News / Vancouver

B.C.’s Site C dam faces UNESCO heritage site scrutiny

In Poland, Treaty 8 First Nation raises concerns over $9B mega-project’s impacts on world’s largest freshwater delta.

The world's largest freshwater delta, where the Peace and Athabasca rivers meet in Wood Buffalo National Park, faces threats from B.C.'s Site C dam, according to local First Nations.

Supplied/Kelly Hu/Duke University

The world's largest freshwater delta, where the Peace and Athabasca rivers meet in Wood Buffalo National Park, faces threats from B.C.'s Site C dam, according to local First Nations.

British Columbia’s Site C hydroelectric dam — which the new B.C. New Democrat government has vowed to send for review once it takes power — came under United Nations scrutiny in Poland on Tuesday.

First Nations delegates from Treaty 8, which spans the B.C.-Alberta boundary both up- and down-stream from the $9-billion project, told the World Heritage Committee meeting in Krakow that their territories would be permanently damaged if the dam proceeds.

“Our community is situated right in the heart of the Peace-Athabasca rivers delta,” said Melody Lepine, director of Mikisew Cree First Nation, in a Skype interview from Krakow. “Since the late 60s when the (W.A.C.) Bennett dam was put in, the community has suffered huge impacts from that first dam — we’ve seen the decline and deterioration of the entire delta system.

“Now, with the Site C, the entire unique ecosystem is at risk — there’s a fear we may no longer have the world’s largest freshwater delta at all.”

This week’s hearings follow up on a Mikisew Cree petition to have the Wood Buffalo park listed as “endangered” by projects such as Site C and its adjacent oil sands.

“The delta is everything,” Lepine said. “It’s such a source of nourishing food for us, provides such an abundance of muskrats and fur-bearing animals, and as the gateway to the north for the fur trade there’s a long history of Cree and Dene people there.

“Our culture and rights are significantly impacted.”

The 2,000-kilometre Peace River flows northeast from the proposed Site C dam for nearly 700 kilometres before it enters Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta, within Mikisew Cree traditional territories.

The dam was approved in 2014 by the B.C. Liberal government, which exempted it from review by the B.C. Utilities Commission. But the new B.C. NDP government, with the backing of the Green Party, has promised to send Site C to the regulator — which previously rejected the dam as unnecessary.

If built, the 1,100-megawatt Site C Clean Energy Project would flood nearly 10,000 hectares of land, displacing residents who call the valley home, and has sparked a series of lawsuits from Treaty 8 First Nations in the area.

In B.C., West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations continue their opposition to the project’s ongoing construction, despite concerns over loss of traditional sacred sites, hunting grounds and toxic mercury pollution from flooding.

"It's frustrating that we're still in a time when people have to speak outside of Canada about these things," Prophet River member Knott told Metro in a phone interview. "When we look at cultural sites, it goes way beyond that — it's also about activities and memories connected to those.

"We're talking about cultural teachings passed on from generation to generation. Having to still fight for our rights to be respected, in an era that's supposed to be about reconciliation, shows where we're still at in Canada."

Last Thursday, however, the Supreme Court of Canada rejected the bands’ attempt to appeal Site C’s approval on the grounds the government failed to meet the Treaty 8 obligations, which Amnesty International Canada called a “profoundly flawed … failure to consider (Site C’s) treaty implications.”

Hundreds of Site C dam opponents are expected to converge on the Peace River near the proposed $9-billion B.C. project’s construction site on Saturday.

The 12th annual Paddle for the Peace event has seen traditional Indigenous canoes joined by paddlers in kayaks and other watercraft to show their appreciation of the river.

Meanwhile, in Vancouver, locals will join the events with a local Paddle for the Peace Carnival event planned from 1-3 p.m. Saturday at Vancouver’s Vanier Park (1000 Chestnut St.).

For more information on the protests, visit the Paddle for the Peace website and Vancouver Paddle for the Peace Carnival Facebook page. For information from BC Hydro on its Site C Clean Energy Project, visit its website. 

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