2017 Paddle for the Peace. Photo: Louis Bockner

The Peace River Valley is a world treasure full of sacred sites, endangered wildlife, and people who love it. An ecosystem perfectly situated for studying resilience to climate change, the Peace is an example of the best hope this generation has to offer future generations. But it is in grave peril due to government irresponsibility.

Whether it is incompetence (failure to appreciate the sacred), or corruption (focus on short-term profit at the expense of long-term health), what has happened to the Peace River Valley since the BC Liberals approved the Site C Dam in 2014 is blatant injustice and abuse of power. Valuable historical sites like Rocky Mountain Fort have been recently destroyed through a criminal lack of stewardship, but much still more remains that needs protection and solidarity. 

Sarah Cox’s book — Breaching the Peace: The Site C Dam and a Valley’s Stand Against Big Hydro  — helps those who’ve never been up to the Peace to feel the vulnerability and the wonder of what exists up there. The book is being launched at the ANZA Club in Vancouver on Thursday, May 3, at 7 p.m

The West Moberly First Nations, on the forefront of the battle to protect the Peace River, are so committed to saving the endangered caribou up north that they implement a penning project to rescue herds and prevent them from becoming extinct. At a cost of $106,000 per calf, through a partnership with Saulteau First Nation, they managed to increase the numbers of the Klinse-Za caribou herd from 16 (in 2013) to 61 (in 2016).  What the migratory caribou need in the long run, though, is habitat that would be destroyed by the Site C dam. 

The dedication and ingenuity of the West Moberly First Nations comes across through stories like this, and through the example of how they became B.C.’s first Aboriginal community to be officially designated a “Solar community” by SolarBC in 2009. A community-strengthening, democratic economy of the future, one based in solar, wind, geothermal and small hydro, is what Site C kills, alongside any hope of meaningful reconciliation that the provincial and federal governments supposedly espouse. The valley lands are West Moberly’s “medicine cabinets and schools of traditional knowledge.”

Cox also helps us to appreciate how the Blueberry River First Nations’ efforts to practice their culture at a spectacular area called Pink Mountain in the Rocky Mountain foothills, where they gather for seasonal cultural camps. The nickname for the northeastern B.C. reserve, “Little Kuwait,” from how flares from natural gas operations light up the night, tells us the impact of rapid industrial expansion on their traditional territories. It has been so quickly and viciously barraged that now 84% of Blueberry River’s traditional territory has been damaged by industry. 

As court cases filed by the Blueberry River First Nation, West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations go to the BC Supreme Court this summer, this book offers a timely introduction to the compelling reasons why everyone in Canada should support these Indigenous legal battles for justice and honour. 

The value of the Peace’s remaining wetlands, sloughs, tufa seeps, forests and more cannot be overestimated. The Peace River Valley hosts three-quarters of B.C.’s bird species. It is part of a key migration corridor for many endangered species such as grizzly bears and wolverines. Global mass extinction is caused by allowing destruction of such key places. 

In 2015, the Biological Survey of Canada conduced a BioBlitz in the endangered Peace River Valley. Scientists found an astounding wealth of plants and animals they had no idea would live so far up north, tenacious outliers that are “either extending the range of their species or… remnants of past populations” (159).  The many surprises and secrets of the Peace River Valley will be brutally destroyed through government and corporate irresponsibility if the Site C dam is not stopped.

This book is enraging and informative. For instance, BC Hydro’s permit “to remove or destroy an unlimited number of eagle nests over an eight-year period” cost only $455. For less than one month’s rent, the lives of untold numbers of eagles are destroyed in one bureaucratic maneuver. I am outraged by the highhanded removal of almost “4,000 hectares of protected Peace River Valley farmland, an area the size of ten Stanley Parks, suddenly vanished from the Agricultural Land Reserve” under the BC Liberals’ irresponsible neglect of B.C.’s current and future food security.

The stamina and perseverance of the valley’s farmers under the threat of Hydro’s intimidation tactics makes this book a study in grassroots democracy as well. Ken and Arlene Boon’s steadfast dedication to the land and the people show a possible route for real reconciliation to develop, through respectful relations with Indigenous people and a shared love for the river. 

There is no need for Site C, and Hydro has unethically chosen to reduce its energy conservation programs in order to try to manufacture a fake case for Site C. Cox’s book outlines better alternatives to Site C, such as 200 potential pumped storage sites in southwestern B.C.:  “Even though a report commissioned by BC Hydro revealed pumped storage to be a viable, cost-effective option for the province, one that would leave a pinky toe of an environmental footprint compared to larger dams with their prodigious reservoirs, the government did not consider it an energy option” (219).  She notes how the blatant disregard for facts and evidence drove Harry Swain, who had chaired the research advisory panel for the Walkerton Inquiry, to break convention and speak out regarding the government’s dereliction of duty.  

B.C. is home to a world treasure that it fatally undervalues. Because of this neglect, this province risks destroying what makes it special. Read this book and then get organized. Pledge to support the First Nations court cases at witnessforthepeace.ca. Organize events to educate your neighbours and friends. Help to make the Peace a lived reality. Let’s all do our best to honour the Peace made by the Cree and the Dunneza, for which the river is named.

Photo: Louis Bockner

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Rita Wong

Rita Wong is a poet-scholar who has written several books of poetry. She understands natural ecosystems as critical infrastructure that must be protected and cared for in order to survive climate crisis....