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BC Hydro finalizing $210 million agreement with First Nations

BC Hydro is finalizing a $210 million settlement with First Nations whose traditional territory has been traversed by power lines for decades without compensation.

BC Hydro is finalizing a $210 million settlement with First Nations whose traditional territory has been traversed by power lines for decades without compensation.

The news was confirmed to Pique on Friday afternoon by Don Harris, chief of the Xa'xtsa First Nation, one of four St'at'imc communities that was recently connected to the power grid for the first time after decades of living off of carbon-spewing diesel generators.

"It's roughly $210 million," he said. "The agreements have been initialed and the ratification process has now started. Sometime in March, all the communities will be going to a vote on whether or not to accept BC Hydro's agreement."

The settlement, which comes as part of the St'at'imc Hydro Agreement, applies to all 11 tribes of the St'at'imc Nation, including Xa'xtsa, whose Port Douglas and Tipella reserves are located at the northern edge of Harrison Lake; the Skatin First Nation, whose territory is located along the Lillooet River; and the Samahquam First Nation, whose Baptiste Smith reserve is located near the southern end of Lillooet Lake.

The settlement was part of lengthy negotiations to resolve historical grievances with the St'at'imc Nation. About 60 years ago BC Hydro, then called B.C. Electric, arrived at the aforementioned communities and began installing transmission lines, making agreements with the First Nations that they would provide them with electricity.

B.C. Electric never did - and the aforementioned nations, generally known as the Lower St'at'imc communities, relied on diesel-fuelled generators for power. They provided intermittent electricity and sometimes left people without power for days at a time when the generators shorted out or ran out of fuel.

All of that began to change when the St'at'imc Chiefs Council, an association of chiefs from all St'at'imc communities, entered negotiations with BC Hydro in 1993. The council sought compensation for Hydro operating facilities throughout their territory, such as the transmission lines traversing the lower communities and generating facilities in the north.

Clarke Smith, a hereditary chief of the Samahquam First Nation who's working to translate the hydro agreement into his people's traditional language, said payments will come in two sets: one annual installment for 50 years and then another installment for 100 years.

The funds will be put into a trust fund for all St'at'imc communities.

"Nobody's just going to ask for the money and get it," he said. "It's divided into five different sectors. One of them is culture, another one is education, another one's economic development, the other has to do with health, the other one is going to be administration."

What's left now is for each of the 11 St'at'imc communities to sign the agreements themselves. With an agreement initialed, information about the settlement will be circulated to different community information sessions held in the spring of 2011. All St'at'imc members have the opportunity to vote and show their support for the agreement.

For Smith, the agreement signals an end to a long process.

"This is what we call a seven-generation agreement," he said. "It's a very good settlement, it's what we call a five-star settlement. That's what my mom called it. My mom and I knew about this in 1985, we knew it was going to be a five-star settlement."