Next step in fight to protect Nechako fisheries and Aboriginal rights
February 4, 2022
In a statement released February 3, 2022, the Saik’uz and Stellat’en First Nations announced that they will proceed with an appeal to the British Columbia Court of Appeal in their effort to hold Rio Tinto Alcan responsible for continuing harm to the Nechako River and its fisheries.
Situated in the northern interior of BC, the Nechako River is one of the largest tributaries of the Fraser River. The Saik’uz and Stellat’en have lived in the Nechako River watershed since long before colonial incursion began and have relied on the area for countless generations for physical, cultural, and spiritual sustenance.
The Nations are bringing a limited appeal from a January 7, 2022 BC Supreme Court decision which otherwise made important rulings of fact and law in support of the Nations and their fight to protect their fisheries and rights. The Court found that Rio Tinto’s management of the Kenney Dam breaches constitutionally-protected Aboriginal rights and causes longstanding and ongoing harm to important Nechako fisheries, and the Indigenous cultures that depend upon them. However, Justice Kent held that the company could not be legally responsible for the nuisance since the dam and Rio Tinto’s operations were authorized by Canada and British Columbia. The Nations will ask the Court of Appeal to review this legal conclusion.
“We value the significance of the decision in our favour to affirm our rights and to establish accountability. The next step is to work on fixing this no longer justified infringement – for the future sustainability of the river.” – Jackie Thomas, Councillor for Saik’uz First Nation
The Court did emphasize the Crown “has an obligation to protect the plaintiffs’ Aboriginal right to fish by taking all appropriate steps to protect the fish and to act honourably in doing so.” The plaintiffs, supported by a legal team from Ratcliff LLP, will ask the Court of Appeal to order the restoration of flows to the Nechako River that are sufficient to restore the natural functions of the river, and to support the fish populations dependent upon it, including sockeye and the highly endangered Nechako White Sturgeon.
“Our Nations are going to do what it takes to restore the river and protect the fish that populate the Nechako watershed. It is a matter of key importance for us to defend our cultural inheritance for future generations.” – Priscilla Mueller, Saik’uz Chief
Read Ratcliff’s Case Summary of the initial BC Supreme Court decision and how the landmark ruling has opened up new opportunities to defend Aboriginal rights using private law.
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