First Nations leaders come to TRU to warn of the Site C dam’s environmental impact
Many concerned British Columbians showed up to the Irving K. Barber Centre to sit in on a discussion critical to our province on May 14. At his third stop in a series of public presentations, Chief Roland Willson of the West Moberly First Nations described what effects the Site C dam would have on the environment in the Peace River region as well as how it would impact the lives of those already living there.
Representatives from the Wild Salmon Caravan, Shuswap Nation, as well as the President of the B.C. First Nation Energy and Mining Council, Nelson Leon, were also in attendance.
Before sitting down in the lecture hall, guests were encouraged to take pamphlets detailing the “mercury danger zone” created by the W.A.C. Bennett Dam, and the health risks associated with mercury contamination. The second of the two pamphlets contained information from a health study regarding Bull Trout from the Crooked River in northern B.C. This study found that the concentration of mercury within the fish there was relatively high. Currently, the recommended weekly maximum intake of Bull Trout caught in the Crooked River is about 58 grams per male adult.
Though described as a man who “has spent countless hours fighting for the rights of his people,” Willson was in a jovial mood and actively joked with the audience. Yet the air in the Irving K. Barber Centre still felt tense, and the tone of Willson’s voice was very serious. In the past, he has held conferences and debates on topics such as aboriginal land and resource management, and the impact of oil, gas and shale industries on B.C. First Nations.
Willson began his presentation by explaining the current situation in northeastern B.C.
Site C, from the perspective of an average British Columbian, is extremely unnecessary, he said, mentioning that in order to expand the province’s shale gas energy agenda, “40,000 to 80,000 more wells are needed. These facilities need Site C to power them.”
In fact, he is doubtful British Columbians would see any of the benefits. Despite B.C. Hydro’s claim that the dam will be able to provide power for 450,000 homes a year, almost all of that will be allocated to running northern B.C.’s growing energy sector. Nelson Leon, president of the B.C. First Nations Energy and Mining Council said that, “the size of BC Hydro’s transmission line is way too large for commercial housing.” That those living in the region would see much of that electricity is highly unlikely.
On top of this, the Peace River region contains “over 16,267 oil and gas wells, over 8,517 petroleum and natural gas facilities, and over 100,000 kilometres in pipeline.”
“Right now the Peace River is considered the most endangered river in B.C., and it’s not because of the dam, it is what is already there,” said Elder George Desjarlais of the West Moberly First Nations.
As representatives of the Treaty 8 First Nations, the West Moberly First Nations are extremely adamant in protecting the aboriginal way of life which consists of hunting, fishing, and collecting medicines. Although Treaty 8 spans three provinces and one territory, the land affected by Site C is some of the most agriculturally fertile and extremely sensitive environmentally.
In fact the Site C dam will be more than just a “$12 billion stupid mistake” as Willson calls it. The dam will precipitate the further expansion of the liquefied natural gas (LNG) and shale gas sectors, which has already had adverse effects on the surrounding environment. There are already “four 48 inch pipelines installed in the Peace River region,” the number is expected to rapidly increase, even before the dam is due to be completed in 2024. Currently “there is a pipeline in northeastern BC that has been leaking since 2001. There are two to three other unidentified sites as well,” claimed Willson.
If this is the case, many First Nations members in the Peace River region believe that they will completely lose their way of life, eventually having no opportunity to fish or hunt.
Perhaps the loss most crucial to the First Nations way of life in the Peace River region would be that of the salmon and trout. Despite being told by BC Hydro that “mercury levels have been steadily dropping,” most fish caught in the area contain medically significant levels of mercury.
As for transparency with BC Hydro, Willson says “It is like pulling teeth with them. We have never had a discussion with BC Hydro on the impacts of these dams.” The West Moberly First Nations would prefer that the province of BC forget about hydroelectric power, and have since been opting for the creation of geothermal power stations which would supply greener energy at a lower cost.
After Willson’s presentation, the audience was invited to stay and listen to West Moberly elder George Desjarlais, who would speak about the importance of clean water.
You can find out more about Willson’s cause at nosite-c.com. The talk was sponsored by TRUFA’s human rights committee, the Shuswap Nation, the B.C. First Nations Energy and Mining Council and Amnesty International.