Cheslatta Carrier Nation and the provincial government are organizing an open house in Burns Lake about the state of negotiations meant to resolve decades-old grievances.
The event, planned for June 19 at the Burns Lake Band Gathering Place, follows two years of talks on compensating the Cheslatta for flooding that caused massive displacement in 1952 — and has repeatedly disturbed burial sites since then.
Agreements to provide redress
In 1952, the creation of the Nechako reservoir and the Kenney dam resulted in flooding that affected roughly 120,000 acres of land — an event that abruptly displaced the Cheslatta people.
The Kenny dam and nine smaller facilities were built as part of a massive infrastructure project to power the Alcan aluminum smelter in Kitimat, which is now owned by Rio Tinto.
The proposed agreements are meant to resolve issues arising from that megaproject in accordance with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
That declaration, officially adopted by Canada in 2016, states that Indigenous peoples have the right to redress for lands or resources “confiscated, taken, occupied, used or damaged without their free, prior and informed consent.”
According to a background document published on a provincial government website, the negotiations involve two proposed agreements: one is a settlement involving land and financial compensation to Cheslatta Carrier Nation, while the other is a reconciliation agreement that would “strengthen the collaborative government-to-government relationship” between the Cheslatta and B.C.
According to a May 17 letter signed by Lisa Ambus — a provincial government official involved in the negotiations — published in the latest Burns Lake village council agenda, the reconciliation agreement would involve extensive cooperation in areas including natural resources and education.
“The proposed Interim Reconciliation Agreement addresses collaborative management of protective areas, fish and wildlife, and community-led cultural, heritage and training initiatives such as language revitalization,” Ambus states in the letter.
Officials from Cheslatta declined to comment about the negotiations ahead of the June 19 open house.
Negotiations began 2016
It’s the latest development in negotiations that began in May 2016. Benefits from an initial agreement signed that year 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, the backgrounder said.
The two parties are aiming to have the agreements finalized before the end of this year, although the land agreement is expected to take longer “to allow sufficient time for B.C. to consult with other First Nations and to engage the public and other stakeholders,” according the backgrounder. Officials are aiming to complete the land package by mid-2019.
Flooding continues every summer on the Cheslatta Lake waterway system when Rio Tinto releases water from a “spillway” at Skins Lake that regulates water temperatures on the Nechako River for migrating salmon.
That process has repeatedly disturbed Cheslatta burial grounds, and has reportedly destroyed upwards of 60 graves. Officials from the Cheslatta Carrier Nation have pushed for the creation of a cold-water release system on the Kenney dam, which they say would put an end to the flooding.