Rio Tinto Alcan Returns Native Traditional Land

February 1, 2012 Updated: February 1, 2012

Six decades after the fact, Rio Tinto Alcan has returned 11,000 acres of land expropriated from the Cheslatta Carrier Nation in northern B.C. in the early 1950s.

The mining company announced on Monday that it has officially completed the transfer of 63 district lots totalling just over 11,000 acres of land to the Cheslatta.

“Today we get back what we lost 60 years ago,” Cheslatta Chief Richard Peters said in a press release.

“Land is the backbone of any community and this land is truly the foundation for our future. We are most grateful for the hard work and dedication of former Cheslatta leaders and we also thank Rio Tinto Alcan for being a modern and progressive corporation that understands the significance of the land to the Cheslatta people.”

The Department of Indian Affairs expropriated the land in 1952 and the Cheslatta Carrier people were relocated. Alcan used the Netchako River to create the Kenney Dam as part of a huge hydroelectric project to power the Kitimat Aluminum Smelter.

The properties that were undeveloped or not flooded are being returned to the Cheslatta, who have fought for years to get their land back.

“This important event is the culmination of over 10 years of discussions between us and the community to return these traditional lands to the Cheslatta Carrier Nation,” said Jean Simon, Rio Tinto Alcan primary metal CEO.

“Today is an important milestone and represents how we can move forward cooperatively. I am honoured to be the one, on behalf of our company, to bring this longstanding issue to conclusion for the benefit of the Cheslatta Carrier Nation people.”

U.K.-based Rio Tinto purchased Alcan in 2009, and continued ongoing negotiations with the Cheslatta regarding the lands, according to the Prince George Citizen.

Cheslatta senior policy adviser Mike Robertson told the Citizen that the transfer marks a first in relations between First Nations and industry.

“Alcan has agreed to return the property with no strings attached. I don’t know if there is any example of that in North America,” he said.

“The Cheslatta have been refugees for 60 years. Now they have their land again.”