Members of the Saik’uz and Stellat’en First Nations gathered at the steps of the Prince George courthouse on Monday morning in advance of five-days of testimony about the impacts of the construction and operation of the Kenney Dam on the Nechako River.
It’s part of a 200-day trial that began in Vancouver last month after a lawsuit against Rio Tinto and the federal and provincial governments was launched. The plaintiffs are seeking a form of declaratory relief should they prove their allegations against the company.
"It's important that part of the trial be heard in Prince George so that Elders and members of both communities can attend and observe the legal proceedings," Saik'uz Chief Priscilla Mueller said in a statement.
"The Nechako River sustained our communities and many others for thousands of years. Very few British Columbians know how construction of the Kenney Dam devastated the Nechako River, its fisheries and our way of life."
Located about 185 km west of Prince George, the Kenney Dam was constructed in 1952 and created the massive Nechako Reservoir which provides hydro power to Alcan's aluminum smelter in Kitimat in northwest B.C. The lawsuit claims that the 1987 and 1997 Settlement Agreements entered into by Alcan and B.C. and Canada are not defenses against the First Nations, based on constitutional grounds.
In a pre-trial decision issued in February, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Nigel Kent said the plaintiffs may still "confront formidable obstacles" when it comes to proving their case, noting the defendants have been "actively involved in creating downstream enhancement of the Nechako watershed area."
Rio Tinto diverts about 70 per cent of the water out of the Nechako River each year to generate power for the smelter and sale of electricity to BC Hydro.