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First Nations use contaminated fish to protest dam project

The band said a recent study concluded that 98 per cent of their fish samples contain mercury levels above provincial guidelines


 

VICTORIA – West Moberly First Nations Chief Roland Willson held up a frozen bull trout Monday and said the large fish is contaminated with mercury.

“Typically, you’d be proud of this fish,” he said. “But we can’t eat this.”

Willson and members of the McLeod Lake Indian Band, located in northeastern British Columbia, arrived at the legislature in Victoria with more than 90 kilograms of bull trout packed in two coolers.

The fish were there to illustrate a recent study by the band that concluded 98 per cent of their fish samples contain mercury levels above provincial guidelines. The study examined 57 fish taken from the Crooked River, where fish migrate from the Williston Lake reservoir.

Willson said the contaminated bull trout are connected to that reservoir, which was created as part of the 1960s-era W.A.C. Bennett Dam.

He warned similar contamination could result from the proposed $9-billion Site C hydroelectric dam and 83-km-long reservoir in the Peace River Valley near Fort St. John.

“Everybody’s shocked,” said Willson. “It shouldn’t just be the First Nations who are shocked,” he said. “This is an issue for everybody. The general public. Anybody who’s eaten fish up there or out of that system, they need to be worried about what they are doing.”

The province’s ministers of environment and energy and mines said they were not aware of mercury tests or studies associated with the W.A.C. Bennett Dam or the Williston reservoir, but fish and water from the Site C reservoir will undergo rigorous and regular testing.

“It’s important to note that this is a very different situation than what we find with Site C,” said Environment Minister Mary Polak.

Willson was blunt about his opposition to Site C, which the government approved last year.

“It’s a mistake. It’s a stupid idea,” he said.

Willson said the West Moberly support other methods of generating electricity in the northeast, including geothermal power and natural gas-powered energy.

The Site C dam, which through its reservoir would flood agricultural land, would annually produce 1,100 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 450,000 homes.

Willson said the Williston Lake reservoir created the mercury pollution with the release of toxins from decaying trees and other materials in the flooded lands.

He said area First Nations are preparing to embark on a human study to determine if people have high levels of mercury.


 
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