John Hart negotiations 'going nowhere': First Nations
The We Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum Nations confirmed today that negotiations concerning BC Hydro’s proposed $1.3 billion John Hart Generating Station Replacement Project are close to breaking down due to BC Hydro’s failure to table an offer in the ongoing negotiations to resolve aboriginal issues. Failure to arrive at an agreement concerning the future of this major facility may require the decommissioning of a power facility that supplies the large share of the electrical needs of Vancouver Island.
The John Hart Dam was constructed over 60 years ago flooding large portions of the traditional territory of the We Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum Nations. The 60 year old facility has now reached the end of its productive life. BC Hydro has concluded that the only viable options are to replace the John Hart project with new hydro generation facilities that will last another 60 years or to decommission the facility and seek to generate replacement power elsewhere on Vancouver Island. The John Hart Generating Facility, while designed to produce 126 megawatts of power, is now producing only 118 megawatts and its output is declining.
The BC Minister of Energy, Rich Coleman, has publicly stated that the John Hart Replacement Project was one that, in BC’s view, must proceed. Negotiations have been ongoing and BC Hydro and First Nations within whose territory the project is proposed – the We Wai Kai Nation and the Wei Wai Kum Nation. BC Hydro has twice delayed the presentation of a formal settlement offer explaining that it was still in the process of securing a formal mandate.
The First Nations leadership have written to BC Hydro expressing deep concern about the state of the negotiations. We Wai Kai Nation Chief Councillor, Ralph Dick, said “The construction of the John Hart Dam flooded large segments of our Traditional Territory. This was done without our consent. It was done without a penny of compensation. BC Hydro has been profiting from their own wrongful actions for 60 years. That has got to change. They have to decide whether they are serious about First Nations partnerships or whether they want to offer us beads and trinkets. As things stand negotiations are going nowhere.”
Wei Wai Kum Nation Chief Councillor, Bob Pollard, said “We feel that BC and BC Hydro lack any real commitment to these negotiations. They seem intent on pushing us away from the negotiation table. It is our job to protect our land, waters, our fish, and our other resources. We will take all steps necessary to protect them. Our preferred course is a negotiated resolution. If BC and BC Hydro are not interested in negotiating, we have plenty of other options.”
The We Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum First Nations are part of the Laich-Kwil-Tach Treaty Society which has been in treaty negotiations for over a decade with Canada and British Columbia. This modern day treaty process is an attempt to arrive at a treaty that would reconcile aboriginal rights and title with government claims to the aboriginal territory.
The Laich-Kwil-Tach Treaty Society Chief Negotiator, Rod Naknakim, said “We are working hard at the treaty table to come up with a creative and lasting resolution of claims that should have been resolved when Europeans entered the territory over a century ago. The fact that we are negotiating a treaty, however, does not mean that there is a free-for-all in the meantime. Aboriginal rights and title are constitutionally protected; they have been recognized by the Courts. The government, and its Crown corporations like BC Hydro, have to respect those rights and work with First Nations if they want to continue developing within and profiting from the territory.”