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Fish Lake: What cultural weapons and larger agendas are we talking about here?

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Fish Lake (Teztan Biny), Tsilhqot'in territory

In the closing hearings of the New Prosperity mine proposal, Taseko Mines Ltd stated that the Tsilhqot’in Nation opposition used culture as a weapon.  On the final day of the federal environmental assessment, the Vancouver based mining company also stated that “aboriginal groups do not have a veto over project development in areas over which they have asserted rights and title” and that “the concept of free prior informed consent does not apply in Canada.”  

In the closing of community hearings in Xeni Gwet’in, Taseko made an elaborate, patronizing case that any outside consultants the Tsilhqot’in have relied on are misinformed because they oppose the mine proposal.  They argued that the information provided to the Tsilhqot’in has lead to confusion, mistrust, and fear.

Despite statements of unanimous opposition from the Tsilhqot’in National Government and all six Tsilhqot’in Chiefs, Taseko continues to argue that Indigenous people are misinformed.  The company insists the unwanted project is for the benefit of the community and will lead to jobs, wealth and prosperity. The company is desperately trying to find a politically palatable rational for an unwanted mine.

Perhaps it is Taseko who are misinformed, given their misinterpretation of aboriginal law.  What is at stake here is rights and title.  It is the rights and title of the Tsilhqot’in who have never ceded authority over their traditional lands.  It is about their right to reject a mine proposal they do not desire.

Fish Lake is located 125 km south west of Williams Lake, BC is the site of the most controversial mine proposal in Canada.  In 2010 the Prosperity mine proposal was rejected.  Three months later, Taseko reapplied for another assessment.  The second Canadian Environmental Assessment for the new prosperity mine ended on August 23rd. 

Non-governmental organizations, including the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, Amnesty International, the Council of Canadians, the Wilderness Committee, MiningWatch Canada, Friends of Fish Lake, Friends of the Nemiah Valley and R.A.V.E.N have been supporting the Tsilhqot’in Nation based on a lack of free prior informed consent.  This principle has been established through international protocols, including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. 

These environmental and human rights advocacy groups have also suggested that Taseko’s application for a second federal environmental assessment a mere months after the initial proposal’s 2010 rejection creates a “mockery” of the process.  The Tsilhqot’in peoples expressed the same sentiment during the hearings.

The strength of Indigenous opposition against this mine remains overwhelming.  This staunch opposition raises questions as to why the proposal is being reconsidered in the first place. 

It is not just environmental and social advocacy groups that are standing in solidarity with the Tsilhqot’in Nation and questioning the integrity of this mine proposal.  The BC Ministry of Mines, Natural Resources Canada, Transport Canada, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Tsilhqot’in National Government and independent scientists have all questioned the mine on technical grounds. 

The proposal has been widely criticized for its inadequate hydrological plan.  For example Natural Resource Canada, argues there is “inherent limitations” to Taseko’s ground water modeling.  The BC Ministry of Energy and Mines agree.  On a July 30th submission to the review panel the Ministry stated it was unlikely the mine could be developed “without adverse affects to water quality.”

The Tsilhqot’in Nation continues to oppose the project due to the location on a cultural and spiritually significant site.  Further, the Tsilhqot’in do not want the mine because of a long history of poor consultation with Taseko, mentioned repeatedly in community hearings.  The Tsilhqot'in are frustrated the company is not taking “no” for an answer.  The federal review panel is now amidst a seventy-day period, writing a report to the Minister of Environment. 

On the final day of the hearings Chief Russell Myers Ross of the Tsilhqot’in community of Yunesit’in mentioned a history that charted “150 years of struggle against past and ongoing colonization.“  Chief Myers Ross expressed that even if the Tsilhqot’in Nation’s relationship with the Crown was one of mutual respect, his community would still reject the latest mine proposal “on the basis of environmental concerns, the lack of trust and confidence and the social factors associated with mining [in his community]”.  He went on to articulate that “the shear size of the proposal, the site, the roads, the electrical infrastructure has the effect of opening our veins for someone else’s desires but not our own.”

Perhaps Taseko Mines Ltd is a company that should be taking a closer look at their own desires, and what larger colonial agenda they appear to be participating in themselves.

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