Headshot1Alyse Kotyk is a writer and editor based out of Vancouver, BC. Her work has appeared in  the Globe and Mailrabble and the Vancouver Observer.

She has also written for Quietly Media, where she completed over 450 pieces about mental health and wellness. Previously, she was the editor of Servants Quarters, a publication with an international audience that highlights reflections by individuals working within urban poor communities. She has also written for  onQ magazine, the Queen’s University Gazette and for several non-profits.

Alyse is passionate about sharing narratives and believes everyone has a valuable story.

Click on the pages above to view selections of her work.


B.C. Liberals have not committed to UN declaration on Indigenous rights

BY ALYSE KOTYK| May 3, 2017
theglobeandmail.com

web-nw-bc-indigenous

Photo by Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail

Among British Columbia’s three parties vying to win next week’s election, only the BC Liberals have not committed  to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

In March, Indigenous organizations in the province issued a questionnaire to the BC Liberals, the BC Greens and the BC NDP asking for their positions on a variety of subjects, including their stand on the UN declaration (UNDRIP).

The first question the survey asked the parties was how they will “transform the current relationship between First Nations” and “all levels of government in light of the adoption of UNDRIP by Canada.”

“The UN declaration is one of the priority areas given that it has been endorsed unequivocally by Canada,” said Cheryl Casimer, political executive with the First Nations Summit. “[UNDRIP] does provide a number of recommendations in terms of how states will interact with Indigenous peoples. It basically sets the tone for how we can move forward together in a new era, in a new British Columbia.”

Last month, after initially resisting an outright embrace of the declaration, Canada formally removed the objections lodged at the United Nations by the Stephen Harper Conservatives. The Tories said they were worried the wording of the 2014 document could be seen as allowing aboriginal groups to veto things such as major development projects.

In B.C., with billions of dollars worth of developments proposed on lands subject to aboriginal land claims, the BC Liberal government had warned that UNDRIP could put jobs and the economy at risk because of the declaration’s stated requirement that Indigenous people offer “their free, prior and informed consent before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.”

The BC NDP responded by saying they will adopt UNDRIP and that “it will be [their] election platform.” The BC Greens response stated they “would fully commit to all action required of provincial governments to adopt and implement” the declaration.

For Wet’suwet’en Chief Na’Moks, part of this process of moving forward with reconciliation will require Indigenous communities to participate in the voting process.

“Over the years, people have decided not to vote because they have no faith in the government and then they complain,” he said at Monday’s launch of the Anyone But Clark campaign.

“I’ll tell you if you don’t get out and vote, you have nothing to complain about. Our people get so frustrated that they step back. That can’t happen any more. Our youth, our elders, all British Columbians must get out and vote because this is how we change the future.”

The survey also asked questions about the parties’ perspectives on treaty rights, child welfare, education, the environment and natural-resource management.

For Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, the BC Liberals’ and the BC Greens’ responses to the questionnaire fell short.

“Disappointingly but not surprisingly, the BC Liberals’ responses were very status quo and more of the same,” he said. “The BC Greens’ responses revealed their lack of understanding of Indigenous interests, Indigenous rights and Indigenous issues.”

Mr. Phillip acknowledged that the Green Party showed a desire and willingness to learn, but that it was too little, too late.

“We don’t have time for that,” he said. “We need a party that is committed to hit the ground running.”

Mr. Phillip said he felt the BC New Democrats’ responses were “the most comprehensive” and “reflected a knowledge and understanding” of Indigenous issues and reconciliation.

Ms. Casimer said the survey responses could be a helpful tool for Indigenous communities, especially when considering candidates in their ridings.

“It’s something similar to what we did during the federal election,” she said. “The questions were not just crafted by the leadership council, the questions came to us by means of an engagement process with a number of our councils.”


B.C. student groups seek to raise turnout for provincial election

BY ALYSE KOTYK| April 19, 2017
theglobeandmail.com

Photo by Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail

Campus groups are pushing their peers to make it to the polls for British Columbia’s May 9 election, warning that typically low turnout among young voters could make it easier for politicians to ignore them and the issues affecting their lives.

Voters younger than 35 tend to have the lowest turnout in Canadian elections and B.C.’s last election was no exception. Fewer than half of registered voters aged 18 to 24 participated in 2013, while fewer than 40 per cent of those aged 25 to 34 voted. And those numbers were worse than the two previous elections.

To address these low numbers, the Alliance of BC Students has launched a campaign to increase student voter turnout by providing on-campus information for how and when students can vote. In turn, the group hopes increasing youth turnout will pressure politicians to pay more attention to young voters.

“Political parties are probably failing the most in terms of reaching out to young people,” said Alex McGowan, Kwantlen Polytechnic University student and chair of the alliance. “When it comes down to it, I think [they] are just not putting in the real time and effort that they put into older generations.”

And the fewer young people vote, the less incentive political parties have to invest the time and resources into reaching them.

“It is a tricky chicken-egg situation where young people need to be inspired to turn out,” said David Moscrop, a political science researcher at UBC. “That requires them being engaged, but they’re not being engaged because there’s no real benefit to the parties to engage them.”

Mr. Moscrop added that many of the issues on which parties campaign might not be of interest to young voters, which itself could be an election strategy.

“Parties, rationally, put all their attention to groups that are more likely to vote,” he said. “So they target them and they know to their build their platforms carefully and accordingly.”

Arianna Murphy-Steed, whose group Young Climate Voters BC encourages students to vote with environmental issues in mind, said young people have barriers beyond a simple lack of interest.

“We’ve found that a lot of people don’t know that they are eligible to vote,” said Ms. Murphy-Steed, who is a student at the University of British Columbia. The group’s campaign is called Together for Tomorrow.

Ms. Murphy-Steed said that with university classes wrapping up before the May election, it could be difficult to provide students with the information they need to vote before they leave campus.

She also said many students don’t realize they are eligible to vote if they have lived in B.C. for six months.

“Many students may not have a fixed address,” she said. “I don’t know that there has been enough effort to ensure that young people are aware of when and how to vote. Part of the reason we are running this campaign is to help fill in those gaps.”

Elections BC said not having a fixed address also means young voters may not receive information from the agency.

“Youth tend to be more mobile. They’re moving more. They may not be on the voter’s list at their current address,” said Andrew Watson, communications manager for Elections BC. “In general, they’re harder to reach through the communications that we conduct to inform people how voting works.”

Noor Youssef, a political sciences student at UBC, moved to B.C. from Syria five years ago. Even with a Canadian passport and five years of residency in the province, she did not realize she could vote in the upcoming election.

“There isn’t much awareness on campus,” she said. “I just don’t have enough information on who’s running.”

Ms. Youssef acknowledged students such as her need to take initiative to understand the issues.

“It’s also my fault because I haven’t taken it upon myself to get informed,” she said. “I don’t know that much, even though I should. I’ve been living here for a while.”

For Simka Marshall, chair of the British Columbia Federation of Students, a province-wide organization that launched its Students Are Voting campaign last month to collect voting pledges, the perception of young voters needs to change.

“One thing I think is really powerful is to stop promoting the myth that young people are apathetic,” she said.

Ms. Marshall said youth voter turnout discussions should help youth feel empowered to participate politically.

“Being a young person myself, there’s nothing less inspiring than having people tell me that I don’t vote,” she said. “Being shamed into voting isn’t something that is going to mobilize me to get to the polling station on voting day.”


‘We have never ceded our lands’: First Nations in B.C.’s interior weigh impacts of Kinder Morgan pipeline

BY ALYSE KOTYK| Feb. 28, 2017
rabble.ca

km-stop

Across B.C.’s interior, Indigenous communities are deciding whether or not they will support Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline project through mutual benefits agreements (MBA).

While most of the media attention has focused on the Coast Salish First Nations near the lower mainland’s metropolitan areas, the majority of the pipeline crosses the traditional territories of interior First Nations, including the Secwepemc Nation in the Shuswap and the Nlaka’pamux to the west of the Okanagan.

Over the weekend, the Lower Nicola Indian Band (LNIB) voted to accept their mutual benefits agreement with Kinder Morgan. Near Merritt, LNIB was one of 133 Indigenous communities approached by the energy company to sign an agreement that included financial compensation and employment opportunities. Last November, Kinder Morgan signed a conditional agreement with the LNIB’s chief and council who then called for a community referendum to decide whether or not they would move ahead.

LNIB’s Chief Aaron Sam said he did not know which way the vote would go and that he thought the results would be close.

“If you look at the public at large of Canadians or British Columbians or Albertans, there’s a wide range of views on the project,” he said. “There’s many people that are supportive because of the financial component or the potential work. But at the same time, there’s people that are strongly opposed to the project because of concerns relating to climate change.”

For the LNIB, job opportunities are appealing. However, Sam, who is vying to be the NDP candidate for the Fraser-Nicola riding in the upcoming provincial election, said some of his community members are concerned about increased tanker traffic on the coast and how potential oil spills could affect their salmon supply.

“I think our community is not that different from many of the concerns that you see from the larger community outside of the Lower Nicola Indian Band,” Sam said.

Yet only 187 out of 964 eligible voters — little more than 19 per cent — participated in the referendum.  The results were 111 votes for signing the agreement to 75 against with one spoiled ballot.

“We have never given that up.”

For Kanahus Manuel from the Secwepemc Nation in the Shuswap region of B.C. — an area that would be largely affected by Trans Mountain — chief and councils should not be playing a role in these agreements with Kinder Morgan.

“The chiefs and council are, we call them, agents of the government. We call them civil servants of the crown. They work for the government and this is the way Canada manufactured these leaders and manufactured consent to go into these projects,” she told rabble.ca by phone. “The Secwepemc people that are 10,500 or so strong are the ones that should be making decisions about their territory, including opposing or allowing this pipeline to go through.”

Kinder Morgan appears to be positive about these agreements and said it has worked to build relationships with the Indigenous communities that would be affected by the Trans Mountain project.

“Together with these communities, we worked very hard to establish a relationship built upon respect, trust and openness,” said Ian Anderson, President of Kinder Morgan Canada in a media statement. “These MBAs represent not only an agreement to share opportunity and provide prosperity, but a symbol and recognition of a shared respect.”

However, Manuel also pointed out that Indigenous-elected chief and council are often in a difficult position when faced with development projects.

“We’re forced into this extreme poverty-stricken conditions on Indian reservations where the elected chief and council are being forced to sign under duress for these pipeline projects and mining projects just in order to give the basic needs to the people,” she said.

Instead, Manuel said she advocates for a return to traditional Indigenous governance to tackle issues of development and climate change.

“There’s traditional ways that we governed ourselves, there’s traditional ways that we continue to govern ourselves as Indigenous people,” she said. “We have never given that up. We have never ceded our lands or surrendered our lands.”

Image: Facebook/Shirley Samples — Stop Kinder Morgan Call to Action


Lawsuits pile up as Kinder Morgan opponents prepare next pipeline battleground in the courts

BY ALYSE KOTYK| Feb. 14, 2017
rabble.ca

While the provincial and federal governments may have announced their support for Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline, opponents are continuing to strengthen their fight against the project in court.

From whales to rights to conflicts of interest, the reasons for legal challenges are vast and don’t appear to be slowing down. Just last week, Vancouver city councillor Adriane Carr put forward a motion to request judicial review of the province’s environmental approval of Trans Mountain.

“If there is real and genuine consultation with First Nations and real and genuine consultation with the public…I believe the outcome will be a no,” said Carr, in a press conference outside Vancouver’s city hall. “No environmental permit, no building of Kinder Morgan’s pipeline and thus a better future for all of us.”

The motion suggested that First Nations groups were not adequately consulted and there was little assessment of adverse effects on marine life. City council will hear speakers on Feb. 22. In the meantime, however, many other legal challenges are moving forward.

PIPE UP and the Province of B.C.

On Jan. 31,  Democracy Watch and the PIPE UP Network applied for a B.C. Supreme Court order to challenge the province’s approval of Trans Mountain. According to these groups, Kinder Morgan and pipeline-connected companies donated more than $750,000 to the B.C. Liberal Party, creating a conflict of interest in Premier Christy Clark’s support of the project.

When asked to comment on this legal challenge, a representative from the Ministry of Environment said the province conducted its own environmental assessment and took the NEB’s decision into consideration.

“The information that the ultimate decisions are based on was gathered by professional staff, whose analysis and recommendations were then forwarded to elected officials. The final decision making process is also strictly outlined in statutes,” they said.

Even so, PIPE UP Network says the decision to approve the project is still a conflict of interest.

“The fate of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which puts our oceans and rivers at extreme risk, should be decided by people who do not have their hands in the pockets of Kinder Morgan and pipeline-connected companies,” said Lynn Perrin, director of PIPE UP Network.

What about whales?

For Living Oceans Society and Raincoast Conservation, the project’s issue lies with the National Energy Board’s assessment of Trans Mountain.

With support from Ecojustice lawyers, the groups filed a request for judicial review with the Federal Court of Appeal in late December. Dyna Tuytel, an Ecojustice lawyer, told rabble the federal government should not have relied on the NEB’s assessment because it did not consider the impacts the project would have on marine life, particularly on B.C.’s southern coast whale population

“The project would mean over 400 tankers a year travelling through the southern residents’ critical habitat on their way to and from Westridge Terminal in Burnaby,” she said.

Tuytel said that the tankers bring three main risks to the local whale population: increased ocean noise affecting their ability to communicate and hunt, shortage of food supply and contamination of the ocean from potential oil spills.

Currently, Tuytel said the court is considering both parties’ submissions on the case before moving ahead.

First Nations call for consultation

Multiple First Nations groups including Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish and Coldwater nations have also taken legal action against Trans Mountain and say they were not properly consulted on the pipeline project.

“The federal government’s consultation process was disappointingly flawed,” said Chief Maureen Thomas of Tsleil-Waututh Nation. “We do not consent to the Kinder Morgan pipeline project in our territory. We are asking the court to overturn the federal cabinet’s decision to approve this project.”

Eugene Kung, a staff lawyer with West Coast Environmental Law works closely with the Tsleil-Waututh’s Sacred Trust — an initiative to stop Trans Mountain. He says their case is particularly important because it’s an issue of constitutional rights.

“First Nations have very unique rights, constitutionally protected rights in Canada,” he said. “That is an ongoing and developing area of law which has had a very clear trajectory of increasing and entrenching those rights.”

Yet as all of these legal challenges progress, Trans Mountain appears unphased.

“As cases make their way through the courts, we are continuing to move forward with [the] project — planning, permitting, engagement and design — in order to meet conditions and be ready to begin construction in September 2017,” Lisa Clement, a media relations spokesperson for Trans Mountain told rabble.

Even so, Kung believes that legal challenges coupled with community support can overturn a federal decision and stop a pipeline.

“I think everyone on either side would have been anticipating and expecting legal challenges,” he said. “The legal challenges that have been filed were not necessarily a surprise but certainly are a really important part of the fight.”


LSU collective agreement lacks clarity in management

BY ALYSE KOTYK| DEC. 2, 2016
Langara Voice

*This piece is part of a special edition of The Voice in reaction to allegations made about — and decisions made by — the Langara Students’ Union.*

In 2012, the Langara Students’ Union signed a new collective agreement — a legal contract establishing working conditions — for its staff members. After LSU general manager, Desmond Rodenbour was fired, The Voice looked at this collective agreement to see if anything was out of the ordinary

Lack of clarity in LSU’s collective agreement

Collective agreements are negotiated between management and employees within a union. Management is usually responsible for hiring, firing and outlining job descriptions for union members. However, within the LSU’s collective agreement, the line between management has become blurry, according to Rodenbour who said this lack of clarity can lead to issues.

“I just think that a healthy collective agreement would have fairly clear lines of what is the role of management, what is the role of staff,” he said Thursday. “In the absence of those clear lines, those things get blurred. I don’t think it’s necessarily anybody’s fault but it doesn’t make for a particularly healthy relationship.”

In the case of the LSU, these include employees being able to play a role in hiring new staff members, ending staff probationary periods and creating or changing job descriptions. For example, the LSU’s collective agreement says that job descriptions can’t be changed “without the mutual agreement of the staff.”

Collective agreement differs from other schools by benefitting staff

In other areas, the LSU collective agreement has some benefits for staff that are not in student union collective agreements at other post-secondary institutions. For example, LSU staff members are entitled to a number of paid holidays including International Women’s Day, two floating holidays and time off between Dec. 22 to Jan. 1, inclusive. In total, this adds up to 23 days of paid time off in addition to the three weeks of paid vacation that employees receive in their first year of employment. While they all vary, Kwantlen University, Douglas College and UBC’s student unions all offer fewer paid holiday days for their staff.

Agreement pays for staff members if they take illegal action on behalf of LSU

Another specific point in the LSU’s collective agreement includes payment of wages if a staff members goes to jail for something they have done on behalf of the LSU. The agreement states that “the staff member will be entitled to leave with no loss in salary, seniority or benefits” while they are in court or in jail. This entitlement does not seem to appear in Kwantlen, Douglas College or UBC unions’ collective agreements.

Rodenbour said that he is not against unionized staff, but that a collective agreement only works when it’s clear and supports the goals of the student union for the student body.

“I don’t see anything wrong with a unionized staff of a student union,” he said. “I think that a collective agreement can be the best document when the management has a deep vision.”