Should the BC & Canadian Governments Honour Treaties?

Originally Published  Jan 17, 2018

By Roy L Hales

Premier John Horgan blamed the former Liberal Government last month, “They got to the point of no return … It wasn’t about public policy, it wasn’t about energy policy, it wasn’t about the best interests of British Columbians, it was about getting a project past the point of no return.” He approved the Site C Dam project anyway. In so doing, he joined the Canadian Government in sidestepping what may turn out to be the most crucial point in this debate. Should the BC & Canadian governments honour treaties?

Should the BC & Canadian Government’s Honour Treaties

Premier John Horgan announcing the decision to proceed with Site C – courtesy the province of British Columbia via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

Ludicrous as the question sounds – if you think a government should be representing every sector of the population –  lawyers from BC Hydro and the Canadian Government argue that decisions about treaty rights should be determined in court. Until this occurs, they are ignoring promises made over a century ago in Treaty #8.

When First Nations surrendered title to their lands, they were given the right to continue with their traditional ways of life in that area “for as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the rivers flow.”

This means indigenous peoples continuing their “patterns of activity and occupation, without forced interference.” There was to be no hindrance to accessing “cultural, spiritual and community gathering spots.” They could continue hunting, fishing and trapping.[1]

Last year the Prophet River and West Moberly First Nations took the perceived violation to the Federal Court of Appeals, only to have their suit dismissed when the court ruled it “did not have jurisdiction under subsection 52(4) of the CEAA 2012 to decide whether the Site C Project would constitute an infringement…”[2]

Pushing Their Treaty Rights Aside

Yesterday, lawyers representing the two nations filed notices of civil action, alleging that that for more than half a century British Columbia has been aggressively pushing their treaty rights aside to develop hydro projects:

“The cumulative impact of the Bennett, Peace Canyon, and Site C Dams is to turn the Peace River into a series of reservoirs, destroying the unique cultural and ecological character of the Peace, severing the physical, practical, cultural and spiritual connection the Prophet have with the Peace, and infringing [West Moberly and Prophet’s] Treaty Rights.”[3] 

Signs protesting the Site C dam are plentiful along Highway 29 between Fort St. John and Hudson’s Hope – Courtesy Emma Gilchrist, DeSmog Canada, CC By SA, 2.0
Signs protesting the Site C dam are plentiful along Highway 29 between Fort St. John and Hudson’s Hope – Courtesy Emma Gilchrist, DeSmog Canada, CC By SA, 2.0

Premier Horgan acknowledges, “There has been a century and a half of disregard for Indigenous communities and we are going to do our level best to redress that as we move forward.”

However, this promise does not include the Site C Dam.

“It’s my view that activities that began before I was sworn in as Premier are out of my control … In the case of Site C, I really have to say it is 25-per-cent done. It’s not like I’m going to [start] it – I’m going to finish it.”

2007 Decision To Build Site C Dam

A B.C. Ministry of Energy and Mines spokesperson from the previous government emailed the ECOreport that, “We’ve been consulting and engaging with Aboriginal groups since 2007, focusing on those most affected by the Site C project.”

That was the year when former Premier Gordon Campbell visited the Peace River to announce this project.

Chief Roland Willson of the West Moberly First Nation has different memories of the event, “They invited us the afternoon that he showed up. They called us up and asked if we wanted to attend. They had planned it for a month and waited until the last minute to call us. We went out there and they said they are moving forward on Site C … They had already made their decision they were building that. That is not consultation, that is information. They were informing us of their decision.”

Subsequent to this, the 2014 Report of the Joint Review Panel on Site C reported that the”Peace River holds spiritual and cultural value” to Treaty 8 Nations.[4]  The Site C Dam “would likely cause a significant adverse effect on [indigenous] fishing opportunities and practices …  and that these effects cannot be mitigated.”[5] The project would also “cause a significant adverse effect on hunting and non-tenured trapping”[6]

Counting The Dam Cost

Chief Roland Willson of the West Moberly First Nations addressing reporters in 2016 – courtesy Lead Now via Flickr (CC BY SA, 2.0 License)

In their press release, the Prophet River and West Moberly First Nations pointed to the increasing costs of this project. When former Premier Christy Clark approved it in 2014, the Site C Dam was expected to cost $8.3 billion. Horgan’s NDP admit this number has risen to $10.7 billion.

“We’re not just asking the court to save the Peace River valley, but to save British Columbians billions of dollars by scrapping this ill-conceived, outmoded, and unneeded boondoggle unravelling in plain sight,” says Chief Lynette Tsakoza of the Prophet River First Nation.

“We need more information about the project’s schedule, budget, and ongoing geotechnical challenges to accurately estimate the implications of suspending construction until our Treaty infringement claims are decided at trial,” adds Chief  Willson.

Top photo credit: Peace River – courtesy Andrea Morrison


[1] Prophet First Nation vs Her Majesty the Queen et al et al; psrsgraph 14; [2] Ibid, paragraph 22

[3] Jan 16, 2018 press release from the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations.

[4] Report of the Joint Review Panel on the Site C Clean Energy Project, May 1, 2014, p 237; [5] pp 314/315; [6] Ibid, p 315

One thought on “Should the BC & Canadian Governments Honour Treaties?”

  1. So the new cost projections seem to have gone up by close to as much as the estimated sunk costs so far. Hmm. Imagine that. So where is the 25% done costs? Oh. That was it too? Hmm. So that’s what transparent-coverup looks like!
    I am so glad that all this will come out. The truth must win for the good of all Treaties. If the oldest Canadian Treaties are not honoured, how will the world trust any treaty Trudeau or future Canadian governments want to sign?
    Hang in there chief(s). Honest Canadians are backing you all the way. ASAP

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