PRO­TEST­ERS VOW TO CON­TINUE DAM PROTEST

Herizons - - Contents - By Jackie McVicar

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.

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