Saik’uz and Stellat’en First Nations are expected today to conclude their part of a landmark court case against Rio Tinto (Alcan), B.C. and Canada. The two communities launched legal action in BC Supreme Court in 2011 to save the Nechako River and its fisheries. The 200-day trial began in Vancouver last October. The case centres around the impacts of the construction and operation of the Kenney Dam on the Nechako River and Saik’uz and Stellat’en’s constitutionally protected Aboriginal rights, including fisheries on the River.
Alcan diverts approximately 70 per cent of the water that would normally flow into the Nechako River from its source each year to generate power in Kemano for the Rio Tinto (Alcan) aluminum smelter in Kitimat and for the sale of hydro power to BC Hydro. Since 1952, the project has resulted in enormous devastating downstream effects in the Nechako River, according to the Saik’uz and Stellat’en, particularly for chinook salmon, sockeye salmon and Nechako white sturgeon, and for the people and communities who live close by and have always relied on the River and its fisheries.
“We thank the elders, members of both communities and expert witnesses for their courage and testimony,” said Saik’uz Chief Priscilla Mueller. “It is never easy to provide testimony in court and their courage helps sustain our communities. Very few British Columbians know how construction of the Kenney Dam devastated the Nechako River, its fisheries and our way of life. Our court case will provide the opportunity for everyone to learn about this dark chapter in our history and the impacts on our constitutionally protected Aboriginal rights.”
Stellat’en Chief Archie Patrick added: “I too wish to thank those who testified on our behalf over the past several months. It’s heartening to know that we’re not alone in holding Rio Tinto (Alcan), BC and Canada to account for the devastation of the Nechako. It is still hard for many people to contemplate the effects of taking approximately 70 per cent of the water that would otherwise flow into the Nechako River and diverting it through a 16 kilometre tunnel bored through a mountain into an entirely different watershed.”
There is still a long way to go in this case. The court will now hear the cases of each of the defendants, starting with Rio Tinto (Alcan) and the First Nations are expected to lead some evidence in reply to the defendants’ cases. The trial was delayed earlier this year due to restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. It is now anticipated to wrap-up early next year.