Wednesday August 24, 2016

Site C Dam project betrays Trudeau's commitment to First Nations, say critics

Treaty 8 member Caleb Behn tells The Current the Site C dam, supported by Trudeau's government, is the most expensive project in Canadian history. It will cost $9 billion.

Treaty 8 member Caleb Behn tells The Current the Site C dam, supported by Trudeau's government, is the most expensive project in Canadian history. It will cost $9 billion. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

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On Aug. 20, with millions of Canadians watching, the Tragically Hip's Gord Downie  praised Prime Minister Trudeau's commitment to better reconciliation with First Nations.

Gord Downie urges Trudeau to work with First Nations0:50

But despite their promise to forge a new relationship with Indigenous peoples, the Trudeau government is facing tough criticism for supporting the Site C dam in B.C. — a project opposed by many First Nations leaders, Amnesty International and even the Royal Society of Canada.

Gord Downie is wrong about Trudeau, says Dene activist1:10

The Site C dam is a $9-billion dollar hydro-electric mega-project being built on the Peace River in B.C. The dam would flood an 83 km stretch of the valley near Fort St. John. Those against it say it will destroy ancestral burial grounds, and threaten land that is used for traditional hunting and fishing.

Caleb Behn is a Treaty 8 member and the executive director of Keepers Of The Water, an Indigenous water protection organization focused on protecting the Arctic Ocean Basin. He has been involved in the fight against Site C for many years and tells The Current's summer host Robyn Bresnahan that he feels "betrayed."

"Indigenous people in this country know all too well what betrayal feels like and the betrayal is written in the destruction of the natural world."

'From the very beginning of this process we were very clear that we were not opposed to the creation of the energy, what we were opposed to was the unnecessary destruction of the river valley.' -  Chief Roland Willson of the West Moberly First Nation.

Behn tells Bresnahan that the Site C dam project is "the most damaging project ever viewed under the history of the Environmental Assessment Act."

"People may consider the site C to be just a one-off project but when you put it in the context of cumulative impact, this is a region that has been massively impacted by oil and gas development, mining, coal hydroelectric etc. etc."

Protest SiteC Dam 20160709

Protesters gather at Vancouver's Vanier to protest the construction of the Site C dam along the Peace River in northeastern B.C., July 9, 2016. (Linda Givetash/The Canadian Press)

Behn says he's not alone with his concerns about this project and tells Bresnahan that "360 of North America's leading scientists have identified and written publicly that this project has major issues."

But the crown corporation behind the massive Site C dam project see things differently. They claim that the dam would not only increase the province's energy supply— generating enough electricity to power some 450,000 homes per year — but it would also create about 10,000 jobs.

' This is about the future.' - B.C. Hydro's David Conway on Site C dam

B.C. Hydro's community relations manager for the Site C project, David Conway, recognizes the impact to First Nations and tells Bresnahan that is why "B.C. Hydro has been in consultation with Aboriginal groups since 2007."

"We're committed to working hard with Aboriginal groups to address their concerns, and identify opportunities for them to benefit from the project," Conway tells Bresnahan.

Peace River Valley

A view of the Peace River Valley in northeastern B.C. (Peace Valley Environmental Association/YouTube)

B.C.'s Energy Minister Bill Bennett has stated the need for energy has not increased in eight years and in fact there's a surplus of clean energy in B.C. But Conway argues the Site C dam is "not about today. This is about the future."

"We're building this based on Statistics Canada's projection of a population growth of more than a million people in the next 20 years and potential economic development coming from mining, forestry and potentially natural gas, and liquid natural gas development."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Idella Sturino, Kristin Nelson, Peggy Lam, Sarah Grant and Vancouver network producer, Anne Penman.