Tsay Keh Dene First Nation in northern B.C. has voted yes to a final agreement with the Province and BC Hydro over the development of the Williston Reservoir and W.A.C. Bennett Dam.
Eighty per cent of the Tsay Keh Dene members who voted were in favour of accepting the terms of the agreement. The ratification vote triggers settlement of the litigation against BC Hydro and the Province for the creation and operation of the W.A.C. Bennett Dam and the Williston Reservoir over 40 years ago.
The Tsay Kay Dene First Nation, based in the Peace River Valley, traditionally travelled by river, which allowed them access to food and provided them with a way to communicate with the surrounding
communities. The construction of the dam and reservoir flooded out the Tsay Keh Dene community at Fort Grahame, forcing the First Nation to move elsewhere in their traditional land. The flooding also destroyed
traditional hunting grounds, gathering sites and burial grounds.
The final agreement provides the Tsay Keh Dene First Nation with one-time payments totalling $20.9 million, most of which will be placed in an endowment fund. The First Nation will also receive annual payments of approximately $2 million in acknowledgement of the impact of the reservoir on the Tsay Keh Dene First Nation. The funds can be used to support a wide range of social, cultural and governance programs.
Other programs flowing from the final agreement include direct award contracting opportunities, assurances regarding annual road maintenance and capacity funding to allow the community to engage in discussions
regarding impacts of new BC Hydro projects on the community.
In 1999, the Tsay Keh Dene First Nation commenced litigation against BC Hydro, the Province and Canada for alleged breach of fiduciary duty and infringement of Aboriginal rights, and damages related to the
construction and operation of the W.A.C. Bennett Dam and Williston Reservoir.
In 2006, the provincial government announced an agreement-in-principle between the Province, BC Hydro and the Tsay Keh Dene First Nation to recognize the socioeconomic impacts of the construction of the dam and reservoir. On March 30, 2009, a final agreement was initialled by the chief negotiators from BC Hydro and Tsay Keh Dene First Nation.
This agreement follows the final agreement signed by the Province, BC Hydro and Kwadacha First Nation in November 2008. Kwadacha First Nation was also impacted by the development of the Williston Reservoir and
W.A.C. Bennett dam.
The community ratification paves the way for signing of the final
agreement by all parties in late July.