Court Order Fails to Halt Protests Over $9bn Canadian Dam Project
Indigenous women and Treaty 8 First Nations are spearheading the fight against BC Hydro’s Site C mega-dam, which is being aggressively pushed by province
TAMO CAMPOS: We’re here right now at BC Hydro’s office in Vancouver hunger striking from sunup to sundown, 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM, for as long as it takes to shine light on BC Hydro’s devastating Site C dam project in the Northeast.
SHAGHAYEGH TAJVIDI, TRNN: This action by hunger strikers in Vancouver marks the latest in the fight against BC Hydro’s $9 billion infrastructure project, along the Peace River valley. Site C, which sits on the traditional land of Treaty 8 First Nations, has been approved and aggressively championed by Christy Clark’s Liberal government, although the project was introduced at least three decades ago.
NEWS REPORT: BC Hydro says the project will generate 1,100 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 450,000 homes a year. The dam would flood more than 5,500 hectares of land along the Peace River.
CHRISTY CLARK: Reliable, sustainable, low-cost power. Previous generations ensured that our generation could benefit from those investments.
CAMPOS: This hunger strike is also symbolizing how this government is literally starving future generations by flooding thousands of Grade 1 and 2 farmland that could feed approximately a million people.
TAJVIDI: The mega dam has simultaneously been subject to fierce opposition by members of indigenous nations, as well as local ranchers, who together set up a protest camp on site last December to block construction. They called on the province and the newly-elected federal government to halt the project.
HELEN KNOTT: We’re losing pieces of ourself continually to development, and it’s just saying no. you know, we have these rights. We’re going to be here, we’re going to use them, we’re going to keep our waters. Keep our land.
TAJVIDI: On February 29, the BC Supreme Court granted BC Hydro an injunction against the protesters. And after 62 days of blockade the camp was dismantled.
The Real News spoke with Helen Knott, a member of Prophet River First Nation and Site C protester, who says that regardless of the court’s ruling, resistance to the project will continue.
KNOTT: Most definitely, like, right now there’s different actions that people are planning in different places throughout Canada, so connecting with those individuals.
TAJVIDI: Helen’s great-great grandfather, Chief Bigfoot, was the last and reluctant signatory to Treaty 8 in 1911. She told us that he held off signing treaty for as long as possible to make sure his descendants would be protected by it. And while treaties rapidly reshaped indigenous lives on the land, it’s the fighting spirit that she is proud to have in her lineage.
KNOTT: You know, where we were the last ones to sign the treaty, or my great-great grandfather was, because he didn’t trust them. And they essentially, I was told that they were waiting for us to die off. But we didn’t die off. You know, we’re still here. And I told all of the small kids, I had them sit down, and I said, you know, you’ve got to understand that you come from a family that stands for what they believe in. they deserve a good future here. That, you know, should they choose to stay in this territory that is their home territory, that there’s going to be something left for them.
CRAIG BENJAMIN: Really, to me, and I think to a lot of people who have looked at this, it’s quite extraordinary that at this day and age you could see government willingly taking on such disastrous harms to indigenous peoples on the basis of such a flimsy rationale.
TAJVIDI: We spoke with Craig Benjamin, who is a campaigner for the human rights of indigenous peoples with Amnesty International Canada. Amnesty is highlighting the lack of First Nations consent in the construction of the dam, and has joined more than 25 organizations in opposing it.
BENJAMIN: Always forced into this position of speculating about what the real purpose of the dam is. At one point the government was saying the electricity would be sold to the United States, but apparently there’s very little appetite for energy created through large dams in the United States. They’ve said it would be sold to Alberta. Well, that doesn’t seem to be the case, either. There’s speculation that the purpose of Site C is to help fuel the development issues of the LNG resources.
We don’t know to what extent that that industry will get off the ground. The BC government, and BC Hydro, has said that the province as a whole will benefit because the project will generate electricity that the province will need in the future. Unfortunately, there are some real questions about that.
TAJVIDI: Last year, the former CEO of BC Hydro, Mark Ellison, took public skepticism to a new height when he called the mega-dam project nonsensical. Not only would British Columbians face at least a 30 percent hike in their hydro cost as a result of Site C, but according to present forecasts, the province is far from needing the kind of energy it would generate.
CLARK: From my perspective it means building a long-term future for low-cost green power in our province.
CHIEF GEORGE DESJARLAIS: The BC government lied to you people in regards to this project. And the first and the biggest lie they told you was it’s clean energy. I call it dirty energy. They take a machine called a mulcher, and mulch that tree about that fast. And all that’s going to do is speed the process of releasing methyl mercury.
TAJVIDI: David Suzuki further raised concerns about the climate impacts of Site C when he visited the protest camp in January. He has been a vocal opponent of the dam for the last 30 years.
DAVID SUZUKI: A dam like this depends ultimately on water that comes from glaciers. We know with global warming there aren’t going to be any glaciers, not in British Columbia, in the next 15-20 years. What is that going to do to the hydrology of this river?
TAJVIDI: And when environmental issues are raised, the government and proponents respond with:
CLARK: Up to 1,500 jobs.
RICK QUIGLEY: Our project partners are strong, strongly committed to ensure that job opportunities go to local people wherever possible.
BENJAMIN: The trouble with that argument is that like most large-scale resource development projects, the vast majority of those jobs are not filled by people from local communities, whether it’s indigenous or non-indigenous communities in the Peace Valley. They’re going to be filled by workers who come from away.
TAJVIDI: Which for local, indigenous women raises imminent concerns that are overlooked entirely by politicians and industry.
KNOTT: The thought of Site C, and they’re going to build, like, this, I think it’s 2,000-3,000 man camp. Within the man camps they found that it bred hypermasculinity, and because of this hypermasculinity, as well, individuals struggled with being able to ask for help. When having the time off, they’ll come into town, and then they’ll want to blow off steam. There’s a really high rate of substance use in community, which is strongly correlated with violence and violence against women. It’s scary to me that these kind of projects can move forward with no thought to that.
TAJVIDI: Actions against Site C are amplifying, due undeniably to the stewardship of indigenous women in Treaty 8 and all across Canada. We will keep updating events as they unfold.
For the Real News Network, Shaghayegh Tajvidi, Toronto.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.