"We are going before the judge in Victoria today (Jun 27) and it's tough to say what direction this is taking," says Nits'ilʔin (Chief) Joe Alphonse, Tribal Chairman of the Tsilhqot'in National Government. "It seems we have a young judge who may have no real idea about Aboriginal Rights and Title, so we're going to be waiting to see where the chips fall."
Chief Alphonse spoke while they were in Victoria and word came that Taseko Mines was told by the province of B.C. the mining company could accomplish the deadline date set for the project back in 2012. This statement threw the whole process of attending court and dealing with the drilling permits into a serious tumult.
"These are important ceremonial grounds. Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) is our sacred grounds. Medicine people go to cleanse, vision quest, gather appropriate plants, and practice essential religious and spiritual ritual.
"We get hit hard for trying to exercise our spiritual rights but we don't turn to others and say they cannot practice their beliefs. We've always been generous about this," says Chief Alphonse.
He notes the Tsilhqot'in Nation has most recently been caught in the crossfire by a departing Liberal government and an incoming NDP government. "On the Liberals last day in power in an attempt to present a gift to the incoming NDP on 'mining' issues, the Liberals issued a drilling permit for Taseko Mines."
Meanwhile, what is becoming repetitive action has the federal government shut down the prospects of this project (twice) on the basis of environmental insustainability, but the mining company will work with what it has to work with, says Chief Alphonse, "As long as this project remains on the books, the mine can raise money on the stock market, or if the permits are withdrawn the company believes it can sue the province to recover costs for investors."
He says, "We have to spend our own Tsilhqot'in resources and time fighting these abuses of the laws, and we are prepared to countersue Taseko Mines and the provincial government including the former Liberal government. The federal government has been firm, 'No,' to the project on the basis of protection and retention of First Nation heritage, Aboriginal Rights and Title, and preservation of the environment, but the province doesn't even look at this."
Canadian and provincial environmental laws are under review and revision and this changes regulations, which makes it difficult to stay current with changes and follow correct procedures. Even so, Taseko Mines is not on the brink of getting this project approved, "but here we are again, fending off provincial deeds being done. This present fight started while we were in the middle of fighting forest fires last year which were devastating and threatening to destroy whole Tsilhqot'in communities. This drilling permit was ordered when we were fending off evaculation orders that would have cost us dozens of houses. We fought the government for the right to stay and save our communities.
"We saved 60 to 80 houses because we stayed and defended our communities, meanwhile," the provincial government continues throwing metaphorical gasoline on the fire of the Taseko Mines issue.
Tŝilhqot'in Nation back in court to challenge Taseko Mines Ltd. drilling permits
WILLIAMS LAKE, BC - Jun. 25, 2018 - The Tŝilhqot'in Nation is once again being forced to the BC Supreme Court to challenge drilling permits issued to Taseko Mines Ltd. (TML) by the outgoing BC Liberal government during the wildfires of 2017.
The BC Mines Act permit approves an extensive drilling program by TML to advance its rejected New Prosperity Mine project. The permit authorizes TML to clear 76 kilometres of new or modified trails, 122 exploratory drill holes, 367 excavated test pits and 20 kilometres of seismic lines near Fish Lake, known to the Tŝilhqot'in as Teztan Biny, an area of cultural and spiritual significance for the Tŝilhqot'in. The area is also subject to a Declaration of Proven Aboriginal Rights. The Government of Canada rejected TML's New Prosperity mine proposal in 2014, and the mine cannot legally be built as matters stand.
Within two days of notice of the approval of the drilling permits in July 2017, the Tŝilhqot'in filed the following in BC Supreme Court:
• a Petition seeking to quash the permit for breach of the duty to consult and accommodate;
• a Notice of Civil Claim seeking to quash the permits as unjustified infringements of proven and established Tŝilhqot'in hunting, trapping and fishing rights in the area; and,
• an injunction in each proceeding that would prohibit TML from conducting the drilling program pending the hearing and determination of these cases.
Elders and leadership from the Nation will be travelling from Tŝilhqot'in Territory to Victoria to bear witness to the proceedings and remind BC that the approved drilling is a grave threat to their home and way of life.
Nits'ilʔin (Chief) Joe Alphonse, Tribal Chairman of the Tsilhqot'in National Government, says, "This approval for drilling permits was a final act under the former BC Liberal Government, issued during the 2017 wildfires while Tsilhqot'in citizens and Leadership were displaced and struggling to defend their homes and territory. It is indefensible to approve a massive drilling program for a project that was rejected four years ago and cannot be built. It's disheartening to see TML continuing to make a mockery of the environmental review process, along with the justice system. In my opinion, companies like TML and governments like the former BC Liberals are the reason why the BC environmental review process needs to change. Cases like the Tŝilhqot'in Decision have led to policy changes throughout Canada – it's time for business and government in BC to follow suit."
Nits'ilʔin (Chief) Jimmy Lulua, Xeni Gwet'in Government, says, "Our people have worked tirelessly to protect areas of cultural and spiritual significance to us. The courtroom is not a place that we choose to be but as times it is the only option left to us. Conducting this drilling program at Teztan Biny and Nabas is completely unacceptable and disrespectful to our Nation."
Nits'ilʔin (Chief) Russell Myers Ross, Vice-Chair, Tŝilhqot'in National Government, says, "It is not easy for our communities to hear that we have to continue to return to the courts to resolve an issue that should be dead. Our vision for the land, one that we are creating with the Dasiqox Tribal Park, does not include destabilizing an entire ecosystem. We want to continue to use our land as did our previous generations and for the generations to come."