News / Vancouver

Poets raise funds for 4,500 km Treaty 8 caravan against Site C

Sunday evening event in Vancouver prepares for weeklong bus journey to Treaty 8 First Nations’ Sept. 12 court hearing on hydroelectric project.

In the Peace River Valley of northern B.C., Dunne za Indigenous drummers show their thanks for participants in the annual Paddle for the Peace event last summer. Two Treaty 8 bands in the valley are heading to court Sept. 12 to try to stop the $9-billion Site C dam.

Courtesy: Peace Valley Environment Association

In the Peace River Valley of northern B.C., Dunne za Indigenous drummers show their thanks for participants in the annual Paddle for the Peace event last summer. Two Treaty 8 bands in the valley are heading to court Sept. 12 to try to stop the $9-billion Site C dam.

A poet’s role in society is to “speak truth to power,” said celebrated Vancouver poet Rita Wong.

That’s why the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize-winning author is helping organize a “Poets for the Peace” event in Vancouver tonight (Sunday) in support of a cross-Canada caravan by Site C hydro dam opponents.

She was inspired to use poetry for the cause after traveling to the Peace River Valley this summer for an annual paddling protest — on the area set to be flooded by the $9-billion BC Hydro mega-project, which the B.C. government promises will create thousands of jobs and enough electricity to power 450,000 homes.

“For those of us in Vancouver, the Peace River might seem far away,” Wong told Metro, saying that the river’s two existing dams have already caused too much damage. “We owe something to the Peace River residents who have already sacrificed too much of their land for us.”

This summer, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government granted the proposed dam federal environmental permits, despite the objections of Treaty 8 member First Nations in the area who are fighting a federal court challenge against the project.

Chief Roland Willson, of West Moberly First Nation, is heading to court in Montreal on Sept. 12 — alongside fellow Treaty 8 band Prophet River First Nation — in hopes of revoking federal permits. They’re arguing the feds didn’t adequately consult First Nations affected, and that the impacts on Indigenous peoples can’t be justified by the benefits.

He told Metro the federal fisheries and oceans minister held a single meeting with them, just days before the permit approvals on July 28.

“The Peace River already has two existing dams on it,” Willson said in a phone interview. “We’re still suffering the impacts of those. They’ve taken up over 80 per cent of the valley; what’s left, Site C is going to destroy half of that.

“It’s the only functional valley we have left that’s intact as a river ecosystem, where we gather medicines, fish, hunt, and carry on a way of life promised under the treaty.”

Yvonne Tupper, a Saulteau First Nations member living in Chetwynd, B.C. is in Vancouver for Sunday’s poetry event, and is coordinating the caravan to Montreal in support of the Treaty 8 First Nations behind the court case.

She told Metro the trip will likely take a week and include awareness-raising stops in Edmonton, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay, Sioux Ste-Marie and Ottawa before arriving in Montreal on Sept. 12.

Canada is not honouring the treaties,” she said. “We’re going to lose large swatches of our traditional land. When we look back, we’ll say, what the heck, why?

“Treaty 8 people matter — we have rights and a voice.”

The caravan, as well as a new online fundraising campaign hosted by Leadnow in its support, are part of a “grassroots movement” to support both First Nations and landowners’ fight to stop the dam, Willson said.

Nevertheless, he said he doesn’t understand why so few people outside B.C.’s north seem aware of the dam’s massive impacts, and hoped the caravan might help change that across Canada.

“It’s one of the best-kept secrets around,” he said. “It boggles my mind that people aren’t paying more attention to what’s going on.

“It’s the most expensive project in B.C. history … It’s going to make taxpayers hydro rates go through the roof. After they build it, everyone will be whining because it’s so expensive.”

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, told Metro that the cross-Canada caravan could bring the hydro project into the national consciousness alongside the court case.

“It’s a high-profile caravan designed to raise the public profile of the widespread opposition and solidarity that exists across the country in support of the Treaty 8 people in the Peace River,” he said in a phone interview. “But this is not simply an indigenous land rights or treaty rights issue.

“It goes far beyond that. (Site C)’s hugely opposed by pretty much every group: Amnesty International, environmental groups, private property owners being forced off their land. I don’t think the Trudeau government appreciates that.”

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