their decision to carry on with the project overwhelmingly favour the settler public over the Prophet River and West Moberly First Nations of the Peace River Valley, whose territories and livelihoods are threatened by the dam. As Attorney General and MLA David Eby rationalized, the incurred debt of the project to date and the lack of revenue the B.C. public would see if the project were to be stopped at its current state would result in lower spending on social programs for British Columbians. This reasoning speaks to the fact that, yet again, the non-Indigenous public in BC are being prioritized over Indigenous peoples, which perpetuates the same settler-colonial dynamic of past administrations. As Andrew Frank put it, “Do we really want $10-a-day childcare and/or some other campaign promise that disproportionately benefits non-Indigenous people if its cost is balanced on the forced sacrifice of Indigenous communities? When will we stop taking?”
Lastly, Horgan’s publicly expressed language and tone around the Site C decision suggest that his government isn’t actually serious about reconciliation and righting wrongs with Indigenous peoples. Following the December 11 announcement, Horgan said to reporters, “I’m not the first person to stand before you and disappoint Indigenous people.” As though being the current leader in a long legacy of colonial governments who have disregarded Indigenous demands and perpetrated violence against Native homelands absolves Horgan and his administration of accountability. In reaction to those words, Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council said to Metro News: “It just really further angered and discouraged me — [this idea that] ‘I can disappoint you because other people have, I’m just another one in a long string?’ That’s one of the worst things I’ve ever heard him say … [it] didn’t show the kind of attitude I was hoping for him or that he had promised First Nations people.” As Horgan’s actions and comments in relation to Indigenous peoples increasingly resemble those of the Liberals before him, the Indigenous Collective continues to question his supposed commitment to reconciliation.
In her comments to media, Sayers rightly asked, “Is [Horgan] just going to do this with everything, or is he really going to make a commitment to change things — to truly work with First Nations in decision-making and gaining consent?” The Indigenous Collective shares in that curiosity and are wondering: John Horgan, will you carry on perpetuating the settler-colonial relationship like the many before you, or will you listen to First Nations, change course, and stop Site C?