10571320433_37a4975c4f_o.jpg

Site C Dam is Final Straw for B.C.’s Treaty 8 First Nations

The B.C. government cannot expect support from First Nations for its much-touted liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects if the province insists on steamrolling ahead with the Site C dam, a First Nations chief is warning.

“They want support on LNG, and the level of destruction that is going to bring, and then they want Site C as well. They can’t have them both,” Chief Roland Willson of West Moberly First Nation told DeSmog Canada.

There is no logical reason to have both, Willson added, saying the provincial government has ignored alternatives to Site C, even as the federal Joint Review Panel found there is no immediate need for the power and excess power would be sold at a loss.

[view:in_this_series=block_1]

Treaty 8 First Nations in B.C. are vehemently opposed to BC Hydro’s plans to build a third massive dam on the Peace River that would flood more than 5,000 hectares of land, swamp more than 330 recorded archaeological sites and — in direct contravention of the 1899 treaty — destroy land now used for hunting, fishing and collecting medicinal plants.

Initially, some Treaty 8 Tribal Association nations were willing to look at what the B.C. government was offering in terms of mitigation and compensation, but, as more information became available, Willson noted a change in attitude.

“Now everyone is opposed,” he said.

The treaty states First Nations have the right to continue with their way of life “for as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the rivers flow.”

But with massive resource development in the area, the sun, grass and rivers are all at risk and Site C is the final straw, Willson said.

With high levels of methylmercury in fish because of rotting vegetation from the previous two dams, fishing is restricted and ungulates, such as caribou, are being destroyed by the major projects, said Treaty 8 Tribal Association Chief Liz Logan, who has asked the UN Special Rapporteur James Anaya to call on the government of British Columbia to assess cumulative impacts of industrial activity in the area.

A recent study, Passages from the Peace (PDF), by the David Suzuki Foundation and Global Forest Watch Canada found 28,587 kilometres of pipelines, 45,293 kilometres of roads and 116,725 kilometres of seismic lines used for oil and gas exploration within the Peace region.

“We have become the cash register for the province . . . .Now our way of life is going to be interfered with again,” Logan said.

“We are bush people and this is our grocery store, our pharmacy, our school and our church. It still sustains us.”

The treaty is alive, despite damage inflicted on the ecosystem by resource extraction and previous Peace River dams, so the province should think carefully about ramifications of treaty-breaking, Willson said.

The Joint Review Panel agreed the dam will have significant adverse effects on First Nations practices and heritage and that many of those effects cannot be mitigated.

A total of 21 First Nations would be affected if the valley is flooded and, with numerous legal decisions reasserting First Nations’ constitutional rights, there is growing awareness that a court challenge could hold up the $7.9 billion project for years if the province decides this fall to proceed.

First Nations file for judicial review of panel report

This month the Mikisew Cree First Nation, which has nine reserves in northeastern Alberta, and the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, which has eight reserves near the southwestern tip of Lake Athabasca, filed a Federal Court application for a judicial review of the Joint Review Panel report.

The two Treaty 8 First Nations rely on the Peace Athabasca Delta for plant gathering, fishing, hunting and travel through the many lakes and river tributaries and presented evidence at the hearings that showed the Delta is already ecologically stressed, with low water levels affecting wildlife habitat and harvesting.

Any further changes to water levels in the Delta could prevent First Nations from exercising their treaty rights, according to the application, which aims to have some sections of the Joint Review Panel report declared invalid and unlawful, some sections quashed and others referred back to the panel for further consideration.

The application is asking the Federal Court to prohibit the federal and provincial governments from taking any further actions that would allow Site C to proceed until a new report is issued that complies with “principles of procedural fairness.”

BC Hydro spokesman Dave Conway said he could not speculate about the possibility of Site C heading to court.

“However, I can tell you that we aim to fulfill our duty to consult and, where appropriate, accommodate aboriginal groups,” he said.

Logan said the five Treaty 8 nations have not yet voted on whether to go to court, but there are heavy hints that any attempt to build the dam will immediately become entangled in legal battles.

Chief's mandate: 'Oppose this right to the end'

“The only mandate I have right now is to oppose this right to the end. We are going to go back to our people once we hear the decision,” Logan said.

Willson supports the judicial review of the environmental assessment and then, if necessary, a court challenge.

But going to court is expensive, especially when going up against the deep pockets of BC Hydro and the provincial government, he said.

BC Hydro has talked with more than 50 aboriginal groups in hundreds of meetings since 2007 and will continue to look for mitigation measures, Conway said.

“We are committed to providing lasting benefits to aboriginal groups through the construction and operation of the project. In addition, we are negotiating impact benefit agreements with some First Nations where appropriate,” he said.

An impact benefit agreement could mean a lump sum payment, payments over time, cash equivalent benefits or agreements around provincial Crown land, Conway said.

But a major hurdle is the distrust First Nations have for government.

Chief Roland Willson

West Moberley First Nation Chief Roland Willson. Credit: Garth Lenz.

“Nothing the B.C. government has done since I have been chief has made me trust that I can believe anything they do,” Willson said.

Logan said she always tries to be hopeful.

“But, unfortunately, in my 16 years of working with this government, I have learned not to really trust what comes out of their mouth,” she said.

Site C likely to get entangled in court challenges

As decision time approaches, other Site C opponents are counting on the power of First Nations.

There is no doubt Treaty 8 nations have a strong case for stopping the dam plans, said Andrea Morison, coordinator of the Peace Valley Environment Association.

“That bodes very well for the campaign and I absolutely expect it would go to court,” Morison said.

However, in the meantime, Peace Valley residents and First Nations are hoping Site C will be rejected and there will be no need for a legal battle.

That will take more pressure from people in southern B.C., Logan said. A petition to stop the Site C dam and save the Peace River Valley has been set up at StopSiteC.org

“We are doing everything we can, along with our environmental friends from down south, to create awareness and tell people ‘it’s coming out of your pocket,’ ” she said.

Photo: Treaty 8 Tribal Chief Liz Logan by Zack Embree.

Like a kid in a candy store
When those boxes of heavily redacted documents start to pile in, reporters at The Narwhal waste no time in looking for kernels of news that matter the most. Just ask our Prairies reporter Drew Anderson, who gleefully scanned through freedom of information files like a kid in a candy store, leading to pretty damning revelations in Alberta. Long story short: the government wasn’t being forthright when it claimed its pause on new renewable energy projects wasn’t political. Just like that, our small team was again leading the charge on a pretty big story

In an oil-rich province like Alberta, that kind of reporting is crucial. But look at our investigative work on TC Energy’s Coastal GasLink pipeline to the west, or our Greenbelt reporting out in Ontario. They all highlight one thing: those with power over our shared natural world don’t want you to know how — or why — they call the shots. And we try to disrupt that.

Our journalism is powered by people just like you. We never take corporate ad dollars, or put this public-interest information behind a paywall. Will you join the pod of Narwhals that make a difference by helping us uncover some of the most important stories of our time?
Like a kid in a candy store
When those boxes of heavily redacted documents start to pile in, reporters at The Narwhal waste no time in looking for kernels of news that matter the most. Just ask our Prairies reporter Drew Anderson, who gleefully scanned through freedom of information files like a kid in a candy store, leading to pretty damning revelations in Alberta. Long story short: the government wasn’t being forthright when it claimed its pause on new renewable energy projects wasn’t political. Just like that, our small team was again leading the charge on a pretty big story

In an oil-rich province like Alberta, that kind of reporting is crucial. But look at our investigative work on TC Energy’s Coastal GasLink pipeline to the west, or our Greenbelt reporting out in Ontario. They all highlight one thing: those with power over our shared natural world don’t want you to know how — or why — they call the shots. And we try to disrupt that.

Our journalism is powered by people just like you. We never take corporate ad dollars, or put this public-interest information behind a paywall. Will you join the pod of Narwhals that make a difference by helping us uncover some of the most important stories of our time?

Heat, humidity, wildfires: what the weather report reveals about your health risks

For many Canadians, the summer months are a precious reprieve from long, cold and dark winters. Summer is for barbecues and beach days, camping and...

Continue reading

Recent Posts

Our newsletter subscribers are the first to find out when we break a big story. Sign up for free →
An illustration, in yellow, of a computer, with an open envelope inside it with letter reading 'Breaking news.'
Our newsletter subscribers are the first to find out when we break a major investigation. Want in? Sign up for free to get the inside scoop on The Narwhal’s reporting on the natural world.
Hey, are you on our list?
An illustration, in yellow, of a computer, with an open envelope inside it with letter reading 'Breaking news.'
Our newsletter subscribers are the first to find out when we break a major investigation. Want in? Sign up for free to get the inside scoop on The Narwhal’s reporting on the natural world.
Hey, are you on our list?
An illustration, in yellow, of a computer, with an open envelope inside it with letter reading 'Breaking news.'