On Dec. 29, 1950 the Government of British Columbia signed over the water rights on the Nechako River to the Aluminum Company of Canada. Along with it went the timber rights, mineral rights and land.
The federal government, provincial government and Alcan then conspired through the use of forged documents and an illegal temporary dam on the Cheslatta River to flood out and evict the Cheslatta Carrier people from the three villages they had lived in for thousands of years.
With the waters already rising, the Cheslatta people were given two weeks to get out. The government then burned their houses and church and gave their land to Alcan.
As folksinger Woody Guthrie once said, “Some men will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen.”
Rather than build a water release at the Kenney Dam as planned, Alcan used the Cheslatta River and lake system (then not much larger than the Sinkut River) for a spillway for the new reservoir. It became a giant sluicebox – the Cheslatta system was gutted, washing out bodies from Cheslatta cemeteries along the lake and loading the Nechako with silt which it still does to this day. Alcan amalgamated with Rio Tinto Aluminum in 2007 making Rio Tinto (Alcan) the world’s largest aluminum company.
Back in 1950 you could spray DDT in your home, on your garden and fields; racial segregation was still legal in the U.S. and Canada; there were no seatbelts in cars; 57 per cent of men smoked cigarettes; it was illegal for aboriginal people to raise money for land claims, attend a potlatch, or vote in a Federal election; aboriginal children could be taken from their parents and forced into residential schools far from their homes.
Nowadays I don’t think Rio Tinto executives are lighting up a Lucky, telling the wife to spray DDT on the flies in the kitchen, letting their kids leave their seatbelts off or yearning for the days of racial segregation.
Why then are they continuing to take water from the Nechako River like it is still 1950?
They would probably tell us, well you got the 1987 Nechako River Settlement Agreement. Unfortunately, I think it was created behind closed doors by Alcan, and the federal and B.C. governments, then, like putting lipstick on a pig, it was replaced by the Nechako River Agreement of 1997, basically a re-hash of the 1987 agreement.
Neither of them gave the river what it so badly needed (and still needs now), a water release facility at Kenney Dam and fair and reasonable flows of water that duplicate the flow patterns of a natural central interior river.
Rio Tinto hides behind its archaic water licence, content to continue to take obscene amounts of water from the Nechako while their well-oiled public relations machine pumps out big spreads and glossy pamphlets.
They made $130 million on surplus power sales from Nechako River water last year alone, over and above the budgeted amount.
Rio Tinto is a multinational corporation whose annual profits are counted in the billions of dollars. Their CEO Sam Walsh who retired this July was making a salary of $9 million dollars a year.
When does Rio Tinto’s greed end and their moral responsibility begin?
Rio Tinto’s operations still wash the Cheslatta dead out of their graves on a regular basis, scattering their bones like driftwood along the ravaged shoreline. They pay a five dollar ($5) annual license fee to use the Cheslatta system as a spillway channel.