People from all six Tsilqot’in communities are planning to gather for a traditional harvesting camp at Teẑtan Biny (Fish Lake) and Yanah Biny (Little Fish Lake) beginning Saturday, Sept. 1.
The move comes after the B.C. Supreme Court upheld a permit on Aug. 23, authorizing Taseko Mines Limited (TML) to pursue exploratory drilling near the area for its proposed New Prosperity Mine Project.
Nits’ilʔin (Chief) Joe Alphonse, tribal chairman, Tŝilhqot’in National Government (TNG) said the nation is moving forward in filing an appeal with the B.C. Court of Appeal, while also seeking an injunction to stop the drilling program.
“We are looking as early as Tuesday next week to file,” he told the Tribune. “We will continue our fight. There is no way we will ever let up.”
Xeni Gwet’in chief Jimmy Lulua said his community held an emergency meeting to discuss the drilling permit that packed the community’s band hall.
At the end of the meeting, each and every person approved holding a peaceful gathering at Teẑtan Biny (Fish Lake) to practice their rights to harvest food and hold ceremonies.
“This drilling program is an attack on our identity, who we are as Tsihlqot’in people,” Lulua said. “We would never show this disrespect to others. We would never go to their homes and dig up their resting places or their sacred grounds. It is the highest disrespect to our people. We plan to come together in a good way, in a peaceful way, and gather strength from this special place and our way of life.”
Alphonse said the Tsilhqot’in Nation supports Xeni Gwet’in in its decision to gather and he invited anyone who is interested to attend.
“We want to make sure and maintain that it’s going to be a peaceful demonstration,” he added. “In the past we’ve always received a lot of support, not just throughout the Williams Lake area, but throughout the whole province and right across Canada.”
He described the permited drilling as an “extreme” situation.
“We weren’t anticipating the B.C. Supreme Court’s decision, but we will still continue to maintain our position and not allow it to deter our overall hope in the system.”
Brian Battison, Taseko’s vice-president of corporate affairs, told the Tribune in July, the company hopes to drill in an area about two kilometres upstream from Fish Lake where proposed dam structures for the mine would be built.
“We want to gather geotechnical data by drilling some holes and taking soil samples and essentially assess the drainage characteristics of the area,” Battison said. “There was some doubt in the environmental assessment about our ability to manage the water appropriately. This information that we need for the Mines Act permitting process will answer those questions and rest those doubts.”
Teẑtan Biny is a favourite fishing and hunting spot for Xeni Gwet’in elder Benny William who was chief of Xeni Gwet’in from 1982 to 1988.
William said he’s against the mine being developed in the area because if it does it will be “one big hole in the ground.”
“Even when our children were young we’d take them and other youth there,” William said. “It’s a homeland to big game and fur-bearing animals. It’s well-forested and in the winter when you go in that area you see lots of tracks.”
In 1997, William worked cutting core samples and testing water for the proposed mine, but said now he realizes if the mine were to go through, the area would never be the same.
Describing the Teẑtan Biny (Fish Lake) and Yanah Biny (Little Fish Lake) area as pristine, William said it has not been developed in any way and is only used for cultural purposes.
“I hope it just stays like that,” he added.