First Nations in B.C. take on mining giant Rio Tinto and governments to resurrect the Nechako River

Lee Wilson
First Nations in British Columbia are locked in a court battle with mining giant Rio Tinto, Canada and the B.C. governments over efforts to revive the Nechako River.

The Saik’uz and Stellat’en First Nations say the Kenney dam built on the Nechako River 67 years ago to power an aluminum smelter in Kitimat is killing sturgeon and salmon.

The smelter is owned by Rio Tinto.

“The Kenney Dam was built in 1952 during a time when it was illegal for our Nations to gather together and, as well as, seek legal representation to pursue the courts,” said Jasmine Thomas, an elected councillor with the Saik’uz band.

The 200-day trial is being held in Vancouver, but five days were set aside for hearings in Prince George, nearly 800 km north, so Elders and community members could testify.

“The impacts that our witnesses are describing in court today, they are describing impacts not only to our fisheries in particular salmon but the endangered white sturgeon but also the biodiversity the river once supported,” said Thomas.

Both communities want the court to force Rio Tinto to raise water levels high enough to support the fishery.

“In our language – Dakelh language – the Nechako translates to “the Mighty River,” said Thomas. “So we would like to see a water level that sustains the biodiversity.”

APTN News asked Rio Tinto for an interview – instead the company sent a statement.

“Rio Tinto has always, and will continue to operate, with all of the required permits and approvals under applicable laws, including a 1987 tripartite agreement with the Canada and British Columbia governments that ensures protective flows for fish,” wrote Kevin Dobbin manager of communication and communities for Rio Tinto.

The province says it won’t comment because the case if before the court.

The trial moves back to Vancouver starting Nov. 25.

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