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Katherine Palmer Gordon

By Katherine Palmer Gordon, September 2016

The Province’s failure on First Nations burial sites is leading to more Grace Islets and potentially another Gustafsen Lake.

BC Lands Minister Steve ThomsonON THE EVENING OF March 17, 2015, the Tseycum longhouse in Saanich was permeated with a sense of profound relief. The desecration of 18 ancestral graves on Grace Islet, a First Nations’ burial site in Saltspring Island’s Ganges Harbour, had finally been stopped. 

By Katherine Palmer Gordon, October 2015

As she leaves us, our correspondent reflects on a decade of First Nations treaty negotiations, court rulings and attempts at reconciliation.

Eleven years ago, I wrote my first article for this magazine. A profile of author Sylvia Olsen, it appeared in the June 2004 issue of what was then called Focus on Women.  

Now, with considerable sadness, I am writing what will be my last piece for the magazine—at least for now. Next month, having worked previously in both New Zealand and in British Columbia as a treaty negotiator, I am returning to New Zealand as a Chief Negotiator for that government. In my new role, I will be helping to conclude some of the remaining Maori land and marine settlements in the country.  

By Katherine Gordon Palmer

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s final report calls for a massive shift in how Canada conducts itself in relation to Aboriginal people.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Final Report summary, released on May 31, pulls no punches over the impact of Canada’s residential schools. 

“For over a century,” it begins, “[a] central goal of Canada’s Aboriginal policy [was] to…cause Aboriginal peoples to cease to exist as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious, and racial entities in Canada. The establishment and operation of residential schools were a central element of this policy…[This] can best be described as cultural genocide.” 

By Katherine Palmer Gordon

You’d think Fisheries and Oceans Canada would be on the side of wild salmon. Think again.

May 6, 2015 was a great day for wild salmon,” says Margot Venton, staff lawyer at Vancouver-based environmental legal group Ecojustice. It was a good day for Alexandra Morton, too: The biologist and the wild fish both scored a potentially significant victory in court. 

Two years earlier, Ecojustice had commenced legal action on her behalf against Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and Marine Harvest Canada Inc in the Federal Court of Appeal, contesting the fish farm company’s DFO-issued licence to transfer young salmon smolts from its hatchery into open-water pens in the ocean. 

By Katherine Palmer Gordon, April 2015

At a March longhouse ceremony, a cabinet minister promises change, but First Nations are still wary.

In mid-January, under heavy pressure from First Nations and their allies, the provincial government finally took action to halt the building of a house on Grace Islet, a tiny First Nations burial island in Saltspring Island’s Ganges Harbour. The hard-fought battle to protect the 18 graves on the island was at last won, although not without casualties. 

By Katherine Palmer Gordon, February 2015

The extraordinary potential of Vancouver Island forests to sequester carbon is being lost due to government inaction.

Vicky Husband, one of BC's best-known environmentalists and a member of the Order of Canada and the Order of BC, states the situation in her typical forthright fashion: “Our forests are being completely plundered. It’s a cut-and-run approach that isn’t providing local jobs, isn’t going into value-added products, and certainly isn’t seeing money coming back into the pockets of the people of BC. Forest management in BC, as it is practised today, is none of those things.”

It also isn’t helping preserve the capacity of BC’s unique coastal forests, world-famous for their huge and ancient spruce, fir and cedar, to absorb greenhouse gases from the atmosphere and sequester that carbon in those giant trees. 

By Katherine Palmer Gordon, January 2015

Failure to protect First Nations graves on Grace Islet may lead to the first aboriginal title claim on private property in BC.

On November 10, Chief William Seymour of the Cowichan Tribes wrote a polite letter to  Premier Christy Clark. Attached to the letter was a formal notice of claim to aboriginal title over Grace Islet, a three-quarter-acre rocky knoll located in Saltspring Island’s Ganges Harbour. 

It’s not unusual these days for the provincial government to receive claims of aboriginal title over Crown lands in British Columbia. But this one is different from all the others: the claimed property, Grace Islet, is privately-owned. 

By Katherine Palmer Gordon, November 2014

Helps wants the public more directly and meaningfully consulted before decisions are made by City Hall.

Why should Lisa Helps be the next mayor of Victoria? “There’s a very high talk-to-action ratio in this city and that needs to change,” Helps responds bluntly. “Victoria’s next mayor needs to know how to bring together diverse people and perspectives and make things happen. For the last 17 years in this city that’s exactly what I’ve been doing.”

By Katherine Palmer Gordon, October 2014

A recent scientific report implies we are close to a point of no return on climate change. UVic’s Dr Tom Pedersen weighs in.

Last August, a draft report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), leaked to the news media, set out some cold, hard facts about global warming.

The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen from 280 parts per million in pre-industrial times to 400 now. The rate at which emissions are rising has never been higher. In 2013 alone, the concentration of carbon dioxide increased by nearly 3 parts per million.

By Katherine Palmer Gordon, September 2014

Is the Supreme Court of Canada’s declaration of Aboriginal title the death knell for proposed resource projects in BC?

Tribal chairman of the Tsilqhot’in National Government Chief Joe Alphonse, 46, was sitting in the Supreme Court of Canada on June 26 this year when it declared that the Tsilqhot’in Nation holds Aboriginal title to more than 1750 square kilometres of what is now former provincial Crown lands. “This decision will be remembered as a turning point in the history of Canada and its relationship with First Nations,” reflected Alphonse.

By Katherine Palmer Gordon, July/August 2014

There’s little evidence to support the Joint Review Panel’s critical conclusion that diluted bitumen is “unlikely to sink.”

Whether diluted bitumen will float on the surface or sink in the ocean, says chemical scientist Thomas King wryly, “is a simple question, but it trails a raft of complex issues.”

King, based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, is leading Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s research into the behaviour of diluted bitumen under various environmental conditions. “The trouble is,” he says, “that we have very limited information about dilbit’s properties in water. Very little research has been done so far.” 

Yet, despite the lack of research, the National Energy Board’s Joint Review Panel (JRP) recommended approval of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline project (subject to 209 conditions). And on June 17, the federal government did just that.

By Katherine Palmer Gordon, June 2014

With a likely capital cost of between $800 million and $1 billion, it had better. Focus explores the issue with two scientists.

Last December, retired University of Victoria ocean physics professor Chris Garrett wrote to Focus, along with some of his former marine science colleagues, stating: “The allegedly scientific arguments put forward in support [of land-based secondary sewage treatment] are very superficial… [there is no] detailed, quantitative, rational analysis of what the problems are with the present system or how the proposed schemes will fix them.”

By Katherine Palmer Gordon, November 2013

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission process, aimed at raising awareness of the impacts of the Indian residential schools and building bridges between indigenous and non-indigenous Canadians, has proved a remarkable and moving experience for those involved. But much more is needed to make the process of reconciliation meaningful.

"The political elite all knew what was happening in the residential schools and they did nothing. I am filled with incandescent rage,” seethed celebrated humanitarian Stephen Lewis during his address to September’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission event in Vancouver, “thinking about what was done to the children. It was sheer, unadulterated evil and they did nothing to stop it.” 

By Katherine Palmer Gordon, September 2013

BC Reconciliation Week, September 16 to 22, allows Canadians to bear witness to the devastating legacy of residential schools.

Archie Little, his stark words muffled by tears, his shoulders shaking from the memories, says, “The only reason I survived residential school is because they made me so full of hate and so angry, that gave me the power to live.”

Archie, now 64 years old, was just a small boy when he was taken away from his Nuchatlaht family and incarcerated at the now-infamous Christie Residential School on Meares Island near Tofino. In April 2012, Archie and many other courageous Aboriginal men and women like him attended a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) event held in Victoria, to speak openly and candidly about their residential school experiences. 

By Katherine Palmer Gordon, June 2013

Kelly Paul’s Island marathon aims at awakening hope among First Nation youth.

In May 2012, the Cowichan Tribes, population 4,400, declared a local state of emergency in response to a horrifying spike in community suicides. Several people had died at their own hands in just the first five months of the year; 52 suicide alerts in total came into Cowichan’s tribal health centre over the same period. 

Sadly, Cowichan Tribes are far from being the only First Nation haunted by shocking suicide rates. It’s a statistic that plagues hundreds of Aboriginal communities across the country. Among Aboriginal youth, the rate shoots up to as much as six times the national average. “We are losing our most valuable resources—our children and our caregivers,” Cowichan Chief Harvey Alphonse lamented in 2012. 

By Katherine Palmer Gordon, May 2013

A new film is making sure salmon are on the menu of the provincial election.

Here’s the good news: While the documentary Salmon Confidential is an incredibly disturbing exposé of government efforts to hide the truth about devastating diseases affecting the West Coast’s wild salmon population, it does end on a positive note. Both filmmaker Twyla Roscovich and wild salmon expert Alexandra Morton, the film’s protagonist, believe strongly that there is still time to save our wild fish. 

By Katherine Palmer Gordon, December 2012

The final report of the 3-year, $26-million Cohen Commission may signal the end of fish farming on BC’s coast.

In the summer of 2009, the number of Fraser River sockeye salmon reaching their spawning grounds could be counted in mere thousands rather than the ten million fish originally predicted to arrive in the river that year. 

By then, steadily declining returns had already led to closures of the fishery for three years in a row. Bowing to vociferous public demand for action, in December 2009 the federal government commissioned BC Supreme Court Judge Bruce Cohen to investigate what was happening to the wild fish. 

Cohen’s terms of reference required him to consider the Department of Fisheries and Oceans’ (DFO) policies and practices, investigate and make findings of fact on the state of the fishery, and make recommendations for improving its future sustainability. 

By Katherine Palmer Gordon, September 2012

While fleets of log-laden ships depart our shores in growing numbers, scores of mills have closed resulting in massive job losses in BC. With so few mills left to send logs to, logging companies claim exports are the only way to stay in business. With the removal of the requirement that forest companies holding tenure on Crown forestland must mill that timber locally, there’s little or no impetus for them to invest in much-needed infrastructure that would provide an alternative to log exports. What will it take for BC to stop exporting so much home-grown opportunity to Asia?

"Advocates of raw-log exports in British Columbia claim log exports create employment. The truth of the matter,” the United Steelworkers Union declared bluntly in a May 2012 publicity campaign linking massive BC job losses to record volumes of log exports, “is that raw-log exports kill BC jobs.” 

By Katherine Palmer Gordon, September 2012

The BC treaty process turns 20 this month. Will it make it to 21?

Sometimes it seems that for every step forward in the BC treaty process, we take two steps back,” says Chief Treaty Commissioner Sophie Pierre, the frustration loud and clear in her voice. 

At its inception 20 years ago, there was optimism that the treaty process would be complete by now. It’s not even remotely close. Only two treaties have been completed, the Tsawwassen and Maa-nulth agreements. 

By Katherine Gordon, January 2012

Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Ah-in-chut Atleo thinks the situation at Attawapiskat is one of many signs Canada is at a tipping point in its relationship with First Nations. The system has failed, says Atleo: it’s time to “smash the status quo” and start over again.


National Chief Ah-in-chut Atleo was speaking at a philanthropy conference in Toronto last October when stark images of families in Attawapiskat, Ontario, living in uninsulated tents without power or running water, started flashing across Canadian television screens. 

By Katherine Gordon, September 2011

Will the city have what it takes to minimize loss of life and property damage when the Big One hits? Not if expensive, politically driven band-aid measures are the norm rather than comprehensive resilience planning focused on well-considered priorities.

When a catastrophic earthquake struck Christchurch, New Zealand on February 22, 2011, thousands of buildings and homes were destroyed; 181 people died. Christchurch was almost completely unprepared for that level of devastation. The cost of rehabilitation is likely to be around $11 billion (CAD). 

By Katherine Gordon, December 2010

British Columbia’s 32 indigenous languages were almost completely obliterated during the infamous reign of the residential schools. In 2010, they remain close to extinction. In a province where English predominates, does restoring them to active use make any sense? Overwhelming evidence suggests that the answer is yes—not only for the First Nations people from whom they were stolen, but for everyone.

"All our social problems stem from the disconnection of our young people to our culture because they don’t know our language,” says Renée Sampson, tears sparkling in her eyes. “Without that sense of cultural identity, they just don’t know who they are.”

by Katherine Palmer Gordon. July 2010

Three controversial infrastructure projects highlight the need for a better way to decide what projects are most important to residents of the region—and which get funding.

February, 2008: Dozens of RCMP, some armed with assault rifles, swarm a campsite in Langford and arrest six Langford's shameunarmed citizens, charging them with mischief. As many as 300 police officers surround a nearby neighbourhood for several days afterwards, questioning local residents as they travel to and from their homes.