It was standing room only at Williams Lake city hall chambers Tuesday evening when a delegation of Tsilhqot’in chiefs voiced their nation’s opposition to the New Prosperity Mine Proposal.
Approximately 200 people joined the chiefs, including local Shuswap and Carrier chiefs, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip and Chief Bob Chamberlin from the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, First Nations people of all ages from various communities, and members of the Council of Canadians Williams Lake Chapter and Fish Lake Alliance.
“The Tsilhqot’in position on New Prosperity has not changed as everyone is aware,” said Chief Marilyn Baptiste, Xeni Gwetin (Nemiah Valley). “We come today because we were not consulted successfully by city council during the last process. Yes we have met recently, but that was only after the city had set forth a motion in support of New Prosperity and we don’t think that was a respectful process.”
The city’s motion stated the city’s support of the project, but also specified that support “provided that provincial and federal environmental standards are met and affected First Nations are adequately consulted.”
Bapiste pointed out that last week’s request by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency’s panel that Taseko address deficiencies in its approach to assess the cumulative environmental effects of the project does not support city council’s motion.
“One of the things we would like to ask is that city council not present before the upcoming panel, if there should be indeed a panel hearing. The other option, perhaps is only putting forth on conditions that the Tsilhqot’in Nation supports,” Baptiste said.
Phillip thanked mayor and council for allowing the delegation to present to council.
“We’re here once again to register the unity and solidarity with respect to the Union of BC Indian Chiefs who represent 113 First Nations in the province of B.C. Our organization continues to grow in support. We are very proud to stand here tonight with our many brothers and sisters from many parts of the province to once again declare very clearly by formal resolution that we support the Tsilhqot’in in their struggle against the New Prosperity mine proposal, much as we did with the original proposal brought forth by Taseko,” Phillip said.
Phillip reminded that last time he spoke with city council during the hearing process for the first Prosperity mine, he shared that in Penticton after a decade of conflict, the band signed a protocol agreement with the city of Penticton.
“It was worth the investment and I hope the next time I come that you’re going to tell me that it’s a fait de complet here,” Phillip said.
Chief Joe Alphonse told council the numbers of people in the delegation proved that he and Baptiste are not the only ones opposed to the mine.
“I think as a community as a whole we need to work together, respect one another and move forward together. That’s why we’re here,” Alphonse said. However, he added people should not be surprised that First Nations are going to stand up for themselves.
Economics are something everyone wishes for Alphonse added, noting his community is appreciative of Gibraltar and Mt. Polley mines as major employers in the region. He said First Nations are actively involved with mining exploration projects in the Chilcotin — Colorado’s Red Sky project near Red Stone the Amarc Resources Newton project.
“The most hurtful thing that came out as a community in the last go around was the divide in the relationship. Now I feel we have to rebuild the relationship because that has to happen. We’re a community here and we have to move forward, and now we have round two [panel hearings],” he added.
It’s routine for Mayor Kerry Cook to open city council meetings by acknowledging Williams Lake is on traditional Shuswap territory, but this time Williams Lake Indian Band Chief Anne Louie did the honours.
Mining issues, not only in the Cariboo Chilcotin, but in many other areas in other countries result in aboriginal people all over the world fighting for their rights, Louie said.
“I have said it repeatedly to those that come to our table to talk mining that money is not everything. This is what the companies see as the almighty dollar. First for our people are the land and water.
“They are our livelihood. No one can survive without these two. Therefore whenever First Nations stand up to large corporations they are not only fighting for their rights, but the rights of all who reside in those areas,” Louie said, adding the protection of wildlife is paramount.
Cook thanked the delegation and said forging strong relationships with First Nations is a priority of council.
“We have a lot of work to do to work with each and every one of you to move forward. This was a very interesting council meeting. I thank the drummers and all of our special guests,” she said.
Independent MLA Cariboo North Bob Simpson attended the meeting and said Wednesday he hopes city council sees clearly that there are a large number of First Nations people opposed to the project and that council rethinks who its strategic partners are.
“Taseko could come and go, but the Tsilqoht’in are not going away. The future of our region is going to be more and more dependent on proactive relations with our First Nations,” Simpson said.
Taseko needs to rethink its strategy at this time, he added.
“Its continued arrogance towards First Nations and the First Nations claim against the proposed project doesn’t serve them well corporately or in respect of advancing the project,” Simpson said.
“I think the province of B.C. owns part of that. I hope that a representative of the Crown sits Taseko down and asks them to back off until the Crown actually sits with the TNG and says, ‘OK, what is the framework we need in this area that respects the Williams case and traditional First Nations rights and title.”
It would provide a framework for mineral exploration and continued forestry, he said, adding “that’s a crown obligation, that’s not Taseko’s obligation. That’s missing as well.”