Grassroots Indigenous organizing against the Site C dam

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On this week's episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Helen Knott. She is a member of Prophet River First Nation, a mother, a writer, and a social worker, and she has been deeply involved at the grassroots level in the opposition to the Site C hydroelectric dam project.

One of the sharpest faultlines in this country today is between Indigenous peoples protecting their homelands and the one-two punch of corporations and the Canadian state trying to push forward a wide range of projects that are both colonial and environmentally destructive. Many of these are connected to the Alberta tar sands, either directly or indirectly, but many others are not. In other words, this violence in the service of profit and the Indigenous resistance to it are not a product of one megaproject but, as has been true for a long time, are central to the workings of colonial capitalism on this continent.

The Site C dam project was originally proposed more than four decades ago, and opponents have thought more than once in that time that it was stopped for good. The project was revived once more at some point in the last decade, however, and if the current incarnation of the dam is completed, it will flood an 83-kilometre stretch of the Peace River Valley, destroying territory of the Dane Zaa and Cree peoples in the area.

Though the project has been greenlit and construction has begun, after a consultation process that many local residents felt was designed from the outset to be completely marginal to official decision-making, two First Nations in the area have launched a lawsuit to stop the dam. Along with this legal action from the official community leadership, residents have also been mobilizing at the grassroots level. This has included an annual "Paddle for the Peace" along the river, various efforts to be present on and honour the land of the valley that is threatened with flooding, and much more. When Knott moved back to the territory, she first got involved by attending events that others had organized, and then started getting involved in the organizing herself, with such things as a highly successful community fundraiser.

Knott was a central organizer of and participant in the Rocky Mountain Fort land defence camp that blocked construction of the dam for 63 days earlier this year, until it was ended by a colonial court injunction. Most recently, she was involved in organizing the Treaty 8 Justice for the Peace Caravan that brought people from the affected territory to communities across the country, with the aim of raising awareness about the resistance to the Site C project, and also to make sure that people who lived on that land were present when the lawsuit against the project was heard in a Montreal courtroom. A judgment is still likely months away, but in the aftermath of the highly successful caravan, grassroots resolve to oppose the project has only strengthened.

Knott speaks with me about the Site C dam project, the land and people that it will harm, and the resistance that has taken place so far.

Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow us on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact [email protected] to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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