Tl’etinqox (Anaham) chief and Tsilhqot’in National Government chair Joe Alphonse was in Ottawa earlier this month to let the federal government know that he opposes the proposed New Prosperity mine.
He, along with other leaders and TNG staff, met with the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and John Duncan, minister of aboriginal affairs and northern development.
“We were there to inform government and I think that message was very clear. This is the first time in Canada this has ever happened. It’s clear that they are trying to push every big project through as fast as they can. We told them they better stop and think about what they’re doing because we’re not about to endorse this development.”
Alphonse says the TNG did not endorse the project in its first go around and that he feels the changes made by Taseko for the new proposal have not been significant enough.
“It’s the wrong company, the wrong time and the wrong place,” he says.
He says that in the 1990s Taseko hired a biologist to counter the TNG’s arguments in relation to fish population. Then, Alphonse says, the TNG told the company Taseko would sell its interests as soon as the mine was approved.
He says Taseko then bought Gibraltar Mine, countering the TNG’s arguments.
“At that time we decided, you know what? No more dialogue with this company,” Alphonse says. “No matter what we say, what we do, they are just going to dip into their endless pot of funding to just continue to be a pain, a thorn in our side.”
Taseko’s vice president of corporate affairs Brian Battison says there have been no formal discussions with the TNG since June of 2008, but said when it comes to the company’s purchase of Gibraltar, it was not done so it could purse the Prosperity Mine project.
“Why would we do that?” Battison asks.
Alphonse alleges the government is letting the project have a second go around because of fears of being liable for a lawsuit from industry against government.
“Our response to them was when was the last time big industry sued the government and won? On the other side of the coin, when’s the last time a First Nation sued government and won? Actually that wasn’t that long ago, and that was us that did that,” Alphonse says, adding if necessary, the TNG will sue government.
“We’re not shy of the court room,” he adds. “We told them if the environmental process is going to be gutted and they try to ram this project through in the end we’re going to lock them up in court and change it to an aboriginal argument and that’s when the real fight will begin.”
Alphonse says the meeting with Duncan went well and it was the first time in history that any minister from aboriginal affairs has ever met with the Tsilhqot’in.
It was history in the making, Alphonse says, adding he felt Duncan listened, and heard their message loud and clear.
“We’re in for a fight, we’re not backing down,” Alphonse says.