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Coast Tsimshian will not Tolerate Long-Distance Owner of Watson Island

by NationTalk on September 17, 20092635 Views

For Immediate Release
September 18, 2009

Watson Island and the old Skeena pulp mill may go up for tax sale on September 29th. For most of its history, the mill was viewed by the people of the largest Tsimshian community, Lax Kw’alaams, as a terrible polluter that was located on the traditional tribal lands of the Gitwilgyots Tribe, one of the nine tribes of Allied Tribes of Lax Kw’alaams and Metlakatla.The Tsimshian have continuously occupied the same territory for over 10,000 years (at least 9,900 years prior to the incorporation of the City of Prince Rupert). As a result, the Tsimshian take a long-term view of their responsibilities and stewardship of the lands and the wildlife within their traditional territory.

The Watson Island site is truly located at ground zero in the heart of the traditional tribal territory of the Coast Tsimshian people. Indeed, the word “Tsimshian” literally translates to “people inside the Skeena River”. The Watson Island site is located at the very mouth of the Skeena River. As a result, what takes place on Watson Island is key to their most important tribal food source—the salmon that return annually to the Skeena.

For years the site has essentially been abandoned with many of the old pulp mill buildings either flooded, overgrown with vegetation, or infested with various kinds of wildlife. For the past four years, they have watched the asset value of the Watson Island infrastructure disappear. Overseas owners have either entirely neglected or stripped (and sold off ) key assets needed to carry on any of the former industrial activities on the lands. Some experts have opined that the pulp mill equipment and associated infrastructure are in such a state of disrepair and so outdated that any potential investor would need to invest possibly hundreds of millions of dollars, “only to lose money in the pulp business?”

The other “legacy” left behind by opportunistic overseas corporate raiders is essentially a dilapidated garbage dump composed of largely useless assets, with an unknown toxic environmental hazard—with potentially unlimited liabilities. Given the broad net of liability cast under the British Columbia Environmental Management Act, it is not surprising that purchasers with a real intent to build viable economic opportunities, have been absent from the advertised sales of the property so far.

With the possibility of prospective owners with no real stake in the region, the Tsimshian and the hapless taxpayers of Prince Rupert on the sidelines are wondering what unpleasant surprises are in store from future potential long-distance owners.

The Coast Tsimshian have stood quietly by, as corporations, historically, have extracted wealth out of their territory, and left a trail of pollution without so much as consulting the traditional land owners. To this end, in June of this year, the Allied Tsimshian Tribes of Lax Kw’alaams and Metlakatla has executed a protocol (see attachment attachment.) outlining their well-considered position on the sales of key assets in their traditional territory, such as the sale of Watson Island.

Chief Councillor John Helin of Lax Kw’alaams stated unequivocally that “If potential purchasers of the Watson Island site have not properly consulted with the Coast Tsimshian (as required under Section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982), prior to their attempted purchase of the site, we will oppose the purchase with the full force of law to protect the environment and further potential harmful impact on our Aboriginal rights.”

To date, no potential buyers of the site has contacted or consulted with the Coast Tsimshian.

In addition, Chief Helin asserts “We have been looking at the Watson Island site for the past two years and have invested considerable resources and effort into exploring how Coast Tsimshian are best suited as owners of the site, to deal most appropriately with serious environmental issues that currently exist. Coast Tsimshian also wish to be constructive contributors to the northern economy. We have the largest forestry licence in the area that can be used generate employment, and opportunities on the site. We wish to work together with the City of Prince Rupert to build a long-term economic base on Watson Island that benefits the entire region.”

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For Further Information, please contact:

Chief Councillor John Helin,
Lax Kw’alaams Band
Cell: (604) 290 2901
Office: (250) 625 3293

To download Protocol Agreement click here.

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