Prophet River First Nation pulls out of lawsuit over Site C dam in northeastern B.C.
Deal comes as BC Hydro reports 'serious concerns' about dam's budget, construction schedule
The Prophet River First Nation has pulled out of a lawsuit against the B.C. government over the Site C dam project, leaving the West Moberly First Nation to fight the legal battle alone.
On Wednesday, the B.C. government announced it had reached two agreements with the Prophet River First Nation that will result in it ceasing legal action against the dam now under construction on the Peace River in northeastern B.C.
However, Prophet River legal counsel Tim Thielmann said the deals should not be viewed as endorsements of the project.
"The agreement is an agreement not to oppose the ongoing construction in court," he said. "But it does not represent an endorsement."
Prophet River, along with the West Moberly First Nation, filed a civil claim against the B.C. government, BC Hydro and the Attorney General of Canada in 2018.
In it, they argued the construction of Site C is a violation of their rights set out in Treaty 8, signed in 1899 with First Nations in northeastern B.C., northern Alberta and northwestern Saskatchewan. In particular, they say, the flooding breaks a promise from the Crown to protect the way of life of signatory nations.
In February 2019, the provincial Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation entered confidential discussions with BC Hydro, West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations in an attempt to avoid litigation.
In August 2019 the West Moberly rejected offers from the province and committed to moving forward with the court case.
Land, naming rights covered in deal
"Site C has painfully impacted Prophet River and other Treaty 8 Nations," said Prophet River First Nation Coun. Beverly Stager in a release announcing the deals. "These agreements cannot undo the past, but we are ready for a new future."
Aspects of the agreement outlined in the release include:
- The province will work with Prophet River to improve land management and restore traditional place names in areas of cultural significance.
- Prophet River will receive ongoing payments during the operation of Site C, as well as a woodland licence for community forest management.
- Specific parcels of Crown land will be identified for potential transfer to the Prophet River First Nation, following consultation with local governments and neighbouring Nations.
"We accept the promise of a better relationship with B.C. and BC Hydro and have faith that these agreements will help to protect what remains of the Treaty 8 lands and waters cherished so deeply by our people," Stager's statement reads.
Dam faces delays, cost overruns
Thielmann, who also represents the West Moberly First Nation, said their court case against Site C is still scheduled for March 2022.
It is expected to last 120 days.
At the core of the case is the argument that construction of the multi-billion dollar dam will cause irreparable harm to West Moberly territory and the way of life for people who live there — rights protected under Treaty 8.
They have previously said Site C constitutes a $1-billion treaty violation.
Thielmann said the court date means a ruling could be made in 2023 — leaving enough time for a last-minute cancellation of the multi-year project, should the West Moberly be victorious.
Meanwhile, Site C is facing other challenges. On Friday, BC Hydro revealed it has "serious concerns" about the dam's budget and construction schedule, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In response, Energy Minister Bruce Ralston appointed former deputy finance minister Peter Milburn to act as a special advisor on the project.