British Columbia

Cheslatta Carrier Nation signs agreement with company that forced them from their homes 68 years ago

Rio Tinto, formerly Alcan, which built a reservoir to power the aluminum smelter in Kitimat, B.C., has signed a New Day agreement with the Cheslatta Nation, promoting the social and economic well-being of the Cheslatta, through training, employment, business opportunities and environmental stewardship. 

'We were always hopeful that we would see this day,' chief says

Cheslatta Chief Corrina Leween, centre, signed a New Day agreement with Rio Tinto as part of its ongoing process of reconciliation. (Rio Tinto)

The Cheslatta Carrier Nation has reached a new agreement with the company that forced its people from their homes 68 years ago.

Rio Tinto, formerly Alcan, which built a reservoir to power the aluminum smelter in Kitimat, B.C., has signed a New Day agreement with the Cheslatta Nation, promoting the social and economic well-being of the Cheslatta through training, employment, business opportunities and environmental stewardship. 

"To create a sustainable economy for the present and the future generations are the biggest benefits that I see out of the agreement," Cheslatta Chief Corrina Leween told Daybreak North host Carolina de Ryk. 

"We were always hopeful that we would see this day and it has happened."

Details of the agreement include a land transfer, a scholarship fund, a training centre and promotion of recreation and tourism. 

Rio Tinto communications manager Kevin Dobbin said other details of the agreement are confidential between the Cheslatta Nation and the company.  

Part of the agreement includes stewardship of the Nechako reservoir by the Cheslatta Carrier Nation. 

"Given the ability to then manage the territory, the water, the land, the animals … that will be the basis for what our people need to survive for the future," Leween said. 

70 years in the making

In 1952, members of the Cheslatta Carrier Nation were given two weeks notice to vacate their homes to make way for a reservoir. They were told they had to leave their traditional territories, and when they tried to return to the reserve, they found their homes had all been burned.

Before being forced to move, members of the First Nation gathered regularly but after the displacement, they weren't as tight-knit as they once were. The separation of the community led to serious social issues: homelessness, addiction and death.

"It's been a long struggle but it's been a struggle that, like I said, we've kept our resilient self and we've kept fighting for what we truly believe we needed to do for the people in the community," Leween said.

The Cheslatta were flooded out of their homes and forcibly relocated to make way for an industrial project in Northern B.C. in 1952. (CBC )

Negotiations with Rio Tinto for a New Day agreement began in 2012.

"It's been a lot of hard work, but both sides stuck to it and worked together to find the solution," Dobbin told CBC's Betsy Trumpener. 

In 2016, the B.C. government and the Cheslatta Carrier Nation signed a reconciliation agreement. Three years later, another agreement was signed with the provincial government to provide funding and land in an effort to address what the government called an "historic wrong."

"The need that is still within our community has given us a lot of drive to keep pushing forward with our fight," Leween said. 

"I believe our resilience has kept us going. [Our people] have, of course, been frustrated but I've never heard 'give up.'"

With files from Betsy Trumpener

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