The Katzie First Nation is suing B.C. Hydro and the province for allegedly breaching legal commitments to mitigate damage caused by the Alouette hydroelectric dam.
In a news release, Chief Grace George said the Alouette watershed, about 50 kilometres east of Vancouver on the north side of the Fraser Valley, is an area that's been "significant to Katzie First Nation members ... since time immemorial."
"The Province of British Columbia and B.C. Hydro signed a contract with Katzie that included promises to work with us to identify the toll that the dam had taken on our rights — including on Alouette salmon and the Alouette River ecosystem — and to mitigate those impacts," she said.
The civil claim, filed in the Supreme Court of British Columbia on Oct. 20, says development on their traditional territory near Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge started in 1924, with a dam, reservoir, hydroelectric facilities and related infrastructure being substantially completed by 1929.
B.C. Hydro took over operations from its predecessor in the early 1960's and signed a long-term water use and diversion plan with the First Nation in 1996. That year, it got permission to build a new power station and double the amount of water being redirected from the river. In 1998, both parties worked together on an impacts study.
The water use plan plan was renewed in 2009 and the First Nation says it met with the Crown corporation in 2019 and 2020 to discuss compensation.
"The Alouette Hydroelectric System has drastically changed the land and waterscape in Katzie Territory ... curtailing or eradicating many of Katzie's culturally important salmon," reads the claim.
According to the filing, B.C. Hydro hasn't taken any action to address the impacts on Katzie rights identified in the 1998 report.
Civil claim says talks broke down
After their discussions were put on pause due to the pandemic, the Katzie First Nation says B.C. Hydro told its leaders at a February 2021 meeting that "it was under no obligation, and had no mandate, to discuss compensation or mitigation for impacts on Katzie rights."
The claim says that position was repeated in writing in November that year and again in January 2022, when the First Nation proposed creating a forum of discussion around issues around the Alouette River system and its impact on its people.
"Katzie is saddened that the province, who so publicly emphasizes the importance of reconciliation, is refusing to honour its legal commitments," said George.
In a statement, B.C. Hydro said it recognizes its electricity system impacts Indigenous communities and it is committed to working with those communities to build relationships that respect their interests.
"Over the past two decades, B.C. Hydro has worked with the Katzie First Nation to address concerns related to the impacts our system has on their community," said spokesperson Susie Rieder.
"We have worked together on Water Use Planning and on large projects like the Interior to Lower Mainland transmission line. More recently, and in alignment with seeking consent for our activities, we modified our projects and water licensing activities in the South Alouette River area to ensure greater collaboration with the Nation."
Rieder says B.C. Hydro is aware that the Katzie First Nation filed a notice of civil claim "related to an agreement from 1996," but would not comment further as the matter will be heard in court.
A spokesperson for the B.C. Ministry of Energy said in a statement that they were "aware" of the civil suit, and the province would be reviewing and responding accordingly.
The First Nation is seeking a declaration that either the Crown corporation or the province has failed to fulfil the obligations laid out in the impact mitigation contract, and is liable to make good on those commitments.
If that order isn't granted, the Katzie claim seeks general, aggravated and punitive damages, or a share of the revenue generated by the power stations on the Alouette River.