The Hugh Keenleyside Dam near Castlegar was one of three built as part of the Columbia River Treaty. It has had a huge impact on the Columbia River valley all the way to Revelstoke. ~ Wikimedia Creative Commons

First Nations excluded from Columbia River Treaty talks

Three Indigenous groups in Southern B.C. Interior will not be involved in upcoming talks.

Three Indigenous First Nations in the southern B.C. Interior are ‘shocked’ to be excluded from upcoming renegotiations over a water storage agreement between Canada and the United States.

The Ktunaxa Nation Council, the Okanagan Nation Alliance and the Shuswap Nation Council issued a joint press release expressing their disappointment in being excluded from Columbia River Treaty (CRT) talks which are set to begin between Canada and the U.S. next week.

The First Nation groups were told by the federal government last week they would not be participants in direct negotiations between the two countries.

“Our Nation has suffered profound losses to our culture and way of life as a result of the Columbia River Treaty,” said Kathryn Teneese, the chair of the Ktunaxa Nation Council.

“We have been working very closely with the Syilx Okanagan, Secwepemc, Canada and BC to chart a new future for the CRT that creates positive outcomes for Indigenous Nations, the region, BC and Canada. We have to find a comprehensive and effective means to fully participate in the negotiations process in order to achieve these positive outcomes.”

The release says the treaty has had ‘massive’ impacts on the territory of the three First Nations groups that include the desecration of sacred, village and burial sites, the loss of fish populations and harvest areas and the transformation of the river into industrial water storage reservoirs.

The treaty, an agreement that went into effect in 1964, holds back 15.5 million acre-feet of water in Canada each year for flood control and power generation — an estimated dollar value of $3 billion USD.

Four hydroelectric dams were built under the agreement, which was signed between Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower. The Duncan dam, the Mica dam and the Keenleyside dam are on the Canadian side, while the Libby Dam was built in the U.S.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, the president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs and chair of the Syilx Okanagan Nation, called out foreign minister Chrystia Freeland for the decision to exclude Indigenous groups from the negotiating table.

“This completely unexpected and shocking unilateral decision by Minister Freeland to exclude Indigenous Nations is an act of absolute treachery,” Stewart said. “Canada has begun to replicate the aggressively destructive behaviour of President Trump against Indigenous Nations.

“This is a fundamental betrayal of our three Nations’ Indigenous Rights; it undermines recognition and threatens the reconciliation path that Prime Minister Trudeau has so boldly championed. I’m genuinely afraid for Canada’s future economic stability if Canada lacks the courage to stand by its convictions and can so easily disregard its commitments to Indigenous Peoples.”

Kukpi7 Wayne Christian, Chair of the Shuswap Nation Tribal Council, said the Secwepemc Nation has worked collaboratively with Canada on CRT matters to date.

“This exclusion represents another of Prime Minister Trudeau’s lies to the world about reconciliation,” said Christian. “The Secwepemc Nation must be involved in all decisions about Secwepemc Territory.”

The three First Nation groups cite the federal government’s commitment to reconciliation and a renewed relationship of respect based the Ten Reconciliation Principles that was released in July 2017.

Those principles included recognizing Indigenous peoples right to self-government, honourable conduct by the Crown in all dealings with Indigenous peoples and meaningful engagement with Indigenous peoples when the Crown proposes action on traditional territories.

Those principles were followed by statements from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the House of Commons on Feb. 18, 2018, that referenced the implementation of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), according to the joint press release.

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