Dam plan frustrates 5 first nations

Date of publication: 
27 May 2011

United Nations intervention sought in proposed Site C dam project

Five moderate first nations from the Peace River district have asked the United Nations to intervene to protect their interests from provincially sanctioned development, in particular the proposed Site C hydroelectric dam.

In making their joint request, the Doig River, Halfway River, Prophet River, West Moberly and Salteau invoked the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples recently signed by Canada.

The far-from-militant tribes, which signed Treaty 8 more than 100 years ago, complained to the UN that they are not being consulted adequately by government or industry despite Supreme Court rulings that provincial and federal authorities have a duty to consult regarding activities that infringe upon aboriginal or treaty rights.

They say the treaty was a promise by Canada to guarantee their right to continue cultural practices and traditional seasonal rounds of hunting and gathering, fishing and trapping across their traditional lands in perpetuity.

Instead, they say, the treaty is being interpreted by federal and provincial authorities -and by the resource industries they are supposed to regulate in first nations’ interests -as an instrument by which they are claimed to have ceded their rights and surrendered traditional lands.

The Peace River region is subject to intensive development. More than 27,000 oil and gas wells have been drilled and are serviced by a vast infrastructure of processing plants, pipelines, roads, seismic cuts and high voltage lines.

Plans are also afoot to build a third hydroelectric dam on the Peace River, already listed as one of B.C.‘s most endangered rivers, which would flood thousands of hectares of forest and prime farm land and hundreds of kilometres of the river and two of its major tributaries.

All this development has a profound negative impact upon wildlife habitats and populations, water and air quality, the first nations complain, and the Site C dam will make it worse.

“When is enough, enough?” asked Liz Logan, tribal chief of the Treaty 8 Tribal Association. “They [the provincial government] are not hearing us. We’re becoming so frustrated. It’s just a joke, in our minds.”

Furthermore, the first nations say, in the midst of all this development, Canada is breaching treaty promises regarding education, medical care and tax status.

B.C. Energy and Mines Minister Rich Coleman was unavailable for an interview on Thursday.

However, in a statement sent to The Vancouver Sun, he reiterated the province’s growing need for electricity.

“British Columbia’s electricity needs are expected to increase up to 40 per cent over the next 20 years as our population grows by more than one million residents,” Coleman said.

“Site C is a cost-effective resource and will produce electricity at a cost between $87 and $95 per megawatt hour compared to other resources which cost upwards of $129 per megawatt hour, helping keep BC Hydro rates among the lowest in North America.”

BC Hydro did not return a call from The Sun by deadline.

A memo obtained by The Sun from Logan to other chiefs in the Treaty 8 Tribal Association confirms that she met May 18 in New York with James Anaya, the UN’s special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples and requested intervention with provincial and federal governments.