The Cheslatta Carrier Nation has signed a settlement agreement and reconciliation agreement with the British Columbia government related to the flooding of traditional lands in the 1950s.
The signing on March 28 in Victoria followed a referendum the First Nation conducted with its membership, which endorsed the Cheslatta Community Trust and the progress of the negotiations with B.C.
“This historic agreement with the Province of B.C. will help address long-standing issues that have adversely impacted our traditional territory since the construction of the Kenney Dam and creation of the Nechako Reservoir,” Cheslatta Carrier Nation Chief Corrina Leween said in a joint press release on April 17 from her First Nation and the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation.
“For 67 years, the Cheslatta people have worked tirelessly to achieve resolution and reconciliation to this historic wrong. This agreement honours the justice our ancestors and previous leadership spent their lives fighting for. Now, we are positioned to begin the healing process and to advance the social and economic standing of our people for generations to come.”
“We’ve been in that [negotiations] process for about four and a half years now,” Leween told Lakes District News. “We have taken it upon ourselves as chief and council to create a comprehensive community plan and make direction on where to go in rebuilding our community and there’s a trust agreement to secure funds for future generations.”
Voting on the negotiations process took place in the Southside community and through mail-in ballot for off-reserve members.
“Then we had the count. One hundred per cent ratification out of 167. That’s unheard of to get 100 per cent,” Leween said.
According to the joint news release,”Under the terms of the Settlement Agreement, Cheslatta will propose certain lands for transfer and tenures. A period of extensive engagement with neighbouring First Nations and stakeholders will proceed before final land parcels can be determined.”
Under the settlement, the Cheslatta will receive payments over a 10-year period and a commitment from B.C. to future land transfers and tenures. It marks a “full and final settlement” of Cheslatta claims against the province related to effects of the Nechako Reservoir.
The financial details of the settlement will be confidential for one year.
In terms of land, the agreement “does not contain commitments to transfer or tenure specific parcels of Crown land. Cheslatta will identify lands for consideration, which will then be subject to detailed analysis and extensive engagement with neighbouring First Nations and stakeholders before any decisions are made by the Province.”
The Interim Reconciliation Agreement includes funding of $200,000 per year for 10 years for jointly agreed upon projects related to protected areas of fish and wildlife and watershed and heritage restoration in Cheslatta’s traditional territory.
It also includes a pledge to work together to support the First Nation’s cultural and language revitalization.
In 1952 Cheslatta lands and burial sites were damaged or submerged when the Nechako reservoir was filled as part of Alcan’s Kemano power project. The company is now known as Rio Tinto Alcan.
The Cheslatta people were given little notice of the flooding and were forced to relocate.
Rio Tinto was not part of the latest negotiations with the 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.