Members of the Tsay Keh Dene First Nation voted 80 per cent in favour of a final compensation agreement with the provincial government and B.C. Hydro over the development of the Williston Reservoir and WAC Bennett Dam.
The creation of the dam and reservoir over 40 years ago flooded the Tsay Keh Dene community of Fort Grahame and traditional hunting, gathering and burial grounds in the Peace River valley. If approved by B.C.
Hydro and the province, the deal would result in a $20.9 million one-time payment and $2 million payments annually.
“It should help give the community a leg up,” Tsay Keh Dene chief negotiator Eric Woodhouse said. “Mostly for the community it will provide them with more resources to provide services like health care, education and training.”
Woodhouse said the money would be divided into two funds one for general community development and the other for specific initiatives related to the reservoir and lost lands.
The funds designated for reservoir-related programs will fund projects like developing new hunting/gathering trails, contracting opportunities, road maintenance agreements and promotion of traditional knowledge, he said.
Woodhouse said the 10-year battle for compensation could be over by the end of July. The current round of negotiations began in 2003, but the First Nation launched litigation initially in 1999.
“By the end of the month the agreement has to be ratified by all three parties. The Tsay Keh Dene have started by this vote,” he said.
Tsay Keh Dene Chief Ella Pierre was not available for comment as of press time.
“The ratification allows the province to right a historic wrong done to the Tsay Keh Dene First Nation,” B.C. Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation George Abbott said in a press release. “It will allow them to move forward and build for a positive future. And I applaud the leadership and vision of the chief and council for their commitment to delivering this agreement for the benefit of the whole community.”
B.C. Hydro president Bob Elton said, in a press release, that the agreement will provide certainty for B.C. Hydro operations in the Peace River valley.
“But, more important for B.C. Hydro, the agreement is simply the right thing to do, as it corrects past wrongs done to the Tsay Keh Dene. Together we have taken a very important step toward a positive future based on mutual respect and trust.”
The three parties reached an agreement in principle in 2006. Negotiators settled on a final agreement on March 30, 2009. Woodhouse said the amount of compensation was one of the key issues under debate.