Water is the issue of concern with the New Prosperity Gold-Copper Mine, Anaham Chief and Tsilhqot’in National Government Chair Joe Alphonse told the federal review panel in Williams Lake last Thursday.
“Fish Lake is one of the top 10 fishing lakes in B.C. and the Chilko Lake Sockeye run I consider as the largest most consistent and most healthy Sockeye run left in North America,” Alphonse said. “My band office is right near where the Chilko River runs. Our fishing stands are all along that river. Tsilhqot’in means river people and fishing has always been vital.”
Alphonse also described the area at the proposed mine site as spiritual.
“Take any church in Williams Lake and surround it and say for the economy of Williams Lake, we’re going to convert that into a casino hall,” he said. “As First Nations we will stand, fight and defend our belief.”
The burden before the panel is “huge,” Alphonse suggested, adding he believed the panel will reach the same conclusion as the panel did in 2010 when its recommendations resulted in the project being rejected. He also warned the panel to make sure it follows its mandate “to a ‘T.’”
“If you don’t, you’ll provide me and my nation all the ammunition we need to fight this in court.”
Alphonse said the panel can expect to hear anger and frustration during the upcoming community hearings in First Nations communities.
“I hope you guys can handle that because I don’t believe anybody should be hurt over this issue,” he said. “I think as First Nations people we need to explain our view to larger society if we want to be part of that larger society.”
Local resident Jane Wellburn was among several non-First Nations who spoke at the hearings against the project.
“It doesn’t seem relevant how many First Nations people are employed by the mining industry when the Tsilhqot’in, the Xeni Gwet’in, are saying that the risks to the environment posed by this project, to health, well-being, culture, tradition, spirituality, practice, can not be justified by projected benefits,” Wellburn noted in her written submission. “We don’t have room in our history, in our present or future, to tell people what’s best for them.”
David Richardson with the Fish Lake Alliance said his group got started to represent non-First Nations opposed to the mine.
“We are not opposed to all mining endeavours. Most of us know someone who works in a local mine,” Richardson said.
Members of the alliance live in the region and have for many years, he said.
“We work here, we’ve retired here, and most of us have been to Fish Lake.”
“The second proposal attempts to save Fish Lake, but a lake in the middle of an open pit mine is a lake on life support not a viable eco-system,” Richardson said.
“This mine should not be a chemistry or hydrology experiment,” Richardson said, adding: “First Nations issues have not been resolved in any shape or form.”