rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Site C proposal puts treaty commitments to the test

B.C. First Nations chiefs recently travelled to Ottawa to urge the federal government to pull the plug on the costliest infrastructure project in the country. At an estimated $7.9 billion and growing, the proposed Site C Dam on the beautiful Peace River in northeastern B.C. has been criticized for spiralling costs, questions about whether the electricity it would produce is even needed, and concerns about the environmental and social impacts of flooding thousands of hectares of prime farmland, irreplaceable cultural sites and wildlife habitat. The government is expected to make a decision in October.

While in Ottawa, First Nations leaders also reminded politicians that the Peace River Valley is the traditional territory of the Dane-zaa, and Canada has clear obligations to them under the 1899 Treaty 8. Years of case law, as well as the recent Supreme Court of Canada Tsilhqot'in decision, confirm that First Nations must have a say on industrial development on their lands.

If built, Site C would violate First Nations' rights under Treaty 8, rendering them irrelevant to the point of mockery. Treaty 8 guarantees First Nations the right to hunt and fish "for as long as the sun shines, the rivers flow and the grass grows." But are treaty promises even worth the paper they’re written on when hunting grounds will be drowned under water, moose populations decimated and fish contaminated with toxic methyl mercury from decaying vegetation?

Site C would also obliterate hundreds of graves and ceremonial sites, and so hinder cultural and traditional practices. Hunting, fishing, collecting medicinal plants and visiting sacred sites are activities by which First Nations maintain their cultural and spiritual identity and connection to the land. How long will Treaty 8 First Nations be able to sustain a vibrant, living culture when the dam devastates their land and communities?

These questions are not hypothetical. A Joint Review Panel, convened by the federal and B.C. governments, concluded Site C would significantly harm Treaty 8 First Nations. The panel found the dam would have "significant adverse effects" on fishing, hunting and trapping, and on other traditional land uses -- and not just in B.C., but downstream where the Peace River enters Alberta. According to the panel, most of these adverse effects would be impossible to mitigate.

In standing up for the Peace Valley and saying "no" to the Site C Dam, Treaty 8 First Nations leaders are acting not only on their own behalf, but also for other Canadians, including local farming communities with which they have co-existed for generations. Together, these rural communities are reminding the government and the rest of us that the Peace Valley offers immense bounty and natural wealth through fishing, hunting and potential for food production, and is too valuable to be sacrificed for industrial development. A recent study by David Suzuki Foundation economists also found that, each year, the Peace River Valley and surrounding areas provide billions of dollars in beneficial ecological services like pollination, water filtration and flood control.

The Peace Valley has productive soils and a unique microclimate ideally suited to producing a wide range of crops. According to three senior agricultural experts who testified before the Joint Review Panel, the east-west Peace River Valley's deep alluvial soils, long northern daylight in the growing season and microclimate for agriculture could produce fruits and vegetables to meet the nutritional needs of over a million people a year!

The California drought this past summer reminds us that relying on imported food makes us vulnerable. B.C. already imports over 57 per cent of the fresh vegetables British Columbians consume each year, much of which could be grown in the province. The situation is similar elsewhere in Canada.

Recent court cases are a wake-up call for politicians. When it comes to decisions that could irrevocably affect them, the days of running roughshod over First Nations are over. B.C.'s Treaty 8 First Nations have already borne the brunt of decades of industrial development on their lands, including two earlier Peace River dams. They have also found common cause with local communities fighting to save family farms and ranches.

Building the Site C Dam and flooding the Peace Valley would be more than folly; it would be a tragedy for First Nations, agriculture and the environment.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Ontario and Northern Canada Director-General Faisal Moola.

Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.