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B.C.'s Site C dam 'a stain' on reconciliation with Indigenous people in Canada: experts

'There will be a reckoning': Horgan's vow to 'make amends' after controversial decision falls on many deaf ears for Indigenous People in B.C. and across country.

Helen Knott sensed before Monday that NDP Premier John Horgan would approve the Site C dam — set to flood parts of her Prophet River First Nation's territories when finished next decade.

But even though she knew the 1,100-megawatt project would proceed over her band and another's wishes, Monday was a day of "grieving," the 29-year-old Fort St. John social worker and Master's student said.

"Still I wept today when the decision came through," she wrote on Facebook Monday. "I knew from the place where I know things that the Site C dam would go ahead because man still has to learn things the hard way … It will be a hard lesson, a sad one, one that many of us can know that we fought against.

"There will be a reckoning."

Knott is just one of many Indigenous people across B.C. and the country who viewed Monday's approval as a nail in the coffin of Canadian hopes of reconciliation — including Indigenous lawyer and leader Judith Sayers noting the decision "will not go away and will forever be a stain" on the B.C. NDP government and its reconciliation rhetoric

On Monday a visibly downcast Horgan nevertheless recommitted to pursue reconciliation and "make amends" after what he characterized as a regrettable but unavoidable choice.

"Look, there has been over 150 years of disappointment in B.C.," he told reporters Monday. "I am not the first person to stand before you and disappoint Indigenous people.

"But I think I am the first to stand before you and say I am going to do my level best to make amends for a whole host of issues and decisions that previous governments have made to put Indigenous people in an unwinnable situation."

Although several other dam-affected Treaty 8 bands have signed impact benefit agreements with BC Hydro, even several of those remain opposed. But Horgan's statement sparked dismay and outrage from many Indigenous people in the province and beyond.

It was a "reconciliation fail," said Melody Lepine, whose Mikisew Cree First Nation band is downstream from Site C.

"Governments need to stop referencing 'reconciliation' when they make decisions that further erode Indigenous lands and treaty rights that require those lands to be meaningful," wrote Victoria-based Nehiyah (Plains Cree) law graduate Darcy Lin, adding such sentiments are "beyond patronizing."

Lawyer Judith Sayers, president of the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, noted that: "We heard the same old rationale that Site C will make our lives better and (is) the best decision for the people of B.C.," she wrote. "… I am so tired of hearing this from governments. They had to power to stop it and chose not to use that power.

"It is unbelievable that John Horgan said that true reconciliation is part of and parcel of this decision and that includes providing First Nations people jobs in a sustainable way. Does he think a job means reconciliation? A job that destroys sacred/burial sites and causes more damage to fish, wildlife and birds?"

From Ontario, Anishinaabe author and Carleton University public policy instructor Hayden King wrote Site C's approval is "indicating once again that Indigenous interests (or even rights or concerns) are rarely in the 'the public interest,' at least conceived by all stripes of Canadian politician. The public interest is a weapon."

And Peter Kulchyski, Native Studies professor at University of Manitoba, called Monday "a sad day for Canada" and said it once again puts short-term economic costs before "long-term damage" to Indigenous people and the land.

This month also marks one year since Knott was named one of 16 Nobel Women's Initiative Laureates, chosen by former Peace Prize-winners. She recounted walking down to the banks of the Peace River "to mourn," she wrote, just as she has "grieved so many times."

She had a knife with her, and said she contemplated cutting off her long hair with its blade.

"But when I got there my eagle who is always there to greet me sat in the tree as I approached, the sun shone, and all I could feel was love. Pure love," she wrote. "… There is love in this Valley and memories that no reservoir could ever submerge."

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