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On August 18, West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations in Peace River Country, B.C. and BC Hydro began two days of hearings in court on an injunction the First Nations have sought against BC Hydro and the Site C dam. The hearings are expected to wrap up Wednesday August 19.
The First Nations filed an application for an injunction to prevent BC Hydro from cutting down trees that house eagle nests.
On July 30, BC Hydro notified the Treaty 8 Tribal Association that it will be cutting down these trees that as its first step in building the proposed Site C dam. Site C is close to Fort St. John, downstream from the Bennett dam and the Peace Canyon dam, in a severely impacted region of B.C. that is already subject to intense pressures from fracking.
Upon hearing this news from BC Hydro, members of the Treaty 8 Nations decided to conduct a ceremony for the eagles and the river, bringing together children, elders, settlers, and supporters from the Lower Mainland who oppose the dam.
On August 7, people gathered to protect the Peace River Valley from BC Hydro’s destructive targeting of eagles’ nests. With songs, words, and actions, community members asserted their love for the land and river valley that is threatened by BC Hydro.
The proposed dam, which would flood 5,550 hectares of the valley and create an 83-kilometer long reservoir, destroying high-quality agricultural land and crucial wildlife habitat, would take years to build. In light of this, one must ask what purpose does it serve to specifically target the cutting down of eagles’ nests as the first step toward building the dam?
BC Hydro’s hasty action can be interpreted as offensive and contemptuous of local residents who have voiced strong opposition to the Site C dam for decades. Driving along the Peace River Valley, it is easy to see many signs of that opposition, including the Paddle for the Peace, which has been happened annually for the past 10 years. Organized jointly by the West Moberly First Nation and the Peace Valley Environment Association, each year hundreds of people have paddled down the Peace River to express their commitment to protect it from the proposed dam.
There are also a number of lawsuits against the Site C dam, which the province basically ignored when it approved the dam on July 7 this year, instead of respectfully waiting to see what the outcomes of the legal cases are.
The former CEO of BC Hydro, Marc Eliesen, has even pointed out that there is no immediate need for the dam.
Moreover, if the dam is built, this will increase people’s hydro bills by roughly 30 to 40 per cent in the next three years.
The dam would be located near the mouth of the Moberly River as it enters the Peace River. This will directly reduce the hunting grounds and wildlife available to local communities, such as the West Moberly and Saulteau First Nations, who are upstream along the Moberly River. In addition to destroying eagles’ homes, the dam would disrupt an island that currently functions as a refuge for elk, and other wildlife that rest on the island when they need to cross the river. The flooding would make the river into such a wide reservoir that elk and other animals would no longer be able to cross it, and thus would die as their habitat shrinks.
Map: Wilderness Committee
Furthermore, Site C will lead to higher mercury levels in the fish, rendering them unsafe to eat. This toxicity has already happened with the WAC Bennett dam and Site C exacerbates local residents’ justified fears about the safety of the fish they depend on for sustenance.
The proposed Site C dam shows that B.C. has not learned from the mistakes of the W.A.C. Bennett dam, which violently displaced Tse Keh Nay First Nations people, whose homes, hunting grounds and burial grounds in the Finlay Valley were flooded in 1967, in many cases without notification to them.
If you visit the WAC Bennett dam’s visitor centre today, you will find no mention of this racist history, where Indigenous people’s homes and cultures were treated by British Columbia as somehow insignificant or unworthy of acknowledgement.
One does learn, however, that the Lower Mainland relies on the WAC Bennett dam for electricity; so when people in Vancouver flick on their light switches and use electric appliances en masse, this changes the dam’s turbine usage and the water levels in the Williston reservoir. Through our everyday actions, those of us in the southern part of the province affect what is happening up north.
It is distressing to see such violence repeated today as burial grounds and traditional territories would again be flooded over, in an era of supposed “reconciliation.” BC Hydro’s decision to ignore First Nations lives and communities goes against the spirit of reconciliation attempted by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
Furthermore, it violates the principles of Treaty 8, in which the newcomers are not supposed to interfere with Indigenous ways of life. The right to hunt, fish and gather is a basic cornerstone of Treaty 8, an agreement which is broken by B.C.’s destruction and poisoning of Treaty 8 watersheds.
The proposed Site C dam is also a poor decision for those who live outside the Peace River Valley. With the drought in California, B.C. would be wise to plan for better food security, and the Peace provides this through its rich, fertile soil. Flooding this is not only a waste, but it is an irresponsible and short-sighted act in light of everyone’s responsibility to protect and steward the land for future generations.
Site C appears to be driven more by ideology than by need or practical considerations.
One must ask, why would a government flood such a fertile area? So much wild and cultivated sustenance would be destroyed to build a dam to power fracking operations that would poison B.C.’s rivers and lakes.
Fracking disrupts the underground water infrastructure, namely the aquifers, and destabilizes the base for the ground above. Slickly branded LNG needs to be understood as actually dirty fracked gas, unnecessary dams need to be understood as a mistake that can still be avoided, and attacking eagles will not stop or intimidate people from voicing such basic facts.
Rita Wong is a poet-scholar who works with and for water. She is the author of monkeypuzzle (Press Gang, 1998), forage (Nightwood, 2007), sybil unrest (Line Books, 2009, co-written with Larissa Lai), and undercurrent (Nightwood, 2015).
Photo: flickr/ DeSmogCanada