UNESCO in the Peace: Shining an international light on Site C

October 7, 2016

The eyes of the world were focused on Site C this week as UNESCO visited the Peace River Valley. The international agency was there to investigate how Site C endangers a UNESCO World Heritage Site – Wood Buffalo National Park.

There is still time to stop the Site C Dam, and Sierra Club BC is fighting it with every tool at our disposal. We initiated the process that led to the UNESCO decision to send a delegation to investigate the impacts of Site C.

On October 3, Sierra Club BC campaigner Ana Simeon joined the Mikisew Cree, many prominent scholars and environmental organizations from BC and Alberta, and national groups in Edmonton during the 10-day UNESCO mission. Together, they held the undivided attention of the delegation for nearly four hours as they spoke out about the destructive impacts of Site C and tar sands development on Wood Buffalo National Park.

Peace River. Photo by Larry Peterson.

Peace River. Photo by Larry Peterson.

The Mikisew Cree are highly concerned about the growing threats posed by development to water levels in the Peace-Athabasca Delta, the world’s largest inland freshwater delta. The area provides critical habitat for fish, moose, bison, and migratory birds including the endangered whooping crane. The Mikisew Cree have depended on this area for their livelihoods for millennia. They have asked the UNESCO World Heritage Committee to list the World Heritage Site as “In Danger.”

Presentations and submissions by Ana Simeon, Candace Batycki of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, and the Peace Valley Environment Association covered every angle on Site C – including the violations of First Nations’ rights, the impacts happening right now in the Peace valley, and the drying of the Peace Athabasca Delta. In the face of the federal government’s lack of vigour in protecting Aboriginal rights and the environment, we called for the mission to deliver a wake-up call that international obligations must be respected.


Action to protect the valley. Photo courtesy of Peace Valley Environment Association.

Ana Simeon told the delegates, “We believe Canada needs support in maintaining a strong and principled course on respect for Aboriginal and Treaty rights as well as international treaties and international law. We believe this support would be best delivered by the international community in the form of ‘tough love.’ This ‘tough love’ includes declaring Wood Buffalo National Park a World Heritage Site in Danger, as well as calling for an immediate halt to Site C construction until First Nations legal challenges have been heard and a full inquiry has been conducted into treaty rights violations.”

What happens next?

The mission will release its report in six weeks, and Canada will need to respond within six months. Based on the mission report, the World Heritage Committee will make a decision next July, which may or may not include the finding that Wood Buffalo National Park is a World Heritage Site in danger. We need your help in calling on our federal government to act to protect Wood Buffalo National Park.

Please, send a letter help protect this special region from further devastation. If you want to do more, consider making a donation today to support Sierra Club BC. We rely on contributions from supporters like you to keep up the fight. Thank you!

Feature image: Flickr Creative Commons.