West Moberly First Nation announces out-of-court deal with BC Hydro, the province
The Peace River Site C dam was first conceptualized in the 1970s but was not given permission to undergo construction until 2014. The dam is a $16 billion project that is being headed by the Government of British Columbia and the crown corporation BC Hydro. Since its initial approval, there has been almost constant opposition.
According to a 2016 article from CBC, between when the article was published and the 2014 approval date, there were at least seven lawsuits filed against the dam. This is in large part because of how the dam would impact the local area.
When the dam is completed, it will flood 83 km of the Peace River Valley, and destroy hundreds of sacred or culturally significant sites, including burial grounds. There has already been significant land clearing to make way for the construction of the dam.
One of the most active opponents to the Site C project has been the West Moberly First Nation. In 2015, the West Moberly First Nation and the Prophet River First Nation governments went to court over the dam. Their case was dismissed, and they went to the Federal Court of Appeal in mid-2016.
Again in 2018, the West Moberly First Nation planned to go to court when they filed a civil claim against the dam. This case was scheduled to go to trial in March 2022. However, a recent announcement by Roland Wilson, the chief of the West Moberly First Nation, suggests that the case may never reach the courts.
Not only do projects like these affect the surrounding environment, but they also impact people in the area, particularly Indigenous women, girls, and Two Spirit people. Work camps are plentiful in northern B.C., and the dam construction has only been bringing more. These work camps have been directly linked to an increase of physical and sexual violence against Indigenous women, girls, and Two Spirit people. According to Amnesty International, the money that comes with these sorts of projects can also trap local women in precarious situations, as they can become dependent on their partner’s income as the area becomes less affordable for them.
Despite these concerns in the Amnesty International report, in 2016 BC Hydro refused to stop construction of the Site C dam. The BC Hydro president claimed that the report was inaccurate in its portrayal of Indigenous opinion on the dam and claimed that the company had consulted with local nations before they started construction.
In late June 2022, the West Moberly First Nation government made an announcement that there was an out-of-court agreement regarding the civil suit. According to Wilson, this agreement did not come easily to the nation.
The Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) reported that the chief stated that he was “heartbroken” over the agreement. The chief stated that the nation came to the realization that BC Hydro, the provincial government, and the federal government were going to continue with the dam with or without the consent of the nation.
The West Moberly First Nation was one of the last formidable foes facing the Site C dam project, as the Prophet River First Nation gave up their legal battles with the project in mid-2020.
What does this agreement mean for the dam? Construction will continue as planned. There will be the creation of an 83 km reservoir and, according to APTN, the dam will flood 5 550 hectares of land. That is half of the entire Saanich municipality. There have been no plans released for saving the sacred sites identified and mentioned in Amnesty International’s report.
What does it mean for the nation? According to Wilson, the nation will receive crown land in repayment for the land that they are going to lose when the flooding takes place. There is also an assumption that the nation will receive financial compensation, though Wilson stated he was not allowed to speak on that aspect of the agreement at this time. The hiding of financial agreements between BC Hydro and Indigenous nations has been commonplace for the Site C dam.
This is not the only development to be opposed in B.C. Currently, there is still heavy opposition to the TMX and Coastal Gaslink projects going on in the province. The Site C dam is expected to be completed in 2024, barring any more setbacks to construction.