Part 2 – Aboriginal

In their assessment of the Site C Clean Energy Project (Site C), the Joint Review Panel (the Panel) considered the potential impact of Site C on Aboriginal rights and treaty rights, along with the possible effects of the project on the cultural and economic well-being of First Nations. It identified 24 groups claiming an interest in the Local Assessment Area, as well as 6 other Aboriginal groups with potential interests who did not participate in the review process.  Overall, the Panel determined that Site C would likely cause significant adverse effects on fishing opportunities and practices and on hunting and non-tenured trapping for various First Nation groups, and these effects cannot be mitigated. 

The following are some of the Panel’s key conclusions and recommendations as they relate to the potential impacts of Site C on First Nations:

  • Site C will likely result in significant effects on the current use of lands (such as plant harvest, firewood gathering, drinking water, trails and water routes) and resources used for traditional purpose such as fishing, hunting, trapping and other practices.  The majority of these potential effects cannot be mitigated.
  • Site C would have significant adverse effects on: (i) physical heritage resources; (ii) cultural heritage resources for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people; and (iii) visual heritage resources. However mitigation measures can alleviate some of the adverse effects on heritage sites, including anticipated cumulative adverse effects.
  • The Panel disagreed with the methodology employed by BC Hydro for cumulative effects assessment and found that BC Hydro’s assessments fall short of capturing the full extent of cumulative effects of Site C on the activities of Aboriginal groups. As such, the Panel recommends that the Province and affected First Nations enter discussions with a view to ensuring harmonious accommodation of all interests in the land.
  • The negotiations of Impact and Benefit Agreements with affected Aboriginal groups would translate into a sufficient amount of revenue to maintain current service quality levels both on- and off- reserve.
  • Additional data is needed in order to come to a conclusion as to whether Site C would significantly impact the levels of methylmercury found in fish populations and pose a risk to the health of Aboriginal groups.  Also, a number of measures would be needed to effectively manage potential risks to health, including implementing a risk communication plan in collaboration with Health Canada and the First Nations Health Authority.

The report produced by the Joint Review Panel suggests that much work remains in order to ensure that all impacts relating to First Nations are accounted for and addressed in proper fashion. Although the report marks an important step in the progression of the project, the ultimate decision as to whether or not it will proceed rests in the hands of the Federal and Provincial governments. If Site C proceeds, potential claims for infringement of constitutionally protected Aboriginal treaty rights will likely become a live issue for BC Hydro, the Province and the Federal government to manage.