PROTESTERS VOW TO CONTINUE DAM PROTEST
When British Columbia’s Site C hydroelectric dam was approved in December 2014, Helen Knott moved home. The Dane Zaa and Cree social worker, activist, mother and poet from Treaty 8 territory knew things would become difficult for her community near Fort Saint John. So, once the project got its final permit, Knott moved back to northern B.C. from the interior, where she had been studying and working.
Located on Treaty 8 territory, the Site C dam is expected to flood over 80 kilometres of the Peace River Valley. Area First Nations claim the construction represents a violation of their treaty rights, and the project has prompted sit-ins, hunger strikes and court injunctions in recent months.
The crown corporation’s website states, “BC Hydro is committed to meeting its obligation to consult and accommodate Aboriginal groups where appropriate.” However, Knott and others say proper consultations weren’t held before the project was approved.
In December, Knott set up camp at the Rocky Mountain Fort in the Peace River Valley, where she and others spent the winter in shacks heated with woodstoves in -25C degree weather.
“There’s importance in challenging these systems that are put in place that are supposed to govern and supposed to hold people’s best interests at heart,” Knott said. “No matter what, even a small group of people can make their voices heard.”
BC Hydro began bulldozing the oldgrowth-forest area after the final permit was obtained in December 2014, even though there were legal challenges to the dam in the works by local First Nations. Premier Christy Clark’s government promised jobs and multimillion-dollar contracts, but the project was controversial from the start.
First Nations opposed to Site C say that both the Peace River Valley and their way of life will be destroyed if the dam is built. The planned site is a migratory corridor for deer, eagles and other wildlife. Knott says the area’s unique microclimate,where watermelons and cantaloupe can be grown, will be threatened if the dam is constructed.
In January, the organization Treaty 8 Stewards of the Land, of which Knott is a member, called for an immediate suspension of construction and land clearing. It also asked the federal government to suspend its support for the project and called for an open and transparent federal review of the constitutionally protected Treaty 8 rights.
The next day, six people who had participated at the Rocky Mountain Fort protest site were served with civil claims. Knott was served a few days later, the same day the back window of her vehicle was smashed.
“These are bully and intimidation tactics that try to deter others from coming out,” Knott said.
The final blow appeared to come on February 29, when the B.C. Supreme Court granted BC Hydro an injunction to remove protesters. However, the protests have continued, moving out of Rocky Mountain Fort and into the lower mainland. In Vancouver, Kristin Henry began a hunger strike outside the BC Hydro head office on March 13 to protest Site C. After not eating for 15 days, Henry sent a Youtube message urging Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to step in. Henry believes the dam’s construction represents “a violation of national and international treaty rights.”
The federal government gave its support for the project in 2014, but the Sierra Club of BC claims there were irregularities in the process.
“The joint review panel found that Site C would have a severe and permanent adverse effect on traditional uses of the land by First Nations,” says an online petition started by the Sierra Club, “But the panel was explicitly barred from making any findings as to how this would affect treaty rights without considering treaty implications.”
Environmental leader David Suzuki (left) visited Helen Knott at the Rocky Mountain Fort site to lend his support before it was shut down at the end of February.