RTA returns lands to Cheslatta Carrier Nation

Rio Tinto Alcan transfered  sixty three district lots totalling just over 11,000 acres or 4,4500 hectares  of land to the Cheslatta Carrier Nation in British Columbia on Monday, Jan. 30. 2012.

The transfer took place at a ceremony at the community hall at Grassy Plains, BC, near Burns Lake.

A news release from Rio Tinto Alcan quotes  Jean Simon, president and chief executive officer, Primary Metal, Rio Tinto Alcan, as saying.  “This important event is the culmination of over ten years of discussions between us and the community to return these traditional lands to the Cheslatta Carrier Nation. Today is an important milestone and represents how we can move forward cooperatively,”

“I am honoured to be the one, on behalf of our company, to bring this long standing issue to conclusion for the benefit of the Cheslatta Carrier  Nation people.”

The release quotes Cheslatta Chief Richard Peters: “Today we get back what we lost 60 years ago. Land is the backbone of any community and this land is truly the foundation for our future.  We are most grateful for the hard work and dedication of former Cheslatta leaders and we also thank Rio Tinto Alcan for being a modern and progressive corporation that understands the significance of the land to the Cheslatta people. We are fully committed to continue working together.”

The RTA release also quotes  Paul Henning, vice president, Strategic Projects, Western Canada for Rio Tinto Alcan a saying: “I am proud of the respectful and effective relationship that we have developed with the Cheslatta Carrier Nation. I am also proud that both parties demonstrated great patience, support and commitment to this process that allows us to recognize the past while opening a new door to a brighter future.”

The Cheslatta Nation says the land will be held as fee simple, private property. It will not be an Indian reservation, and not subject to the Indian Act. The Cheslatta have no immediate plans for the 64 lots sitting on the Cheslatta and Ootsa Lakes. The Cheslatta also presented a 40-acre, 17 hectare, parcel of shoreline property on Ootsa Lake to several non-native residents of the area, with hopes that a recreation complex might be established there one day.

How Alcan obtained the traditional Cheslatta territory when the company was building the Kenney Dam in preparation for the Kitimat project has been controversial ever since the events began 60 years ago in 1952.

According to John Kendrick’s history, People of the Snow, the History of Kitimat, Alcan worked through the then Department of Indian Affairs at the time the company built a temporary dam on Murray Lake.   Building that dam flooded the then Cheslatta reserve and traditional hunting, fishing and logging lands in the Ootsa Lake area.

According to Kendrick, Indian Affairs gave the Cheslatta Nation just one week to move from the existing reserve to the current location at Grassy Plains.  The history says that while many members of the Cheslatta Nation were out on traplines, those remaining in the settlement were pressured by Indian Affairs to vote in favour of “surrender” of the land. Due to misunderstandings, Kendrick says, what the Cheslatta Nation thought was compensation for just the move was actually the “surrender payment” and the new settlement had to be paid for out of that money. There was no compensation for loss of other traditional lands or traplines.

The Cheslatta did reach a settlement with Alcan in the late 1980s.