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A massive hydroelectric dam now under construction in the Canadian province of British Columbia violates Canada’s commitments to uphold the human rights of Indigenous peoples, says a new brief by Amnesty International. 

The release of the brief on the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples marks the beginning of a global campaign by Amnesty International to halt the construction of Site C dam, which will deprive Indigenous peoples in the Peace River Valley region of access to lands and waters vital to their cultures and livelihoods.

“Construction of the Site C dam illustrates the persistent gap between rhetoric and reality when it comes to the rights of Indigenous peoples through the Americas,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas Director at Amnesty International.  

“Rights protected under an historic treaty, the Canadian Constitution and international human rights standards have been pushed aside in the name of a development project that has no clear purpose or rationale and that does not have the consent of the Indigenous nations that will suffer the consequences of its construction.”

The Site C dam would flood more than 100 km of the Peace River and its tributaries. This land is part of the traditional territories of numerous Indigenous peoples in the region.

Canadian government officials have openly acknowledged that the decision-making process leading to the approval of construction never considered whether building the dam was compatible with its legal obligations toward Indigenous peoples. Construction has gone ahead despite the fact that the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations are currently challenging the Site C dam in court.

The construction of the Site C dam is particularly concerning because widespread oil and gas development, and other resource extraction activities in the region already greatly reduced the lands still available for Indigenous peoples to conduct ceremonies, harvest food for their families or teach their children about their cultures and traditions.

“It’s not enough for governments to say that they respect the rights of Indigenous peoples, they must act to consistently uphold these rights. Anything else is a continuation of the same patterns of racism and discrimination that have led to centuries of impoverishment and dispossession for Indigenous peoples throughout the globe,” said Guevara-Rosas.

Chief Roland Willson of the West Moberly First Nations told Amnesty International: “We’ve never said no to the production of energy. We’ve said, let’s protect the valley. It’s the last piece of our backyard that’s relatively untouched.”

Chief Lynette Tsakoza of the Prophet River First Nation said: “It is not too late to change course. The damage to the Peace River is not yet irreversible. Stopping Site C is a perfect opportunity to demonstrate to all Canadians that the government takes reconciliation seriously.”

More than 46,000 people have already signed a petition against the dam hosted by Amnesty International in Canada. Amnesty is now encouraging its members worldwide to write to Canadian government officials to urge an immediate halt to construction of the dam so that the human rights of Indigenous peoples can be protected.