The 11 bands of the St'at'imc Nation are getting an estimated $210 million through an agreement with BC Hydro and part of that settlement could go to developing energy projects that could make them self-sustaining.
Two weeks ago the Crown Corporation that oversees electricity services for British Columbians announced that it had initialed an agreement alongside B.C.'s Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation with the St'at'imc Nation that will address "longstanding grievances" related to construction and operation of projects on the Bridge River system near Lillooet.
Several decades ago BC Hydro, then known as the BC Electric Company, began constructing electricity infrastructure in the Bridge River area in St'at'imc traditional territory that now includes three dams, four generating stations, three reservoirs and 15 transmission circuits totaling about 850 kilometres of transmission lines.
Those lines reached down from the Bridge River area and over land in Southern St'at'imc communities such as Skatin, Baptiste Smith and Tipella, which were only recently hooked up to the power grid as part of this same agreement. Construction of the infrastructure dealt much damage to fish habitat in the Bridge River area and made murky the waters of Seton Lake.
The money coming out of the agreement is expected to be put into a trust where it could accrue interest and potentially generate more revenue for the 11 bands that could then be put into environmental initiatives, cultural work to preserve and protect St'at'imc culture, as well as economic development.
Every band gets a $1 million signing bonus for ratifying the agreement.
Economic development could include construction of electricity projects within the communities that would make them "self-sustaining," either by feeding electricity on to the ground or powering the communities themselves.
That, said Chief Mike Leach, chair of the 11-band St'at'imc Chiefs Council, is just one possibility, which could come out of an agreement that has spent 20 years at the negotiating table.
"Through this agreement, our communities will be looking at alternative energy," he said in an interview.
"We have a lot of wind here, solar panels, I think anything that may be available out there that can help make our small communities be self-sufficient with power. So we're looking at the future."
As it stands, First Nations around B.C. are looking into alternative energy as a way to generate revenue for their peoples. The Klahoose First Nation on the Sunshine Coast, for example, has an Impacts and Benefits Agreement with Plutonic Power for the company's East Toba and Montrose run-of-river projects that provides the nation with employment, training and contracting on the projects.
Closer to home the Douglas First Nation, whose members are resident in the southern St'at'imc communities of Tipella and Port Douglas, has a revenue-sharing agreement with Cloudworks for operation of a series of run-of-river facilities in their territory.
With money that can be put into economic development, even more St'at'imc communities can now embark on their own projects, perhaps forming partnerships with private companies to build them and then profit off the electricity sold to BC Hydro.
"That was well done, in the sense, as best you can do," Leach said, referring to the run-of-river projects in Douglas territory. "There is, in our communities, opposition to independent power projects, so we're going to have to go through our own assessments to make sure this issue is something we can be benefiting from in the future. But at the same time, we don't want to lose the benefits of the land and the air in the process."
The $210 million figure isn't the exact amount of money that the 11 bands will be receiving. The money is merely what lawyers call a "net present value" and it is to be spread out over 11 communities in two series of payments, one over 50 years, the other over 99 years, though precisely how the money will be divvied out is confidential.
Each band will, however, get a $1 million signing bonus if they vote to approve the agreement. Every single St'at'imc band gets a vote on the settlement and is expected to render judgment on it in the summer after months of information sessions.