The next Burnaby Mountain? Site C Dam opponents dig in their heels

Treaty 8 Steward of the Land Helen Knott at Rocky Mountain Fort camp (facebook)
A Treaty 8 Steward of the Land at Rocky Mountain Fort camp (facebook)

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.


About Damien Gillis

Damien Gillis is a Vancouver-based documentary filmmaker with a focus on environmental and social justice issues - especially relating to water, energy, and saving Canada's wild salmon - working with many environmental organizations in BC and around the world. He is the co-founder, along with Rafe Mair, of The Common Sense Canadian, and a board member of both the BC Environmental Network and the Haig-Brown Institute.

14 thoughts on “The next Burnaby Mountain? Site C Dam opponents dig in their heels

  1. Injunction against site C protest
    To whom it concerns:
    At the very least this decision smells of political intervention in the BC Judicial System.
    Obviously, the process was accelerated to surpass the many long standing legal processes against the dam.
    Praise to the protest for taking the high road.
    Scorn and shame to the illegal manoeuvring by a myopic and corrupt provincial government.
    It is time for the Federal Government of Canada to do it’s duty of diligence and disallow further damage to the Peace River Valley.
    It is not over.

  2. I think Chrispy knows the folly of pursuing this Project to its stated end but is beholden to her benefactors/handlers. She can’t/won’t shut it down herself but will welcome the over-ruling by the Trudeau government, thus permitting her to save face. Who will pay the court costs and contract termination penalties? Probably us, but its a small price compared to the alternative!

  3. The prime beneficiary of the power that Site C dam would produce is the Alberta multi-billionaire murray edwards who has controlling interests in most, if not all, of the operating and proposed mines in reasonable proximity to the dam.

    Edwards is a major financer of the woefully unqualified to be anything preemy of our province and was also a major financer of harper as well.

  4. This government has one one thing in mind and that is money. I am beginning to believe that the only way they will listen is if we can impact money/revenue in some way. A while back I read where people went and sat on the freeways (sorry, can’t remember where) as a peaceful protest so that cars/delivery trucks etc could not move through the city. What would it take to get people across the province to sit on roads so that things come to a halt in BC – to shut the province down – until they listen? I don’t know how we could ever organize something like this though.

  5. All other avenues for fair play having been cut off by the governments, long, persistent, and well peopled, non violent civil disobedience is the only option left; not only to the First Nations but also all residents especially farmers. Civil disobedience has been the principal tool of all seekers of freedoms since time immemorial. It spawned and then protected every single concession to the people by the establishment in history. The establishment does not care about other people’s rights and uses its de facto control over the instruments of government to have its own way in all things. If you think I exaggerate start with Magna Carta, work your way through the Peterloo massacre, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, the Suffragettes, the modern Womens’ Movement, the throwing off of colonial chains, finally, after World War II and later, the fall of the Berlin wall and the list goes on. Censorship in the UK, Canada, and the United States has persisted for centuries and is picking up steam.
    There is only one defence to the “soft” tyranny of the “establishment” and that is to refuse to obey. They control the means of passing and supporting laws that suit them then piously tell the world that they have the law on their side. The people of the Peace River are fighting for all of us and we must support them.

  6. Speaking as a member of Treaty 8 and someone who was there to witness what happened at Burnaby Mountain, I can assure you that it WILL NOT go down like Burnaby Mountain. This camp is being lead by Treaty 8 Members who are making sure Proper Protocol is being followed. Based on that, I know it won;t go down like Burnaby Mountain where there was No Protocol being followed. And I say that based on first hand experiences on that Mountain.

      1. “Proper Protocol” for those of us who are part of Treaty 8 means quite a few things. The base of it comes down to: how one comes onto a territory; respecting the people whose territory one is upon; respecting the process of our matriarchies meaning we take direction from the women and elders of Treaty 8 and ONLY THE WOMEN AND ELDERS OF TREATY 8. That as Indigenous men of Treaty 8, we are at the call of the matriarchs and elders. And various other aspects that are too long to get into. This is Nehiyaw / Saulteaux / Dene Terriroty and we have various ways but that is basically the run down of it.

        1. Thanks for information about the aspect of protocol. It is not easy when in Rome to do as the Romans unless we have the opportunity to learn and observe.

          Thank you too to Damien and Rafe for your ongoing insistence that this project be examined from all angles and that the decision reflect that consideration. It has been a long argument and the blinders and ear mufflers that the government has put on are symbols of their unwillingness to think very deeply about it.

      2. ‘Treaty 8’ is very clear on the ‘proper protocol’ for such matters:

        “AND WHEREAS, the said Commissioners have proceeded to negotiate a treaty with the Cree, Beaver, Chipewyan and other Indians, inhabiting the district hereinafter defined and described, and the same has been agreed upon and concluded by the respective bands at the dates mentioned hereunder, the said Indians DO HEREBY CEDE, RELEASE, SURRENDER AND YIELD UP to the Government of the Dominion of Canada, for Her Majesty the Queen and Her successors for ever, all their rights, titles and privileges whatsoever, to the lands included within the following limits…

        “AND ALSO the said Indian rights, titles and privileges whatsoever to all other lands wherever situated in the Northwest Territories, British Columbia, or in any other portion of the Dominion of Canada.

        “TO HAVE AND TO HOLD the same to Her Majesty the Queen and Her successors for ever.

        “And Her Majesty the Queen HEREBY AGREES with the said Indians that they shall have right to pursue their usual vocations of hunting, trapping and fishing throughout the tract surrendered as heretofore described, subject to such regulations as may from time to time be made by the Government of the country, acting under the authority of Her Majesty, and SAVING AND EXCEPTING SUCH TRACTS AS MAY BE REQUIRED OR TAKEN UP FROM TIME TO TIME FOR SETTLEMENT, MINING, LUMBERING, TRADING OR OTHER PURPOSES…

        “And the undersigned Cree, Beaver, Chipewyan and other Indian Chiefs and Headmen, on their own behalf and on behalf of all the Indians whom they represent, DO HEREBY SOLEMNLY PROMISE and engage to strictly observe this Treaty, and also TO CONDUCT AND BEHAVE THEMSELVES AS GOOD AND LOYAL SUBJECTS of Her Majesty the Queen.

        “THEY PROMISE AND ENGAGE THAT THEY WILL, IN ALL RESPECTS, OBEY AND ABIDE BY THE LAW; that they will maintain peace between each other, and between themselves and other tribes of Indians, and between themselves and others of Her Majesty’s subjects, whether Indians, half-breeds or whites, this year inhabiting and hereafter to inhabit any part of the said ceded territory; and that THEY WILL NOT MOLEST THE PERSON OR PROPERTY of any inhabitant of such ceded tract, or of any other district or country, OR INTERFERE WITH OR TROUBLE ANY PERSON PASSING OR TRAVELLING THROUGH the said tract or any part thereof, and that THEY WILL ASSIST THE OFFICERS OF HER MAJESTY IN BRINGING TO JUSTICE AND PUNISHMENT ANY INDIAN offending against the stipulations of this Treaty or INFRINGING THE LAW IN FORCE in the country so ceded.”

        1. The Treaty accords the crown the ability to take up land “from time to time” for settlement. It also guarantees First Nations the ability to continue their way of life on the land as per before contact. We’re WAY beyond that. You want to talk about broken treaty promises, Gerry, start with the crown.

          You also make the paternalistic, colonial assumption that notions like servitude to her majesty, “ceding”, even “ownership” of the land itself – not to mention contracts made by the English written word – were all well understood and agreed to by people who had no prior concept of these things…

          1. “At nearly all the important points, the chiefs and more intelligent men who were present at the making of treaty last year asked for extended explanations of its terms, in order that those of their bands who had failed to grasp its true meaning might be enlightened, and that those who were coming into treaty for the first time might fully understand what they were doing. In the course of the councils held for this purpose, it was possible to eradicate any little misunderstanding that had arisen in the minds of the more intelligent, and GREAT PAINS WERE TAKEN TO GIVE SUCH EXPLANATIONS AS SEEMED MOST LIKELY TO PREVENT ANY POSSIBILITY OF MISUNDERSTANDINGS IN FUTURE…”
            “Report of Commissioner for Treaty No. 8”, DEPARTMENT OF INDIAN AFFAIRS, December 11, 1900
            {CAPS added}


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