No changes to Snuneymuxw First Nation’s stance on Colliery dams

NANAIMO – Snuneymuxw Chief John Wesley says the First Nation will "not be used to advance someone else's political agenda."

The Snuneymuxw has never dictated to the city what it must do to remediate the Colliery dams, according to Chief John Wesley, who says the whole process has become highly politicized.

The Snuneymuxw released a statement and letters from its chief Friday, outlining its position on the dams.

Misinformation about its stance has become a concern for the First Nation, which states its decision was communicated ‘very clearly’ to the city and province and its position hasn’t changed.

Last year Snuneymuxw representatives on Nanaimo’s technical committee and city staff jointly recommended remediation of the lower dam by enlarging the spillway with a labyrinth design. The Snuneymuxw council unanimously adopted a motion to support the measure if the city decides to go ahead with it, and agreed the city, as operators of the dam, is ultimately responsible to comply with dam safety standards.

As long as its key interests are met around public safety, environmental protection and protection of Douglas Treaty rights, Snuneymuxw “will not impede the city in fulfilling its legal responsibilities,” statements say.

Documents also show Snuneymuxw retained its own independent firm of dam safety engineers in 2013 to review the dams, including options for remediation, and it confirmed a problem exists and cannot be ignored.

Ken Cossey, executive director for the First Nation, said as long as its three interests are met “that’s all we’re concerned about.” Wesley says the First Nation intends to follow a principled and reasonable approach to the file “that reflects SFN’s actual concerns and interests, not petty politics.”

“People are lobbying us to fight the province’s Dam Safety Section or support their view that the dams are completely safe. Snuneymuxw will not be used to advance someone else’s political agenda,” Wesley said in a press release, adding the First Nation values its relationship with the city and mayor.

Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay, who has also heard from Snuneymuxw at an early March consultation meeting, would like to hear explanations from the First Nation around things like its interest in public safety. He also said Snuneymuxw has made it clear it doesn’t want to get involved in another process for the dams.

“It means if we are going to satisfy the Snuneymuxw then we need to ensure that we follow the recommendations of the technical committee. That’s the box we’re in,” McKay said.