Cameron OrrNorthern Sentinel Press, Kitimat
The Saik’uz and Stellat’en First Nations have been allowed to proceed with a lawsuit against Rio Tinto Alcan.
The Stellat’en First Nation released a media advisory last week saying the Supreme Court of Canada has denied the company’s leave to appeal relating to an earlier case from April.
RTA was appealing a decision by a lower court granted the First Nations ability to sue the company.
The issue relates to the flow of water in the Nechako River, which is affected by the company’s Kenney dam.
According to the Canadian Press, the nations say the dam breaches their rights to the waterway and are seeking damages for property-rights violations.
The Stellat’en news release states that “the case now confirms that, in British Columbia, First Nations may sue an industry or private company for damaging lands or interfering with their use and occupancy of lands and rivers.”
Stellat’en Chief Archie Patrick is hailing the victory.
“Rio Tinto Alcan had claimed immunity authorizing them to willfully continue to damage our lands until we proved aboriginal title,” he said. “We’re pleased that the court recognized that such rights are under Canada’s constitution…and that we have rights to access the courts just as much as non-First Nation landowners.”
Former Saik’uz Chief, and a named plaintiff in the case, said the dam is one of the largest “environmentally damaging” projects in the province’s history.
“First Nations’ interests were never considered nor were we ever consulted,” he said. “We’re pleased to finally have a victory in front of the Canadian courts.”
In a statement, RTA said it acknowledges the Supreme Court’s decision.
“Rio Tinto strives to engage with aboriginal communities where it operates,” said Kevin Dobbin, a spokesperson from RTA. “These matters are still before the courts we will decline further comments at this time.”
The Nechako River’s high water levels earlier this year, as well as in 2007, had led to residential and public property damage in nearby communities, including Vanderhoof and the Cheslatta First Nation.
– with files from the Omineca Express