Parcels of land have been set aside to compensate First Nations impacted by the Site C dam, but who’s paying for the lands remains a source of confusion for local elected officials.
The provincial government has been quietly conducting negotiations with Treaty 8 First Nations impacted by the $8.8 billion dam over the past several years.
The transfer of Crown land to First Nations has been contentious, especially among anglers, hunters and other back-country users who worry access to public land could be cut off.
The project will flood around 83-kilometres of the Peace River Valley—including sites sacred to local First Nations—while also impacting Treaty rights to hunt and fish.
Rural representatives with the Peace River Regional District say they agree First Nations should be compensated for lands lost to the project, but have raised concerns about how the province has dealt with the transfers.
Brad Sperling, representative for Electoral Area C, which includes the dam site, said there continues to be confusion about whether BC Hydro will pay for Crown land transfers—making them part of the dam’s $8.8 billion price tag—or whether it is a separate expense that will be paid by government.
Representatives with the Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation presented to Sperling and other members of the Peace River Regional District Sept. 22.
“It’s very confusing,” he said. “The way they put it to us was Hydro doesn’t have to pay for the Crown land…I think we all want some kind of clarification. We just want (Hydro) to be open with the public about what’s going on here. There are a lot of concerned people.”
There are four types of agreements currently under negotiation with First Nations in Northeast B.C.—some of which are unrelated to Site C. They include government to government agreements between the province and First Nations; project-specific agreements related to Site C, oil and gas and coal development; “strategic initiatives” concerning wildlife and water management; and federal Treaty Land Entitlements.
Impact benefits agreements for Site C include revenue streams and contracting opportunities, as well as land transfers and protected area designations.
Those land agreements specify which lands will be transferred, and gives First Nations one year to identify parcels of interest. The goal is to transfer lands that do not cut off back country access and avoid “stranding” resources, provincial officials told the PRRD.
According to the presentation, the province is in negotiations with five area First Nations. Saulteau First Nations have already signed a “new relationship” agreement with the province, while negotiations with the McLeod Lake Indian Band and Halfway River First Nation are classified as “advanced.”
Treaty 8 mandates that the Crown negotiate directly with First Nations—meaning any land transfers will not be subject to traditional public consultations.
In a statement, the ministry of energy and mines said the cost of any transfers is part of the Site C budget.
“The Site C project budget includes an allocation for the cost of Crown lands that may be transferred to First Nations as part of agreements on the project,” the ministry said. “As a result, the full cost of all First Nations agreements related to the project are accounted for within the project budget.”
CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this article stated 31 parcels were identified for transfer to First Nations impacted by Site C. While 31 parcels in the Peace Region have been identified by a Notice of Intent, not all are related to Site C, and not all of those would transfer.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article conflated Government to Government negotiations involving the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations and Site C land transfers. Those talks, listed as early discussions, are not directly related to Site C.