The West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations will seek an injunction against the Site C dam, which received a green-light from the B.C. government Monday.
The project, which will now cost an estimated $10.7 billion, has been vigorously fought by both nations, whose traditional territory will be flooded by the Site C reservoir.
In addition to a court-sponsored injunction, the nations also announced they will pursue a civil case against the project for treaty infringement.
“It was John Horgan’s NDP that demanded a Site C inquiry by the B.C. Utilities Commission, and the results they received from it were clear: no need for the power, better alternatives once we do, and no advantage to ratepayers to proceed,” Chief Roland Willson said in a statement. “With those findings, the only responsible choice was to immediately stop destroying the Peace River valley.”
A three-month investigation by the B.C. Utilities Commission found unresolved questions remained regarding Site C construction and the infringement of treaty rights.
Under Treaty 8, the government of Canada promised to guarantee the rights of local First Nations to hunt, trap, fish and continue their traditional way of life on their land. Although the two nations have brought and lost legal challenges in B.C. courts, the commission found the question of rights infringement is far from settled, saying the Crown would ultimately bear the risk of civil litigation should the province decide to continue with Site C.
Financial compensation would not be without precedent. The James Bay and Northern Quebec Final Agreement awarded $225 million (nearly $1 billion today) to Indigenous groups affected by hydro development there. The B.C. First Nations warned they would pursue a similar settlement if Site C were approved.
During a press conference Premier John Horgan said he recognized First Nations stand opposed to Site C and said his government remains committed to reconciliation and the principles of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“When it comes to reconciliation or working with Indigenous leadership, look there has been over 150 years of disappointment in British Columbia. I am not the first person to stand before you and disappoint Indigenous peoples,” Horgan said.
“But I am the first, I think, to stand before you and said that I am going to do my level best to make amends for a whole host of decisions, that previous governments have made to put Indigenous peoples in an unwinnable situation. To talk about resource sharing when all the resources are gone is not true reconciliation.”
“We have a lot of work to do. This is a very divisive issue,” Horgan said.
“They have more than what they need in front of them to stop this project,” West Moberly First Nations chief Roland Willson told DeSmog Canada.
Willson said his nation “saw the writing on the wall” when Horgan declined to stop construction of Site C pending an independent review of the project by the watchdog B.C. Utilities Commission.
“I don’t think they had any intention of cancelling it,” he said. “I was hoping for so much more.”
“This province doesn’t have billions of dollars to waste on a make-work boondoggle for power we don’t even need,” Chief Lynette Tsakoza of Prophet River First Nation said in a statement.
She pointed to a filmed interview with Horgan’s from 2014 as indication of her nation’s legal standing.
“First Nations in the region have entrenched constitutional rights,” Horgan stated in that interview. “Not just the requirement for consultation and accommodation — which we always hear about when we’re talking about resource projects — but they have entrenched constitutional rights to practice hunting and fishing as before.”
“And that’s going to be violated by this dam.”
With files from Sarah Cox.
Image: Valeen Jules at the 2016 Paddle for the Peace. Photo: Jayce Hawkins| DeSmog Canada