News / Vancouver

Paddle for the Peace takes to river near Site C construction zone

Hundreds of dam opponents expected on the Peace River near the $9-billion B.C. project’s construction site Saturday, plus a Vancouver solidarity event.

Hundreds of paddlers opposed to the Site C Clean Energy Project — a third hydroelectric dam proposed for the Peace River near Fort St. John, B.C. — gather for the annual Paddle for the Peace organized by the Peace Valley Environment Association and West Moberly First Nations in this 2014 photograph.

Supplied/Andrea Morison/Peace Valley Environment Association

Hundreds of paddlers opposed to the Site C Clean Energy Project — a third hydroelectric dam proposed for the Peace River near Fort St. John, B.C. — gather for the annual Paddle for the Peace organized by the Peace Valley Environment Association and West Moberly First Nations in this 2014 photograph.

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.

"Events like this are about appreciation for the Peace River and understanding what's at stake," said Prophet River First Nation member Helen Knott, who is traveling down to Vancouver for the local event, in a phone interview.

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.

"Right now — with the new government sending Site C to a B.C. Utilities Commission review — more than ever is an important time for people to come together," Knott added. "It really takes people unified to stop these projects and appreciate the river and what’s at stake."

The Peace River is already impacted by two historic dams, but Treaty 8 First Nations in the area say adding a third dam will irreparably damage their traditional hunting grounds and pollute their waters with toxic mercury.

On Tuesday, the United Nation's cultural organization, UNESCO, continued its scrutiny of the Site C dam and other industries' impacts on the world's largest freshwater delta, in Wood Buffalo National Park, Alberta, roughly 700 kilometres downstream from the dam site.

"It's frustrating that we're still in a time when people have to speak outside of Canada about these things," Knott said. "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."

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.

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.”

Vancouver's Paddle for the Peace Carnival is planned from 1-3 p.m. Saturday at Vancouver’s Vanier Park (1000 Chestnut St.).

Kayakers with a group calling itself the B.C. Sea Wolves meet at noon on Granville Island for a “symbolic paddle” to Vanier Park, organizers said on their Facebook page, and all are welcome to join.

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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