The Métis Nation of Alberta in Fort Chipewyan is suing BC Hydro and the federal government for $3 billion for damages to the Lake Athabasca delta.
The Métis group says that two dams operated by BC Hydro in northern British Columbia have significantly reduced the flow of water in the Peace River, which feeds into the largest freshwater inland delta in the world.
They argue that the dams have had irreversible impacts on wildlife and plants in the region, preventing the Métis from continuing their way of life.
Fred Fraser, president of the Fort Chipewyan chapter of the Métis Nation, filed the lawsuit.
He said that they were never consulted when the dams were put in place in 1968 and 1980.
“When they put the dam in they ... never ever came to us and said they're putting the dam in,” Fraser said. “Nobody had any idea about what was happening.”
Now Fraser said the Métis are seeing the effects.
“Well before this Bennett dam went in, there used to be regular, well not regular floods, but every three to five years we'd have a flood that overflowed the banks. So everybody had animals for trapping on their trapline.
"Since they put that Bennett dam in we have no more floods and everything is drying up. There's nothing but willows growing all over in what used to be lakes.”
The lawsuit, filed last month, accuses the federal government of failing to protect Métis rights, wildlife, and waterways.
Fraser said the Métis want to be compensated to the tune of $3 billion.
Hearings are currently underway in Fort St. John, B.C., on BC Hydro’s latest proposed dam, called Site C, which will also be on the Peace River, seven kilometres downstream from Fort St. John. A decision isn't expected until the middle of next year.
BC Hydro was not available for an interview.
BC Hydro's dams on the Peace River have not affected the flow of water in the Athabasca River. The original version of this story included incorrect information.Dec 13, 2013 10:40 AM CT