Wochiigii lo: End of the Peace
(Canada, 85 min.)
Dir. Heather Hatch
Programme: TIFF Docs
Director/writer/producer Heather Hatch’s feature debut Wochiigii lo: End of the Peace is a damning look – pun not intended – at the Site C hydro-electric dam project, along the Peace River in British Columbia.
The title refers to the Peace River Valley, in the heart of Treaty 8 territory, which is at risk of being flooded. It would destroy animal habitat, agricultural land, and wipe out areas of importance to the First Nations communities that live there, including burial sites.
Wochiigii lo: End of the Peace is a David and Goliath story, following some of the leaders of the fight, Diane Abel and Chief Roland Willson, both of the West Moberly First Nations, population 308, as they take the province, B.C. Hydro and the federal government to court for infringing on their treaty rights.
What began as a united effort of five nations within Treaty 8 has been reduced to two, West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations. Only they continue the costly and time-consuming fight to release documents about Site C’s safety and cost. Hatch’s documentary follows their legal fight, which is bumped around in courts for years, sees appeals and dismissals, before the construction of Site C has been declared past the point of no return.
In an interview, the award-winning journalist Sarah Cox of The Narwhal who fought to make these Site C documents available to the public, outlines that the project isn’t in the public’s interest and is incredibly harmful to the environment. The only people benefiting from it, it seems, are the politicians who ran on a platform that they’d be creating many new jobs out of the Site C project.
Hatch lays out the story clearly, with 2016 footage and archival news clips of former B.C. premiere Christy Clark, the main champion of Site C, and ties her quest to the B.C. family that has been influential in politics for decades. The doc also spends time with Abel, Willson and George Desjarlais, as they show why they fight, including the day-to-day impact of environmental damage, which includes fish they can no longer eat, as it’s too toxic, and caribou that can no longer migrate through the lands.
The sweeping views of the rivers and mountains of B.C. are juxtaposed with footage of flat dirt being moved about by construction vehicles. It’s a jarring contrast that really illustrates how vital this fight is to stop the construction of the multi-billion-dollar hydro-electric project.
Haida director Hatch’s documentary is compelling and tells an important, and infuriating story of corporations and the government causing environmental destruction under the guise of bettering the economy, when it’s actually about political grandstanding. It also adds to the evidence of how First Nations people continue to be the stewards of the land, and how sometimes that brings them through the legal system, or to a protest site.
Wochiigii lo: End of the Peace premiered at the 2021 Toronto International Film Festival.