First Nation leaders urge Trudeau government to stop proposed Site C dam

(Ottawa, ON – December 10, 2015) First Nation chiefs from British Columbia and representatives from the Assembly of First Nations are calling on the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take a second look at a Cabinet decision of the former federal government providing initial approval of the controversial Site C dam.

The Chiefs also are calling on key federal Cabinet Ministers to meet with them and are seeking a halt on any further federal permitting until the issue of Treaty rights infringement arising from the proposed project is fully examined and resolved.

The call comes as a delegation of Chiefs from British Columbia arrives in Ottawa to press for meetings with key federal Cabinet ministers and the Prime Minister to ask that the federal government intervene to stop the proposed dam, which would flood nearly 23,000 hectares of land along 107 kilometres of the Peace River, Moberly River, Halfway River and their tributaries.

“The Site C dam would inundate the Peace River valley and several of its tributaries, destroying the last stretch of the valley that we have left. We’ve already lost 70 per cent of the valley to two massive reservoirs that have poisoned fish, wiped out hunting and gathering grounds and flooded burial sites. Ottawa must not allow what little remains to be wiped out as well,” says West Moberly First Nations Chief, Roland Willson.

“This project will have devastating impacts on the rights and territories of these Treaty 8 First Nations,” says Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde. “The previous government approved Site C with no consideration about how it will infringe on the Treaty rights of affected First Nations. That was wrong and goes against Canada’s own laws and Constitution. The new government has committed to reconciliation and a better relationship with First Nations. We urge the government to reach out and begin rebuilding a constructive relationship with the affected First Nations.”

The federal government can do a number of concrete things that would halt the proposed dam, which is not yet even close to construction, and ensure that the inherent rights of First Nations are protected. Several approvals by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans and by Transport Canada have not yet been granted and are required in order for the project to proceed.

The federal government also is currently opposing the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations in court after two Treaty 8 First Nations launched an appeal of a Federal Court decision ruling that the federal Cabinet can effectively approve a megaproject that infringes on treaty rights and violates section 35 of the Constitution Act.

“We hope that Canada’s new Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould takes seriously her strong mandate to review and reconsider the federal government’s litigation strategy with First Nations,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. “Stopping the fight against First Nations in court over the approval of Site C would send a welcome signal that Canada is seriously committed to a new, respectful relationship with First Nations across the country. Site C is an important litmus test of that commitment.”

Chief Lynette Tsakoza of the Prophet River First Nation emphasized that halting the Site C project at this time is not that difficult a decision for the federal government to make because the project is not that far advanced. The British Columbia government announced only two weeks ago the companies that were to be awarded the major construction project at the dam site. A contract setting out the terms of that work has not yet been signed.

“It is not too late to change course,” Chief Tsakoza says. “Although preliminary construction has begun, the damage to the Peace River and the river valley is not yet irreversible. Stopping Site C provides the federal government with the perfect opportunity to demonstrate to all Canadians that this government takes reconciliation seriously. We urge the Trudeau government to not miss this historic opportunity.”

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