Site C dam still not past the ‘point of no return’

Efforts to defend the rights of Indigenous peoples in the Peace Valley of British Columbia against the Site C dam took a worrying turn today.

A British Columbia court has ordered a group called the Treaty 8 Stewards of the Land to leave their culture camp at a historic site on the Peace River. 

Since January 1 of this year, the culture camp has been the only thing standing in the way of BC Hydro’s plans to log the valley floor in preparation for the construction of the Site C dam.

I will get it past the point of no return.

BC Premier Christy Clark on the Site C dam

It’s expected that BC Hydro will now move quickly to clear-cut large areas of old growth and other unique forest habitats of critical importance to the cultures and way of life of Indigenous peoples in the region.

Site C dam is a profound threat to the human rights of Indigenous peoples

Helen Knott, whose great-great-grandfather was one of the signatories to Treaty 8 in northeastern BC, told the Hill Times last week, “Losing over 100 kilometres of the valley, that’s a lot of loss. I see it as a denial of the right to identity,”

A joint federal-provincial environmental review of Site C underlined the fact that widespread resource development in northeastern BC has left few other areas where Indigenous peoples can still go out on the land, to provide for themselves and maintain their cultural identities, by fishing, hunting and gathering wild plants and berries. The joint review also concluded that the dam would flood areas of critical cultural and historical significance, such as the old trading post where the cultural camp was being held.

First Nations and local landowners have challenged the dam on a number of grounds, including the admitted failure of the federal and provincial to even evaluate whether the harm that it will cause can be reconciled with their treaty obligations.

Four legal challenges are still before the courts.

But those court processes can’t deliver justice if irreversible harm has already been done to the Peace Valley. Or if, as the BC Premier has suggested, the construction of the dam is allowed to get so far advanced that it will be all but impossible to stop.

The federal government must act

Amnesty International has stood alongside a wide range of First Nations organizations, social justice groups and faith communities in urging that all preparations for Site C be halted while crucial issues of Indigenous land rights are still before the courts. 

The BC government has made it clear that it intends to push ahead. But the federal government – which has the power to refuse, suspend or rescind federal permits essential for current construction – has been non-committal.

Responding to a reporter from the Hill Times, a spokesperson for federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna said that it would be inappropriate to comment on Site C while the matter is before the courts.

This response simply isn’t good enough. BC Hydro is clearcutting the Valley while underlying rights issues are before the courts. Individuals who asserted their treaty rights by holding a cultural camp in the path of this logging now face the threat of arrest, even while these rights are still before the courts.

Now’s the time for the federal government to make good on its promise to uphold the treaties and respect the obligations of international human rights law.

Before Site C reaches the “point of no return.”

Please join us in sending an urgent message to the Prime Minister.