Though Alcan helped to fund the recent H20 Water and Indigenous Peoples Conference in Montreal, there was no invitation for the Cheslatta people to attend. They showed up anyhow and plan to stage a protest at the April 25 Alcan annual stockholders’ meeting.

The Cheslatta t’en Carrier First Nation of British Columbia is concerned over Alcan’s proposed Kemano Completion Project. This project, called Kemano 2, will reduce water levels in the Nechako River by up to 87 per cent. This is expected to have an impact on the Fraser River and other water tributaries.

The impacts of this project could prove disastrous to fish, particularly salmon, which require certain conditions to migrate upriver and spawn. Already, white sturgeon are being considered for the endangered species list by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service because of present unregulated hydro-facilities. Environmental groups fear that Kemano 2 could lead to the white sturgeon’s extinction.

The public hearings on this project are expected to be completed this spring. Construction will begin some time after that. The Carrier First Nations complain that federal employees are not allowed to speak out against the project and federal documents pertaining to the project are classified as confidential and are not available to the public. Also, the federal government exempted the project from a federal review in 1990. (In July 1993, the Conservative-dominated House of Commons endorsed a Senate-Commons report that criticized the Brian Mulroney’s cabinet for acted illegally and unconstitutionally when it exempted Kemano 2 from review.)

There is no intervenor funding in the hearings and nobody is studying certain project impacts like fish and wildlife extinction. Like the Crees, the Cheslatta people are aware of the high levels of mercury in existing Alcan hydro reservoirs from the first project completed in the 1950s.

Alcan’s first project in the area calls to mind painful memories for the Cheslatta people. George, an elder from the Cheslatta t’en First Nation remembers back in the 1950s as a youth not being allowed into the meetings that would change his life forever.

“Only the elders were allowed in. They didn’t understand or know much about it,” he told The Nation at the water conference in Montreal.

Most of the people were in the bush trapping and didn’t even know about the hearings or negotiations. The Cheslatta people were given three weeks to negotiate a settlement, compared to the two years given to local non-native residents. Documents surrendering the land were forged in many cases, according to George and other Cheslatta.

Another surprise was waiting for George. After returning from trapping in the bush he came home to the reserve to find his belongings outside the burnt-out shell of what used to be his home. The best part of his possessions had been looted.

He says the home was burned down with government approval so he and other residents wouldn’t be tempted to stay in the area. After hiding what was left in the bushes, George found a check waiting for him at the post office. It was his compensation check for $50.

A farmer took pity on George and put him to work on his farm. Eventually, with the farmer’s help, George bought five acres to begin rebuilding his life.

The Cheslatta people’s burial grounds were also flooded. Someone felt it was too difficult to move the cemeteries, and as a result of fluctuating water levels, coffins of loved ones began floating on the water. Today, a bishop has consecrated a nearby lake as a cemetery to help deal with these painful memories.

The Cheslatta t’en Carrier Nation asks for your help.

They ask you to think twice before buying Alcan products.

Write letters protesting Kemano 2 to: Premier Michael Harcourt, Room 756, Parliament Buildings, Victoria, B.C. V8V 7X4

Prime Minister Jean Chretien, House of Commons, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6

Contributions to the Cheslatta’s Nation Defense Fund can be sent to: Cheslatta Carrier Nation, P.O. Box 909, Burns Lake, B.C.