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Construction on Site C Dam Will ‘Indefinitely Scar’ B.C.’s Relationship with First Nations: Chief

The Treaty 8 First Nations have received notice from BC Hydro that work on the Site C dam could start as early as July 6 — despite court proceedings still being underway.

Treaty 8 First Nations have applied for judicial review of the federal government’s decision to grant an environmental assessment certificate, arguing the Site C dam infringes on their treaty rights. The joint review panel’s report on Site C found the dam will result in significant and irreversible adverse impacts on people in the Treaty 8 communities.

The federal appeal begins the week of July 20, 2015. But Treaty 8 First Nations say that BC Hydro has ignored requests to put construction on hold until the outcomes of the court proceedings are known. BC Hydro did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

“The provocative activities that the B.C. government is recklessly trying to advance are irreversible, and will leave an irreparable and permanent scar on the land,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. “These deliberate actions will also indefinitely scar B.C.’s relationships with First Nations.”

The 1,100-megawatt Site C dam would be the third dam built on the Peace River. It has been proposed for more than 30 years and with a price tag of $8.8 billion, it is the most expensive public project in B.C. history.

The project has been controversial due to its impact on farmland, infringement of treaty rights and concerns about the costs of the project.

The First Nations Leadership Council — comprised of the executives of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, the First Nations Summit and the B.C. Assembly of First Nations — issued a press release Thursday stating the council will “fully support the Treaty 8 First Nations to address this injustice and to prevent damage to the Peace River Valley.”

Treaty 8 says BC Hydro intends to begin blocking off the main channel of the Peace River with booms this summer. BC Hydro also intends to clear 735 hectares of trees and vegetation.

“If construction begins, it will be understood as a clear message that this government has absolutely no respect for the Treaty 8 First Nation people, and is blatantly disregarding constitutionally recognized aboriginal title, rights and treaty rights,” Phillip said. “Further, rushing ahead of the courts to build this project is an irresponsible and negligent use of tax dollars.”

Robert Phillips of the First Nations Summit political executive said the provincial government seems to have tunnel vision when it comes to building the Site C dam.

“By denying the Treaty 8 First Nations their day in court, the government is making an outright statement that they are above democratic rights and the judicial system,” Phillips said. “This approach is unacceptable and an affront to the cultivation of constructive government-to-government relations between the provincial government and B.C. First Nations.”

Close to $50,000 has been donated toward the Treaty 8 legal fight through Victoria-based charity RAVEN.

The B.C. government has argued the Site C dam is the most cost-effective way to meet the province’s electricity needs and has rejected repeated calls for an independent review of costs by the B.C. Utilities Commission.

Harry Swain, the chair of the joint federal-provincial panel that reviewed Site C, criticized the B.C. government’s actions on the dam in March 2015, in comments called “unprecedented” by environmental law experts.

Photo: Grand Chief Phillip Stewart of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs at last year's Paddle for the Peace on the Peace River.

Emma Gilchrist is a reporter, editor, public speaker and spreadsheet-keeper. She started her journalism career more than 15 years ago…

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