West Moberly First Nations struggle against Site C dam on Treaty 8 territory enters crucial period

Published by Brent Patterson on

Photo: Land defender Helen Knott and West Moberly First Nations Chief Roland Willson.

The Vancouver Sun reports: “West Moberly [First Nations] will be in court next year, claiming infringement of its treaty rights and damage to its traditional territories from construction of Site C and other BC Hydro dams on the Peace River.”

“The case is set down for 120 days of court time, starting March 14, 2022.”

The reservoir is scheduled to be filled in 2023.

Chief Roland Willson has highlighted: “[The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples] commits to the obtaining of the free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous persons before adopting and implementing legislative or administrative measures that may affect them.”

The article notes: “Willson [has now] also called on the government to suspend work on Site C pending a final decision by the cabinet on outright cancellation.”

This is because of the violation of Indigenous rights and the destruction of Indigenous cultural and spiritual sites that would come with the flooding caused by the dam, but now also because of geotechnical and safety issues.

In July 2020, the British Columbia government noted there were geotechnical problems with the dam and appointed Peter Milburn to write an independent report on the project.

Then earlier this month, the BC Premier John Horgan said the government had appointed two international dam safety experts to assess a solution to the geotechnical problems and would release Milburn’s report once that assessment had been done.

Now, the West Moberly First Nations is seeking the release of all documents related to the geotechnical problems, the Milburn report, and all documents shared with the two international dam safety experts.

Land defence and more from the United Nations

In December 2015, Treaty 8 land defenders and allies set up a camp at Rocky Mountain Fort on the south bank of the Peace River to protest the dam. But by February 2016, the Supreme Court of British Columbia had granted an injunction to BC Hydro ordering the land defenders to be removed from the area.

At that time, land defender Helen Knott of the Prophet River First Nation stated: “We do not wish to be arrested. We wish to see Canada respect the rights of indigenous people in accordance with its international obligations.  We remain strong, united and firm in our opposition to this unnecessary project. We will do everything in our power to ensure Canada lives up to its commitments to indigenous peoples.”

The legal proceedings against the dam began in January 2018.

In December 2019, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called on Canada “to immediately suspend the construction of the Site C dam, until free, prior and informed consent is obtained from West Moberly and Prophet River Nations, following the full and adequate discharge of the duty to consult.”

In a follow-up letter dated November 2020, the Committee further states: “The Committee regrets that the State party has provided no information on measures taken to address the concerns [about the development of the Site C dam project, as well as the Trans Mountain and Coastal GasLink pipelines] raised by the Committee in its decision of 13 December 2019.”

We follow this situation with interest.

Peace Brigades International has accompanied opponent to hydroelectric dams including: ASODEBICOQ vs the Santa Lucia dam, the Pajuiles community vs the Los Planes dam, and COPINH vs the Agua Zarca dam in Honduras; the Peaceful Resistance of Cahabón vs the Renace and Oxec dams in Guatemala; Totonac communities vs the Puebla 1 dam in Mexico; and the CCALCP legal collective vs the Sogamoso dam in Colombia.

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