British Columbia

First Nations land occupation aims to stop Site C

A small number of Indigenous protesters are trying to halt Site C by occupying land near the mega dam construction site. Construction on the $9 billion dollar dam project has been underway for four months near Fort St John.

Treaty 8 members say $9 billion mega dam being built without First Nations’ consent

Treaty 8 First Nations elder Jack Askoty stands on an old growth logged tree stump on the Site C construction site. (Yvonne Tupper/Facebook)

A small number of Indigenous protesters are trying to halt Site C  by occupying land near the mega dam construction site. Construction on the $9 billion dollar dam project has been underway for four months near Fort St John.

 "We have a peaceful protest camp," Yvonne Tupper, a Saulteau First Nation woman from Chetwynd, told CBC News.

"Site C is infringing our treaty rights. No Treaty 8 First Nation has ever given consent prior to construction. And it's an insult and an assault to continue construction while there are pending court cases. " 

Tupper says local Treaty 8 First Nations set up the protest camp in late December, with help from local ranchers and supporters, on traditional lands at Old Fort camp, on the south bank of the Peace River near the confluence with the Moberly River.

Yvonne Tupper posting trespassing signs in January near a BC Hydro contractor's construction site close to the Rocky Mountain Fort camp. (Yvonne Tupper/Facebook)

The bush camp is a half hour hike from a newly-built temporary Site C bridge. Protesters say the camp has neither cell service nor road access. Tupper says she hikes in from a rough back road. She says protesters are keeping warm in the bitter cold with wood fires, while sleeping in tents, lean-tos, and a hand-built trailer.

"We're not carrying weapons or anything; we're having a peaceful protest to identify our lands and post that this is Treaty 8 territory and you're trespassing," said Tupper.

In a video exchange dated January 2 and posted on social media, Tupper, dressed in a toque and snowsuit and another protester speak on a snowy bridge with a man who identifies himself as a construction site security guard. The man tells them they have to leave "the active work site."  The women notify him he is "trespassing" on Treaty 8 land. 

North District RCMP Corporal Dave Tyreman says police have not been contacted. Tyreman responded to an inquiry from CBC News by advising,  "You would have to inquire with BC Hydro as they have their own security."

Hydro in discussion with protesters

BC Hydro says it is working to resolve First Nations concerns.

"BC Hydro respects the right of all individuals to peacefully protest and express their opinions about Site C in a safe and lawful manner," said BC Hydro spokesman Dave Conway.

Protesters have been occupying a Site C construction site near Fort St. John since late December. (Yvonne Tupper/Facebook)

"We are hopeful this can be resolved. We are in discussions with the protestors and local authorities to allow us to resume construction activities. BC Hydro is evaluating all options and will continue to monitor the situation."
The Site C dam project will flood a valley 77 kilometres long. It's long been controversial in the region and is fiercely opposed in some quarters. Until now, non-indigenous ranchers were at the forefront of anti-Site C activism.

The B.C. government says consultations with the local Treaty 8 First Nation began in August 2014 but wouldn't say if the two sides had reached a resolution.

Several lawsuits by environmental groups, citizens and First Nations to try to stop construction of the dam are proceeding through the courts, but the court cases haven't stopped  the building process.

Construction of the almost $9-billion project is touted to generate about 10,000 jobs while it floods 55 square kilometres of river valley between Fort St John and Hudson's Hope.

Proponents say Site C will boost Hydro's energy supply by eight per cent, enough electricity to power about 450,000 homes per year.


Betsy Trumpener

Reporter-Editor, CBC News

Betsy Trumpener has won numerous national and provincial journalism awards, including a national network award for radio documentary and the national network Adrienne Clarkson Diversity Award. Based out of Prince George, B.C., Betsy has reported on everything from hip hop in Tanzania to B.C.'s energy industry. She also covered the 2010 Paralympics for national radio news.