Last week the McLeod Lake Indian Band walked away from BC Hydro’s consultations over the controversial Site C Dam, returning the $100,000 funding that they had been given to enable them to participate in the consultations. The Band is one of the Treaty 8 nations located in Northern BC. Chief Derek Orr was quoted as saying:
We have brought our concerns to the table but BC Hydro isn't listening. The decision to build Site C has already been made, and it was made without us. They say money talks – well, $100,000 says a lot about how upset we are at government's unilateral decision to destroy our way of life. They can have their money back if they aren't going to listen to us.
Back in April West Coast Environmental Law warned of fundamental problems with how Site C is being assessed, and raised questions about whether that assessment process could meet the provincial Crown’s obligations to consult with affected First Nations. Our Executive Director and Senior Counsel, Jessica Clogg, said in a press release at the time:
The decision to move ahead on the Site C dam over the objections of Treaty 8 First Nations is a step in the wrong direction for reconciliation between First Nations and the Crown. The Crown has a duty to respect the constitutionally-protected treaty rights of First Nations affected by this dam. First Nations ought to be involved at the highest levels of decision-making on projects that will have such lasting impacts on their rights, and their ancestral lands and waters.
And then in May West Coast released our in depth analysis of the Crown’s process and how it fails to meaningfully consult First Nations.
There have been numerous flaws in the way the Crown has approached First Nations consultation on the Site C Dam. For example, the Crown’s unilaterally decided on the process it would use to consider and approve the Site C Dam, disregarding the mutually binding promises contained in Treaty No. 8. The Crown has also failed to involve First Nations at a high level of strategic decision-making about the use of the Peace River to generate electricity when it made early decisions about the dam’s feasibility. The commitment to build the Site C Dam without achieving the free, prior and informed consent of Treaty 8 First Nations is likely a violation of Canada’s commitments under international law.
Site C, in this era of climate change, is a complex issue on which many intelligent people disagree. However, this project cannot be shoved down the throats of the region’s First Nations, who also bore the brunt of the construction of the W.A.C. Bennett Dam in the 1960s. West Coast Environmental Law encourages BC Hydro and the BC government to halt their consultation process as it is currently structured, and to ensure that the Crown meaningfully engages the McLeod Indian Band and other affected nations in decisions about the future of the Peace River.
By Andrew Gage
Photo of Site C dam from the BC Hydro Website.