The Cheslatta Carrier Nation and Rio Tinto have signed a long-term partnership to support the Cheslatta community and Rio Tinto’s hydroelectric operations in the Nechako watershed.
Signing of the ‘New Day’ agreement took place at a ceremony on the Southside of Francois Lake earlier this week. It was attended by community members and representatives from Rio Tinto.
“The New Day agreement is a significant and important step forward in a new relationship with Rio Tinto,” said Corrina Leween, Cheslatta Carrier Nation Chief. “It is also another step forward in restoring Cheslatta jurisdiction in our territory and implementing an innovative Cheslatta led stewardship initiative on our land, water and environment.”
She said she hopes the agreement will help make up for the “many dark days our nation has experienced” over the past 68 years. That was when their land was flooded to accommodate the Kenney Dam.
“I acknowledge the efforts of Rio Tinto’s leaders in addressing Cheslatta’s priorities in this comprehensive agreement,” said Leween. “They have stepped up where so many before them had feared to go. I’m confident that this agreement will build and maintain a new relationship between the Cheslatta Carrier Nation and Rio Tinto based on the principles of reconciliation and partnership.”
Rio Tinto Aluminium chief executive Alf Barrios said it was a very important agreement.
“This historic agreement marks a New Day in our relationship with the Cheslatta Carrier Nation,” he said. “Our partnership offers long term certainty between the Cheslatta Carrier Nation and Rio Tinto’s hydroelectric operations in the Nechako Watershed, which provide clean, renewable power to our BC Works smelter in Kitimat. We believe that working in partnership with Indigenous Peoples is essential to achieve responsible and sustainable resource development that benefits us all.”
The agreement will promote the social and economic well-being of the Cheslatta Carrier Nation
through engagement in the areas of training, employment, business opportunities and environmental stewardship. Measures include support for a remote training center built on Cheslatta property in 2018, which will deliver diverse trades, skills, safety, marine and driver training courses. The agreement also establishes the New Day Scholarship Fund, which can provide scholarships for Cheslatta students of all ages.
In order to promote employment and business opportunities, Rio Tinto and the Cheslatta will work together to develop internships and promote a model relationship between a global industry leader and a modern and progressive First Nation. Information will also be shared on job positions and procurement opportunities within the company’s hydroelectric operations, as well as on potential Cheslatta candidates and suppliers.
The agreement also provides for the creation of the Nechako Reservoir Stewardship Program, a joint initiative that will leverage local knowledge to maintain the Nechako Reservoir watershed ecosystem while promoting recreation and tourism opportunities consistent with ongoing Cheslatta stewardship activities.
Rio Tinto and the Cheslatta Carrier Nation have been engaged in a process of reconciliation for more than a decade. In 2012, the company returned 63 district lots totalling just over 11,000 acres of land acres to the Cheslatta.