BC May Break A Treaty If They Build The Site C Dam

By Roy L Hales

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There are many reasons to oppose the proposed Site C dam. It will flood what is reputedly some of the province’s most promising farmland. Most of the inhabitants of the Peace River Area, where the dam would be built, oppose the project. There are alternative energy sources, such as geothermal, which BC Hydro has not explored. The most serious objection, however, is BC may break a treaty if they build the Site C Dam.

According to treaty #8, the local First Nations can continue to use that land “for as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the rivers flow.”

The waters backed up behind the Site C Dam would submerge approximately 9,310 hectares of that land and up to 337 recognized archaeological sites.

BC Will Proceed With Site C Dam

On December 16, Premier Christy Clark announced BC will go ahead and build the Site C dam. This project is now expected to take 10 years to complete and cost close to $9 billion.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Mines and Energy admitted, “We recognize that some First nations are opposed to this project.   We remain committed to working with First Nations to achieve accommodation and benefit agreements.”

His email followed on the heels of an announcement that “the Treaty 8 Tribal Association is receiving nearly $134,000 in B.C. Government funding” to help pay for a study on “regional economic development opportunities, including liquefied natural gas.”

Treaty 8 Nations Against Site C Dam

One of the project’s strongest opponents is Treaty 8 Tribal Chief Liz Logan, who has tried to get the UN to pressure BC to respect treaty rights.

Chief Liz Logan (l) speaking to First Nations activist at the SFU's Harbour Center last May – Courtesy LNG Pipedreams: Fracked Futures and Community Resistance.
Chief Liz Logan speaking to First Nations activist at the SFU’s Harbour Center last May – Courtesy LNG Pipedreams: Fracked Futures and Community Resistance.

She told the Vancouver Observer, “This Site C proposal has been pending for the last three decades. This dam has been rejected by the BC Utilities Commission but has now been conveniently removed from review by the BC Utilities Commission by this government. They’re doing everything they can to ensure this project goes ahead regardless the impacts or cost.”

Logan and Chief Roland Willson, of the West Moberly First Nations, recently accompanied Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs,  to Ottawa, where they met with  politicians and social justice groups for three days.

“Our focus was on reaching out to Parliamentarians,” Logan said in the subsequent press release. “The Site C Dam proposal on the Peace River would submerge what little is left of the Peace River Valley in Northeastern British Columbia. Many MPs outside of BC aren’t aware of the devastating environmental consequences of this proposed third dam.”

West Moberly Chief Roland WIllson speaking at the Paddle for the Peace last July. “There is nothing better in the world than to be able to put your boat on the water or go stand knee deep in the water and catch a fish and eat that fish. And drink the water. That in itself is something that’s worth saving,” he said. Photo credit: Emma Gilchrist, DeSmog Canada, CC BY SA, 2.0.
West Moberly Chief Roland WIllson speaking at the Paddle for the Peace last July. “There is nothing better in the world than to be able to put your boat on the water or go stand knee deep in the water and catch a fish and eat that fish. And drink the water. That in itself is something that’s worth saving,” he said. Photo credit: Emma Gilchrist, DeSmog Canada, CC BY SA, 2.0.

“There is an urgent need to get Members of Parliament informed about this issue,” said Chief Willson. “We have rights under our Treaty. They’re rights that cannot be infringed simply because a provincial utility wants more power. The recent Tsilhqot’in decision by the Supreme Court of Canada only bolsters governments’ obligation to accommodate our Aboriginal rights and title.”

He added, “This dam just doesn’t make sense: legally, environmentally, or economically. It needs to be stopped immediately.”

According to Willson, the government disregarded the relevant findings of the Report of the Joint Review Panel and has not adequately considered the loss of the First Nations’ Treaty rights that will accompany this project.

Some of the relevant passages:

  • (p 237) “BC Hydro recognized that some Aboriginal groups have indicated the Peace River holds spiritual and cultural value to them and that specific places that Aboriginal groups’ value and use for multiple purposes would be permanently changed or lost by the construction of the Project. BC Hydro recognizes that this effect cannot be mitigated and significant for Doig River First Nation, Halfway River First Nation, Prophet River First Nation, West Moberly First Nations, Blueberry River First Nations, Saulteau First Nations, and the McLeod Lake Indian Band. The Panel agrees.”
  • (p 314/315) ” … The Panel disagrees with BC Hydro and concludes that the Project would likely cause a significant adverse effect on fishing opportunities and practices for the First Nations represented by Treaty 8 Tribal Association, Saulteau First Nations, and Blueberry River First Nations, and that these effects cannot be mitigated.”
  • (p 315) ” … The Panel disagrees with BC Hydro and concludes that the Project would likely cause a significant adverse effect on hunting and non-tenured trapping for the First Nations represented by Treaty 8 Tribal Association and Saulteau First Nations, and that these effects cannot be mitigated.”

Willson said First nations have brought forward a number of alternatives – wind, solar, geothermal, small-scale hydro – but the government is not listening.

Three of BC’s  five Treaty 8 Nations – the Doig River First Nation, Prophet River First Nation, West Moberly First Nations – and the McLeod Lake Indian Band filed a judicial review in Federal Court challenging the  Federal government’s approval of the Site C project.

These Treaty 8 Nations are carrying out a similar process in the Supreme Court of British Columbia.

First Nations from both BC and Alberta, as well as landowners in the Peace River Valley, have already launched  five court cases against the Federal and Provincial governments for approving the environmental certificates issued for Site C.

If BC Has To Choose, The Priority Is LNG

Premier Clark told Bloomberg that her government wants to develop two megaprojects, but if it came to a choice:

“LNG is our priority in British Columbia and we don’t need to do Site C in order to fuel up the LNG industry,” Clark said, adding she ran for office on a pledge to establish the sector. “Hopefully, we will find a way to do both, but if it’s one or the other, I’m choosing LNG.”

(Image at top of page: Courtesy Andrea Morison, Coordinator Peace Valley Environmental Association )

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