Saik’uz and Stellat’en First Nations have concluded their testimony in a case against Rio Tinto (Alcan), British Columbia and Canada in the provincial Supreme Court.
The 200-day trial began in October last year. Before the trial Saik’uz First Nation Chief Priscilla Mueller had released a statement saying that the case was in regard to the “devastating impacts of the construction and operation of the Kenney Dam on the Nechako River, its fisheries and Saik’uz and Stellat’en’s constitutionally protected Aboriginal rights.”
In an official statement from both First Nation communities on Tuesday, June 9, officials said that since Rio Tinto (Alcan) started operation in 1952, the project has had a detrimental impact particularly for the 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,” officials said.
This ongoing legal battle against Rio Tinto (Alcan) was first launched in 2011.
As the testimony for the plaintiffs (Saik’uz and Stellat’en First Nations) in this case is over, now the court will be listening to the defendants, starting with Rio Tinto (Alcan).
The trial was delayed earlier this year due to COVID-19, and is now anticipated to be wrapped-up early next year after 200 court days, as per the statement issued by the First Nation communities.
Both Chief Priscilla Mueller of Saik’uz First Nation and Chief Archie Patrick of Stellat’en First Nation thanked everyone who came out to provide testimonies.
Mueller was also quoted saying, “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.”
Patrick said, “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% of the water that would otherwise flow into the Nechako River and diverting it through a 16 km tunnel bored through a mountain into an entirely different watershed.”
In a statement to the Omineca Express, Simon Letendre, director of media relations for Rio Tinto said,”Rio Tinto prefers to work in partnership with First Nations groups to build relationships that are mutually beneficial. Rio Tinto has, on a number of occasions, sought to find ways to resolve this issue without proceeding to court hearings.”
“Rio Tinto has always, and will continue to operate, with all of the required permits and approvals under applicable laws, including a 1987 tripartite agreement with the Canada and British Columbia governments that ensures protective flows for fish,” he said.