Dene leaders in the Northwest Territories are calling for construction of the Site C Dam in northern British Columbia to be halted, calling the project both illegal and not part of a ‘green economy’.

Last week, Dene leaders met in Inuvik and voted unanimously to call for construction of the dam on the Peace River to be halted.

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The $9 billion mega project was permitted by the federal government this summer, and was quickly criticized by environmentalists and First Nations groups.

Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus says the federal government has an obligation to respect land agreements, including the protection of water.

“[The dam] has not been planned out as part of a green economy,” Erasmus told Moose FM.

“We’re very concerned about this, and there’s a legal obligation on the part of Canada to have us directly involved and to have our consent.”

When an area is dammed, that land is flooded. That flooding releases mercury from the ground into the water that then goes downstream.

According to Erasmus, this could reach as far as Yellowknife and flow down the Mackenzie River.

“[The river] flows north, so it’ll affect the water system in the North,” says Erasmus. “You’ll notice that the water system up here is already being affected by previous dams and by the environment as it is.”

The BC Hydro Site C Dam constructed in the 1960’s has already ‘dramatically affected’ wetlands around Inuvik and surrounding communities, says Erasmus.

“The whole ecosystem has been dramatically affected,” he says, speaking about the muskrat population in Beaufort Delta.

Before the construction of the previous Site C Dam, people there would hunt up to one million muskrats in the area for income.

Now, he says, you’re lucky if you can get 5,000 muskrats in that same time – and he says it’s all because of the change to the water system.

Dene leaders want to discuss compensation for the negative state they claim the previous dam left their land in before another one is even considered.

“The [new] Site C Dam is really not a dam for a specific project,” Erasmus says. “It’s simply to create jobs and have power for the future.”

Erasmus calls the dam “not a legal project”, saying that the province and federal government have limited authority over that land.

“They need the Indian nation, who we are, to agree with them and we have not agreed.”