By Roy L Hales
Chief Roland Willson, of West Moberly First Nation, said his people celebrated the 100th anniversary of Treaty #8 in 2014. One of the provisions is that they will be allowed to use the land about to be submerged by the Site C Dam “as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the river flows.” This appears to be the Treaty Canada wants to forget.
The podcast below was updated and edited prior to being aired on CKTZ, Cortes Community Radio, on March 14, 2016:
The Treaty Canada Wants To Forget
There were several references to Canada’s failure to honour its’ treaty obligations in the Peace River Valley, during Question Period in the House of Commons last week. Despite their rhetoric about a new relationship with First Nations, both Catherine McKenna, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change, and Jim Carr, Minister of Natural Resources, answered questions without mentioning “Treaty 8” or the “Site C Dam” by name. However McKenna did indicate the project is going forward:
“The project is now at construction phase and B.C. Hydro must meet the requirements set out in the environmental assessment decision as well as other regulatory requirements…,” she said.
Premier Christy Clark, of British Columbia, recently promised to fulfill the late Premier Bill Bennett’s vision to build the Site C Dam.
“Premier Bennett, you got it started and I will get it finished. I will get it past the point of no return,” she said at his memorial.
Her Government also appears reluctant to talk about Treaty 8. (There was not a single reference to it in the email from the Ministry of Energy and Mines that I quote throughout this article.)
Before The United Nations
The West Moberly and Prophet First Nations have contacted the United Nations about perceived BC and Canadian government treaty infringements and, in a press release state:
“Canadian diplomats are in Geneva this week to be questioned by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on Canada’s compliance with this international human rights treaty. The Committee has specifically asked how Canada is ensuring free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples in regard to resource development projects.
“West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations called on the Canadian government to live up to their stated commitment and its obligations under Canadian and international law to respect Aboriginal and Treaty rights, especially the standard of “free, prior and informed consent” when it comes to major resource projects such as Site C dam.
“In its written response Canada has so far merely reiterated its stated commitment to a renewed, nation-to-nation relationship with Indigenous Peoples,” Chief Willson said. “With BC Hydro’s bulldozers operating in the Peace River Valley this is no longer good enough….”
“We Have A Treaty”
Chief Wilson said he is constantly reminding Canadian and British Columbian officials of the Treaty.
“We have to point out, quite often, that there is a significance difference between treaty rights and aboriginal rights. In order to get a treaty you have to prove aboriginal rights. We’ve already done that, that’s why we have a treaty,” he said .
“The treaty promises no forced interference with our way of life. The issue we are having is that neither B.C. or Canada, have no done a regional a regional strategic environmental assessment or a cumulative impact assessment in regards to site C and shale gas development that is happening in northeastern B.C,” said Chief Willson.
“Working With Aboriginal Groups”
In defence of his government’s conduct, B.C. Ministry of Energy and Mines spokesman David Haslam emailed:
“We’re working with Aboriginal groups to address their concerns and identify opportunities for them to benefit from the project. We’ve been consulting and engaging with Aboriginal groups since 2007, focusing on those most affected by the Site C project.
“The Site C project received federal and provincial environmental approvals on Oct. 14, 2014, which included the release of a Federal/Provincial Consultation and Accommodation Report.
“The conclusion of the report stated: “The Agency and EAO (Environmental Assessment Office) are of the view that there has been meaningful consultation with the potentially affected Aboriginal groups, to understand the potential impacts of the proposed Project on Aboriginal Interests, and to develop substantive accommodation measures that are intended to reduce, mitigate or offset these impacts.”
“The report also concluded: “that consultation has been carried out in good faith and that the process was appropriate and reasonable in the circumstances.”
“Their Definition Of Consultation And Ours Are Completely Different”
“Their definition of consultation and ours are completely different. We believe consultation is a dialogue, where they listen and we listen. They take into consideration, and make accommodations, for our rights,” said Chief Willson.
“What happened in this process is they let us blow off steam and then went and made their decision. Actually, they had already made their decision and then they came to talk to us and told us what their decision was. We asked them to amend it and they said ‘No.’ Then they went on to go forward with their decision.”
“We offered them reasonable accommodation measures. We told them we would work with them with a geothermal plant; we would work with them on a gas fired power plant. Anything to save the valley, but they refused.”
Wilson said the province had already made its’ decision in 2007, when Premier Gordon Campbell was at the W.A.C. Bennett Dam. 
“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,” he said. .
“They had already made their decision they were building that. That is not consultation, that is information. They were informing us of their decision.”
BC Hydro & The Province “Are Committed”
Ministry spokesperson David Haslam maintains that BC Hydro and the Province “are committed to working hard with Aboriginal groups to address their concerns and identify opportunities for them to benefit from the project”:
- “BC Hydro has provided over $14 million in capacity funding to Aboriginal groups to support general engagement, traditional land use studies and baseline reports.
- “Many Aboriginal contractors and employees are involved in the construction of the project, including clearing work, and work on the temporary construction bridge.
- “BC Hydro continues to have many positive discussions with the majority of the First Nations it is engaged with.
- “Offers of accommodation have been made to all of the First Nations significantly affected by the project.
- “While specific agreements are under negotiation, they could include elements such as lump sum payments, annual payment streams over a period of up to 70 years and adjusted for inflation, the transfer of provincial Crown lands to First Nations, the implementation of land protection measures or special land management designations to preserve values and areas of importance to First Nations, and significant work and contract opportunities.”
“Not Even Worth Talking About
In response, Chief Willson said “The lump sums of money are not even worth talking about” and the problem with the offered lands is:
“There is no other land in Northeastern BC that represents what this valley represents. It is the last chunk of this type of ecosystem that we have. There is no other river like the Peace River and there is no other valley like this. It is irreplaceable land. It is the only class one and two agricultural farmland in northeastern BC.”
Despite shortages in California and the looming onset of Climate Change, the B.C. government does not appear to recognize the importance of preserving agricultural land.
“With the cost of cauliflower at $8 a head now, you would think they would take that into consideration.”
Only Two Nations Still Oppose The Province
Haslam pointed out that the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations are the only Aboriginal groups still opposing the Site C project in court: “The Mikisew Cree First Nation, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation, Doig River First Nation and McLeod Lake Indian Band have withdrawn from or discontinued their legal challenges.”
“None of them have signed agreements with Site C or BC Hydro. You would think that if they are in favour, they would all be signing agreements. Not one of the Nations has signed an agreement,” Wilson responded.
“The problem is that it costs money to go to court and, because of the economic downturn, I believe these Nations have decided they cannot afford to fight.”
“My community and the Prophet River community, we can’t afford to fight either, but we can’t just roll over.
Power Not Needed
“There is no need to expend this amount of resources to build Site C. You know the Joint Review Panel said it is not necessary, they haven’t proven the need for the power. They ignored that. The British Columbia Utilities Commission previously turned down Site C twice, saying that the power is not needed,” he said.
Premier Clark’s government refuses to submit their plans to the B.C. Utilities Commission for review.
“This is a $12 billion project, probably largest project in Canadian history and definitely the largest project in B.C. history. They’re flooding 8,500 hectares of land, 80 kilometres of the last functional piece in the Peace River , inundating the Mobrey River and the Halfway River. – You’d think someone would have done an infringement assessment,”
“They could double the amount of energy they want to create with two gas powered plants at about three billion dollars.”
The Federal Government’s Failure
Wilson also pointed to the Federal Government’s failure to do carry out its’ duty.
“There’s court cases that state they have to do a … it’s called a Sparrow justification. [4. The name comes from a Supreme Court case in which Ronald Sparrow defended his aboriginal right to fish.] When they propose a project of this magnitude, they have to be able to justify the impact and the Federal government has not done that. They’ve admitted that they did not do it,” he said.
There are also questions about the legality of the permits issued so that construction on Site C could begin. This was done AFTER the election writ was called.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May alluded to this in Question Period last week:
“In the dying days of the Federal election campaign 14 permits were issued from Fisheries and Transport Canada to allow the Construction of Site C Dam in Northern BC on the Peace River.
“This is highly a controversial project. It’s manifestly opposed. Its’ sole purpose is to provide electricity for LNG development, and the federal Joint Review Panel found the project directly affects Treaty 8 treaty rights of area First Nations. The Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs should commit to not allowing further permits to be issued while treaty rights for indigenous people remain outstanding.”
Though Environment Minister Catherine McKenna did not acknowledge the irregularity of these permits in her reply, she pointed out that the Harper administration had already approved the project:
“In the fall of 2014, the former government approved the project and set legally binding conditions with which the proponent must comply. The project is now at construction phase and B.C. Hydro must meet the requirements set out in the environmental assessment decision as well as other regulatory requirements…”[5. the exchange between Elizabeth May & Catherine McKenna is in the audio below]
“The Conservative Government made their decision after the writ fell in Ottawa, for the Federal election. They’re not supposed to make big decisions like that,” said Wilson.”
“The Liberal Government, once they came into office stated they are going to review and change parts of the Environmental Assessment Act. They know it was flawed. They know the process was flawed. They know that the Conservative Government signed off on a bunch of stuff after the writ fell. The whole process is a sham.”
“They are running roughshod over the First Nations, which they are not allowed to do and that is why we are in court with them.”
-  “Last week Premier Gordon Campbell announced the province will be getting serious about the development of Site C ” Nation Talk, Friday, October 05, 2007
-  BC Hydro submitted a development plan to the British Columbia Utilities Commission in 1982 and was turned down. After their second attempt to start a project, in the 1990s, BC Hydro CEO Marc Elieson issued a public statement saying “that Site C would not be developed in the future by BC Hydro.”
Top Photo Credit: Screenshot from the video “Peace For A Valley“