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article imageDecision puts 1st Nation rights under wheels of mineral wealth

By Stephanie Dearing     Jul 25, 2010 in Environment
Taseko Mines announced recently it expected its Prosperity Mine to be approved by September. Taseko is so confident it will get approval, the corporation is recruiting new employees.
The allure of the economic development appears to be persuading the Government of Canada to overlook the negative environmental and social impacts of the Prosperity Mine in favour of allowing the strip mine to proceed. Taseko claims the mine will create 550 jobs over 22 years, and will also result in a spin-off of 1,280 indirect job opportunities. The mine site is the source of millions of tonnes of gold and copper.
There's only one problem with Prosperity Mine, which was originally mined in the 1930s. Situated in British Columbia, the mine also happens to be on lands now granted to the Tsilhqot’in, a decision handed down in 2007 after the First Nations nation fought for those access rights in court. Last year the Tsilhqot’in went to court in an attempt to stop Prosperity Mine. That case has not yet been heard.
Prosperity Mine is situated close to a lake named Tetzan Biny, popularly known as 'Fish Lake.' Taseko has proposed using Fish Lake as a tailings pond, and said it will eventually create a new lake to replace Fish Lake.
Approval for the mine is expected to be granted in spite of conclusions by a Federal Review Panel, established by the Federal Minister of the Environment that "... the Project would have a significant adverse effect on the Tsilhqot’in Nation regarding their current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes and on cultural heritage resources;" "... the Project would result in a significant adverse effect on established Tsilhqot’in Aboriginal rights as defined in the William case; the Project would result in a significant adverse effect on the potential Tsilhqot’in Aboriginal right to fish in Teztan Biny (Fish Lake);" "... the Project would result in the inability of the fisheries resource in the Teztan Yeqox (Fish Creek) watershed and the South Chilcotin grizzly bear population to meet the needs of present and future generations."
The Vancouver Sun reported that while the province of British Columbia came to similar conclusions about Prosperity Mine, the province decided the economic benefits outweighed the detrimental effects of the mine project.
Chief Bernie Elkins outlined the history of his people's use of Fish Lake earlier this year. "... For generations the Tsilhqot'in people have gone to Teztan Biny to fish, to set fish traps and nets, hunt and trap, gather medicines, engage in spiritual practices, reconnect with the land, honor our Elders, share stories, and foster unity. It is more than a lake to us – it is an integral part of Tsilhqot'in culture, and vital to our cultural continuity and survival."
Elkins went on to say "... The Tsilhqot'in Nation is neither against development nor against the responsible use of natural resources. In fact, as the traditional keepers of the land for thousands of years, we have successfully balanced the need for sustainable harvesting with long-term preservation. To the Tsilhqot'in people, the destruction of Teztan Biny is an unacceptable use of land and water, incompatible with modern principles of sustainability, and an ill-conceived and shortsighted attempt to inject an industrial project into the heart of our pristine watershed."
In response to the anticipated approval of the mine, the Tsilhqot'in National Government asked for and received a pledge of support from the Assembly of First Nations for help during the 31st Annual General Assembly which concluded July 22.
The pledge of support was welcomed by the Tsilhqot'in Nation. Tribal Chair of the Tsilhqot'in National Government, Chief Joe Alphonse said “First Nations across the country are backing us and making this a national fight because they know that if this can happen to us, it can happen to them. This project is not justifiable. The federal government must heed the findings of significant and irreparable harm to the environment and to our culture and rights that were reported in the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency review of this project. It must reject the Prosperity proposal.”
Xeni Gwet’in Chief Marilyn Baptiste added “The message to the federal government is loud and clear: There is no way that approval of this mine will be accepted by First Nations of the Tsilhqot'in, the province or the country."
A number of non-native organizations are supporting the Tsilhqot'in Nation. While the Wilderness Committee urges the public to write letters to the government of Canada, the Sierra Club said it will be lobbying members of parliament in the fall to try to stop the mine from being approved. There is a Facebook page for Save Fish Lake, and Protect Fish Lake has a petition people can sign.
More about Prosperity mine, Taseko mines, River people, Environmental degradation, Tsilhqoint
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