After 13 hours of fishing for salmon at Siwash Bridge where the Taseko and Chilko Rivers meet, Tsi Del Del Band (Alexis Creek First Nation) Coun. Rocky Guichon addressed the New Prosperity Mine federal review panel Monday.
“You’re in Tsilhqot’in territory now,” Rocky told the panel and representatives from Taseko. “We feel that we’ve fended off more than an onslaught of big corporations. We would really like to educate you folks on how we expect you to understand what we’re really all about.”
Traditionally the Tsilhqot’in had free range up to Vanderhoof, down to Clinton and out to the coast, Percy said.
“We’ve had great success defending our land and making sure it’s intact.”
A lot of his people, including himself, still hunt, fish, practice their culture and pass it on to younger generations.
“Being out on the river today is what it’s all about, just being there,” he said. “The immense power and magnitude of that river running by is just amazing. The power of water, as you heard through the hydrology presentations, is probably the most powerful thing on the planet. People need to understand when they talk hydrology they are also talking about soil and air and how it is all connected. If you take out one it affects everything.”
When Tsi Del Del resident Mary William spoke in her traditional Tsilhqot’in language, her words were shared by a translator.
“I grew up in Nemiah, that’s where I was born, that’s why I love the land,” William said.
Her parents and grandparents taught her everything, including the fact that it’s not worth destroying beautiful places, she explained.
“We grew up with a lot of teachings. God put us on this place. He put us in this beautiful place. Mining will not be good for this place. It will contaminate this place and we will no longer be able to rely on this place for sustenance.”
Tsi Del Del Chief Percy Guichon said when the forest industry moved into his territory in the 1980s, the people didn’t benefit very much from the extraction.
“Most of the benefits went to Williams Lake and the wallets of the people living there,” Percy said. “I can see the same thing happening with the development of a mine in our backyard.”
There’ll be the promise of jobs and big pay cheques and then when the mine closes the people will be left without jobs and the destruction of the land, resources, and wildlife, he said.
“We’re the ones who will be living here and the ones who will have to deal with the impact. Our community’s been through this and we’re really concerned with what the social impact will be on our communities, especially the Xeni Gwet’in who have been living quietly in the valley practicing the way of life that they have for years.”
There are so many reasons not to let the mine go ahead, he suggested.
“It’s important for future generations to be able to access and experience the same wonders of that area.”
Percy’s aunt is a legend keeper and told him about the spiritual significance of the area and that it was a safe location and place of refuge for Tsilhqot’in people to regroup in times of uncertainty.
“It was secluded, they could survive while they planned. To suggest that spiritual significance is strategy the First Nations came up with to oppose the mine is an insult,” Percy said.
“Ours is an oral tradition. Things were passed on to me through legends, stories and songs, but also they were passed on by going out on the land and practicing these activities. It’s not just the activity, it’s everything that surrounds that activity.”
Uncles, aunts and grandparents teach and tell stories. “We’re saying we’re fish people and we’re saying if that Taseko River is ever contaminated and kills the fish run that’s going to really impede our opportunity to practice our fishing activities, say at Siwash,” Percy said.