Taseko’s work permits no good, claims Tsilhqotin
November 25, 2011
by Mike Caswell
When Taseko Mines Ltd. faces the Tsilhqotin First Nation in the Supreme Court of British Columbia on Monday, one of the issues the judge will have to decide is a petition that the Indians have filed in Victoria seeking to quash the company’s work permits. According to the petition, the government failed to perform any meaningful consultation with the Tsilhqotin before granting approval for the work, which includes 59 test pits and 23.5 kilometres of trails. The band claims that the work will interfere with its “ceremonial or spiritual activities.”
The petition complains that the area the company plans to work in is a “special part” of Tsilhqotin territory. The proposed exploration will disturb wildlife and increase access and hunting by non-Indians. This will interfere with the Tsilhqotin’s use of the area as a “grocery store for country foods,” according to the petition.
The work that Taseko is seeking to perform is part of its second attempt to have the Prosperity mine approved by the federal government. The project, which could create 71,000 jobs and run for 23 years, stalled last year after the federal Ministry of Environment refused to approve the mine even after its provincial counterpart in B.C. had given the project the go-ahead. The company has since revised its proposal, hoping to address the most contentious part of the plan. Instead of draining a small water body adjacent to the mine called Fish Lake for use as a tailings pond, the company will now spend $300-million to create a separate pond.
The Indians, however, remain opposed to the plan. When Taseko attempted to access the site earlier this month, they set up roadblock that prevented the company from traversing a gravel road that leads to Prosperity.
The Tsilhqotin First Nation filed a petition to stop work at Prosperity on Nov. 10, 2011, at the Victoria courthouse, four days after they first set up the roadblock. The respondents include Taseko, the Province of British Columbia and the chief inspector of mines. According to the petition, the Tsilhqotin have proven hunting and trapping rights to Fish Lake and the surrounding area, which they say their ancestors used before contact with Europeans.
Infringing on those rights, according to the petition, is Taseko’s proposal to build the Prosperity mine. The mine would be located 125 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake, B.C., in what the Tsilhqotin say is their traditional territory. The open pit operation could permanently destroy both Fish Lake and another water body called Little Fish Lake. The Tsilhqotin say this damage would occur even under the company’s revised proposal, as the mine and Fish Lake are immediately adjacent to each other.
The petition specifically complains about work permits that B.C.’s chief inspector of mines granted to Taseko on Sept. 29, 2011. The permits authorize the company to construct 59 test pits and carry out geotechnical work and drilling. The company may also remove up to one square kilometre of forest to construct a network of trails.
The work, according to the petition, will take place in an area of cultural importance. Many members of the Tsilhqotin were born and raised in the area around the lake (which the Indians call “Nabas”). During the months of the work, the Tsilhqotin will avoid the area for safety reasons, among other things.
The Tsilhqotin band also objects to the work on the grounds that it will create mental, emotional and spiritual harm to its members. The ultimate objective of the work is to gather data for Taseko’s renewed plan for Prosperity. According to the petition, the mine could have serious implications for Tsilhqotin culture, and the mere fact that the mine could be approved again will “heighten the intense uncertainty” for the Tsilhqotin.
Finally, the petition contends that the chief inspector of mines did not properly consult the Tsilhqotin before issuing Taseko’s work permit. The Indians acknowledge that a district manager did meet band representatives, but they say that he did nothing to address their concerns. The government refused to consider the impact that years of exploration have already had on the area, nor did it acknowledge the “critical cultural significance of the area.”
The Tsilhqotin band claims that the failure of the government to properly consult it has fuelled conflicts, rather than promoted reconciliation. The company is prepared to start work, while the Tsilhqotin band is still waiting for an explanation for the rationale of the work permits.
The petition asks for a declaration that Taseko’s work permits are not valid and a declaration that the government did not fulfill its duty to consult the Tsilhqotin. Alternatively, it is asking that the work permits be suspended until the government has further consulted and accommodated the Tsilhqotin.
Also before the judge will be an application by Taseko to prevent the Tsilhqotin from blocking the road to Prosperity. The company complains that it twice attempted to access the Prosperity site, only to meet a roadblock manned by Marilyn Baptiste, chief of the Xeni Gwetin (a branch of the Tsilhqotin). Taseko says that the blockaders prevented it from travelling on a public road to perform work for which it has a valid permit. The company contends there is some urgency to its application, as it is incurring $10,000 per day in standby costs while it awaits access to the mine.
The matter will go before Supreme Court Justice Christopher Grauer at the Vancouver courthouse on Monday.