Saik'uz & Stellat'en First Nations v. Rio Tinto Alcan, Inc., British Columbia, & Canada

Saik'uz and Stellat'en First Nations Back in Court to Save the Nechako River and its Fisheries

Two First Nations take Rio Tinto Alcan in an effort to stop environmental and cultural damages.

SAIK'UZ, BC, OCTOBER 16TH, 2019 - On October 21, 2019, Saik'uz and Stellat'en First Nations will begin a major, 200-day trial against Rio Tinto Alcan Inc. (Alcan), British Columbia, and Canada.

"This case is about the devastating impacts of the construction and operation of the Kenney Dam on the Nechako River, its fisheries, and Saik'uz and Stellat'en's constitutionally protected Aboriginal rights," says Saik'uz Chief Priscilla Mueller. “We are going to court to protect the Nechako River and the sturgeon and salmon that are suffering because of Alcan’s diversion.”

Constructed in 1952 by Alcan, the Kenny Dam diverts water out of the Nechako River to generate power for the company’s aluminum smelter in Kitimat and to sell to BC Hydro. Alcan diverts approximately 70% of the water that would normally flow into the Nechako, resulting in enormous downstream impacts. “The river is no longer acting like a river,” explains Chief Mueller.

Additionally, the water that does pass down the river enters the Nechako River 9 km downstream of the Kenney Dam, after it is released through the Skins Lake Spillway located approximately 80 km to the West of the dam site. The little water released into the Nechako fails to meet basic environmental flow needs and does not mimic the natural flow patterns of the river.

Nechako White Sturgeon are already listed on Canada’s Species at Risk Act as endangered, with government documents linking the threat of extinction to Alcan’s dam. Last fall, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada recommended that populations of Chinook and sockeye salmon that rely on the Nechako River—and are impacted by the Kenney Dam—be listed on the Species at Risk Act.

During the trial, Saik’uz and Stellat’en will lead expert evidence about how Alcan’s Diversion has caused or is contributing to population declines and that environmental flows are needed to restore proper ecological functioning on the Nechako River. The Nations seek a court order requiring that harm to the Nechako River, its fisheries, and their rights cease. “We are hopeful that the Court will help us restore the Nechako River and its fisheries for the benefit of all future generations,” says Chief Mueller.

While the proceedings will occur primarily in the BC Supreme Court in Vancouver, a portion of the hearing will be held the week of November 18-22, 2019, in Prince George to allow Saik'uz members to attend the trial and speak as witnesses. The court proceedings in both Vancouver and Prince George are open to the public, and Saik'uz urges supporters, from both within the community and without, to attend the trial as they are able.
Saik'uz recognizes that many individuals, First Nations, and community groups have dedicated much time and energy to protect the Nechako River over the past sixty years, including through opposition to the Kemano Completion Project. “For those who can’t attend the trial, we ask for your good thoughts during this time,” says Chief Mueller.

For further information on how to support Saik'uz First Nation, please contact the Saik'uz First Nation administration at 250-567-9293.