Area residents got a look last week at some of the implications and complications surrounding negotiations between the Cheslatta Carrier Nation and the provincial government to resolve the loss of land arising from the construction of the Kenney dam and creation of the Nechako reservoir in the early 1950s.
Cheslatta lands, including burial sites, were either submerged or damaged in 1952 so that water from the Nechako reservoir could be fed into turbines at Kemano to create electricity to power Alcan’s Kitimat aluminum smelter.
The Cheslatta, who had little or no notice of the flooding, since then have been looking for compensation, something strengthened by the provincial government’s efforts at reconciliation with First Nations.
The June 19 open house provided the opportunity to view information in story board format and to ask questions of provincial and Cheslatta officials about lands that could be transferred to the Cheslatta as part of a settlement. Nearly 70 people attended.
Details of negotations regarding a cash component remain confidential.
Talks aimed at compensation are also aligned with the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which indicates they have the right to legal redress for lands lost without first providing full consent.
Negotiations began in 2016 with the expectation of being concluded last year but officials now hope a financial compensation package and an agreement on a government-to-government relationship will be finalized by the end of this year.
“Negotiations have taken longer than originally expected due to the complexity of discussions,” the province indicated in a statement last week.
“There are two agreements being negotiated: the settlement agreement and an interim reconciliation agreement. The settlement agreement is addressing the impacts of the Nechako Resevoir on the community, and the reconciliation agreement is about working together in the future.”
Benefits from an initial agreement have so far allowed Cheslatta to launch a pair of business ventures — a wilderness outfitter and a charter fishing company — along with new educational initiatives, a backgrounder has outlined.
The Cheslatta have so far received $1.95 million out of a possible $2.3 million for initial business and other ventures.
“Through these agreements, B.C. and Cheslatta seek to advance the cultural, social, environmental and economic well-being of the Cheslatta people, and to resolve long-standing issues relating to impacts arising from the creation and operation of the Nechako reservoir,” the province indicated.
An agreement on lands is not expected to be reached until the middle of next year or possibly longer because the province wants to address the interests of third parties and other First Nations in the area.
“The land component is subject to a consultation process with stakeholders that may be impacted by the agreement. That process started in May and is expected to continue well into next year. There are no deadlines for the land consultation and the Cheslatta Carrier Nation is committed to a process of openness,” a Cheslatta release stated.
The list of First Nations with interests in the area includes the Wet’suwet’en First Nation, Office of the Wet’suwet’en, Skin Tyee, Nee-Tahi-Buhn, Nadleh Whut’en, Stellat’en, Saik’uz, Ts’il Kah Koh and Ulkatcho.
Other third parties with interests include Rio Tinto (the successor to Alcan), forest licensees and a number of federal and provincial agencies, one of whom is BC Hydro.
Based on a framework that has guided negotiations, the Cheslatta and the province have agreed that “acquisition of existing private sector resource interests is intended to occur on a willing seller/willing buyer basis.”
They’ve also agreed to try and avoid having the province take on liabilities in providing compensation to third parties.
Crucially, the Cheslatta wish to be involved in the management of the Nechako reservoir but both the Cheslatta and the province recognize “that a failure by Cheslatta to reach agreement with Rio Tinto on Nechako reservoir management may affect the negotiations between Cheslatta and B.C. …..”