The Cheslatta Carrier Nation’s annual campout on July 10 stood out from previous events for its celebration of the settlement agreement signed with British Columbia in March.
The agreement, signed on March 28 in Victoria aimed to resolve the damage caused by the flooding of traditional lands in 1952 during the construction of the Kenney Dam and Nechako Reservoir.
Scott Fraser, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation and deputy minister Doug Caul came in by helicopter to the campout, held at the old Skatchola village site on Cheslatta Lake.
During a break from the campout’s fishing derby, horseshoe toss, and bannock and drum-making, the two provincial officials as well as Cheslatta chief Corinna Leween spoke about the agreement.
“On behalf of all Cheslatta members, I want to thank you Mr. Minister and your government for supporting the negotiations which resulted in the settlement agreement that we signed in late March,” Leween said.
“The negotiations were not always easy and required great dedication by negotiating team members on both sides but we reached a mutually acceptable deal for a financial settlement and we continue to work towards a settlement for lands lost to the flooding in 1952. This is an important step forward for all Cheslatta members. It signifies a willingness on the part of government to right past wrongs. It is a clear signal that your government is serious about adopting the principles Outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples or UNDRIP as it is commonly called. With this settlement agreement, the Cheslatta Carrier Nation can move forward to implement our Comprehensive Community Plan and continue to build a better life for our members and our nation.”
Fraser explained that the signing of the agreement was a powerful moment for him.
“We’re showing reconciliation with actions, not just words. We’ll be the lone voice in Canada recognizing UNDRIP, so that what happened in 1952 never happens again. Cheslatta have proven they’re strong and resilient.”
The March 28 accord includes financial redress, the amount of which will be confidential for one year while negotiations on land compensation are ongoing, according to a Cheslatta news release.
The agreement followed a referendum on the deal for all Cheslatta members, and the result showed 100 per cent support.
In 1952, before the dam construction began, the Cheslatta people were given little notice about the flooding and were forced to relocate.
Families from seven villages were forced out from their homes, which were burned to make way for the reservoir.
The dam was part of Alcan’s Kemano power project. The company is now known as Rio Tinto Alcan.
That company was not part of the latest negotiations with Cheslatta, but in 2012 the two parties signed an agreement that saw the return of 11,000 acres of traditional land to the First Nation.
The Cheslatta campout event has been held annually since 1991 and gives off-reserve Cheslatta members the opportunity to reunite with family and friends.