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Rio Tinto says it's committed to working with First Nations on Nechako River

Rio Tinto says they're committed to working with both the Saik’uz and Stellat’en First Nations following a Feb. 26 BC Supreme Court appeal decision regarding the two groups' aboriginal rights to fish the Nechako River watershed for food, social, and ceremonial purposes. Those rights were affirmed in a January 2022 ruling.

"Improving the health of the Nechako River is a goal we all share and we are actively engaged with First Nations communities on this priority," wrote a Rio Tinto spokesperson to the Citizen.

"Rio Tinto believes that governance of the flows on the Nechako River should be an inclusive process. We will continue to collaborate with First Nations, governments and other stakeholders in the watershed to review all aspects of the Nechako Reservoir management process," they added.

The river was diverted 70 years ago to create the Kenney Dam, when the Province enacted legislation authorizing mining company Rio Tinto Alcan to build a hydroelectric facility for smelting aluminum.

Saik’uz and Stellat’en sought to restore the river's natural flow river to revitalize fish populations, including sockeye salmon and endangered Nechako white sturgeon, launching a case against Rio Tinto Alcan and the Province over impaired fishing rights. While the two nations' bid for an injunction to restore the natural flows of the Nechako was dismissed, it was noted their rights had been impaired by the dam.

The spokesperson said the company is glad to see the results of the appeal.

"Rio Tinto is pleased that the court recognized that Rio Tinto has operated within the scope of its licence and that lawful operation of its facilities does not constitute wrongful conduct," they noted. Rio Tinto is not in the position to comment further, added the spokesperson, as they're still fully reviewing the decision.

"We cannot comment further until we have had the opportunity to fully review and consider the Courts’ decision. The decision will not affect how we engage with Indigenous Peoples in Canada, nor the plaintiffs in this case. Our goal remains to build meaningful relationships based on transparency, trust and respect," they explained.

Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Alaska Highway News