It may prove the missing ingredient in a long, intense battle over Site C Dam: Civil disobedience. After seven different lawsuits by landowners and First Nations, harsh criticism and tough, unanswered questions from the Joint Review Panel, the prospect of cancellation by the NDP opposition after the next election, and a very long list of high-profile opponents, it may be the occupation of an old fort site on the banks of the Peace that tips the scales.
It’s happened before – especially in BC. From the War in the Woods and the early days of Greenpeace to Fish Lake, the Sacred Headwaters and Burnaby Mountain, many “done deal” projects with billions riding on them and the full backing of government and powerful corporations have met their match in citizens and First Nations willing to go to jail for what they hold dearest.
The game is afoot
In recent weeks, this has begun happening in the Peace Valley, in the area surrounding early construction of the dam site for a likely $15 Billion project that is still in its very infancy, despite the signing of contracts and initial clearing work. It started in early December when longtime Peace Valley resident Mark Meiers was arrested during a peaceful rally at the gates of the work site.
Then, just after Christmas, a group of First Nations and their farmer supporters began occupying the former Rocky Mountain Fort site – a historical treasure once visited by Alexander Mackenzie in 1793 – on the West side of the Moberly-Peace River confluence, adjacent to the proposed dam. A release from the group today declares that First Nations are “prepared to face arrest to protect their traditional territory.” It continues:
“Joined by local landowners, Treaty 8 Stewards of the Land say they will not permit BC Hydro to proceed with plans to clear-cut forests around the Rocky Mountain Fort site on the west side of the Moberly River. The site, selected by explorer Alexander Mackenzie, was the first trading post in mainland B.C. and is situated in the traditional territory of Treaty 8 First Nations.”
First Nations have new hope in Trudeau
Prophet River First Nations member and fort occupier Helen Knott notes that Treaty 8 leaders recently raised their constitutional concerns about the project with the new Trudeau Government in Ottawa. “The Prime Minister says that Canada’s most important relationship is with its Indigenous Peoples and that he promises to uphold and respect Treaty Rights”, says Knott.
“This is what we are trying to do at a grassroots level. I speak as Great Great Granddaughter of Chief Bigfoot, the last to sign Treaty 8 in 1911, and I am trying to honour my Grandfather’s original intent and uphold those rights he meant to protect. I ask Prime Minister Trudeau to also honour that original intent.”
It ain’t over yet
It remains to be seen what effect the opposition has on construction but if it comes to arrests and the camp begins to attract more supporters, it could be just thing to halt the Clark Government and BC Hydro’s big push to get the project off the ground. And it has begun – just yesterday retired longtime Peace River Regional District area director Arthur Hadland was arrested. Hadland was hugely popular as an independent candidate for MLA, coming within 12 points of beating Liberal Patt Pimm for the riding in 2009.
Now, with another provincial election on the horizon and the NDP having drawn battle lines over Site C, it promises to become a hot-button campaign issue – especially with so many taxpayer dollars at stake and the lack of demonstrated need for the project.
One thing is for sure: these “cowboys and indians” as they have branded their alliance in the past, don’t seem ready to ride off into the Peace Valley sunset.