‘The Land is Not for Sale’: First Nations Resist Site C Dam

Kate Mills Photo

Kate Mills Photo

by Matt Lamers / Dawson Creek Daily News

There’s no doubt in Grand Chief Stewart Phillip’s mind that the proposed Site C dam violates Treaty 8, the 1899 agreement between Queen Victoria and various First Nations of the Lesser Slave Lake area, and that it should be rejected.

“I don’t think there is any question about it,” he said in an interview after his presentation to the Site C panel on Friday afternoon. “I think it represents an absolute breach of Treaty 8 and everything it represents.”

Phillip, president of Union of Indian Chiefs and chair of Okanagan Nation Alliance, also warned that “hundreds of thousands of people” could descend on Fort St. John to protest the dam if it is given the green light.

It’s going to be a watershed moment for the country, Phillip said.

“Certainly here in British Columbia. I will continue to come up here to support Treaty 8, if that means I have to come up here and live in in a camp, attend the barricades, I will for as long as it takes.”

Friday’s Site C hearings were dedicated to treaty rights. A protest march also took place from the hearings to BC Hydro’s downtown offices.

In an interview, Sandra Fox, a First Nations observer, said Treaty 8 precludes the construction of Site C.

“We talk about our treaties, but there’s always broken promises from the government ever since the treaty came into effect.

“Our treaty rights are really important to us because it protects our land, it protects our water, it protects our food source, and it protects our medicine plants,” she said.

She added that on the way to Friday’s hearings she witnessed two moose crossing a river. She fears that the dam will cut the moose off from their habitat.

Throughout the day, the panel was told by First Nations that Site C would irrevocably impact their way of life both during and after construction.

Matt Munson, Josh Kolay and Jeff Langlois represented Dene Tha’ First Nation to the panel on potential impacts from Site C on treaty rights.

They challenged BC Hydro’s assertion that it wasn’t telling First Nations to “go elsewhere.”

Munson stated that the Peace River Valley is, in essence, a classroom, where Dene Tha’ transfer knowledge to future generations.

“It’s much easier to transfer knowledge, language and culture, and what those values are,” he said, “which gives us our identity. We’re able to access those places, especially those unique places, and name things in our language and tell the stories in our language. Without those, you don’t get that same level of engagement with the youth.”

Chief Sharleen Gale of Fort Nelson First Nations told the panel that land is not a physical surface and boundaries are not what you might see on a map. She addressed the panel, she said, because the complex interconnectedness of everything would inevitably impact her people.

“We are of the view that the project will have significant impacts on the exercise of our members’ treaty rights and interests, requiring consultation [and] accommodation.”

She expressed concerns with the proposed project, in particular that the proponent did not consider the full range of induced and cumulative impacts in the Environmental Impact Statement.

She said the project would reduce the ability of people living in the south of Treaty 8 to exercise their rights.

The proponent, according to Gale, failed to acknowledge the induced and cumulative impacts of increased pressures that would be felt in their territory.

“This increased pressure will cause social and cultural conflict in our territory,” she said. “This increased pressure on our land, water and resources will adversely affect and impact the wildlife, fisheries, vegetation, and habitat in our territory on which we depend.”

For Roland Willson, chief of the West Moberly First Nations, the lands that would be flooded for good are key to his livelihood.

“It’s a key spot for us,” he said. “It provides us fish. It provides us food. It’s a refuge for animals. Everything comes to this area and then they move out from there, and then they come in and they move out. It’s like your lungs in your body.

Willson said the cumulative effects are clear. They can’t hunt caribou now because their numbers are so sparse, so they depend on moose.

But like Fox, Willson worries what impact the dam would have on moose, because the Peace River Valley is one of their important winter habitats.

“So it becomes even more critical because all of these other areas are being impacted,” he said.

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