Tsilhqot'in First Nation 3, Taseko Mines 0

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Photo: Dawn Hoogeveen

For more than two decades, Vancouver-based Taseko Mines has been trying to mine a rich gold and copper vein that just happens to run through sacred Tsilhqot'in land and waters in the B.C. interior and yesterday, in their third attempt, Taseko Mines' New Prosperity Mine proposal was rejected by the Ministry of the Environment.

Third time is not the charm

The Prosperity Mine was first proposed in the early 1990s and was rejected by The Department of Fisheries and Oceans under the Chretien Liberals in 1995. Then as now, the Xeni Gwet’in, part of the Tsilhqot'in First Nation Confederacy, bitterly opposed the proposed mine. The mine would kill Fish Lake and irreparably damage connected waterways, which are sacred to the Tsilhqot'in First Nation. However, Taseko was not about to give up the billion dollar project.

Taseko Mines submitted a second proposal known simply as Prosperity, which they claimed addressed the issues of environmental damage that were behind the 1995 rejection. According to The Council of Canadians, the second proposal was, if anything, likely to prove to be more of an environmental disaster than the original.

Despite the fact that both the first and second proposals would drain Fish Lake, so that it could be used to store mine tailings, the B.C. government approved the Prosperity proposal. The proposal then came up for federal review.

The independent federal review panel ordered an environmental assessment which found that irreversible damage would be done to the Tsilhqot'in fishery and associated waterways and would endanger wildlife and endangered species. So, in 2010 then Environment Minister John Baird rejected the proposal on the basis of the review.

Not to be put off their billion dollar money-making machine, Taseko submitted their third proposal, called the New Prosperity Mine project for consideration. Again there were protests.

The Council of Canadians produced a report that indicated the mine would cost taxpayers $42 million in road upgrades. The proposal, once again, came up for federal review, with the same result.

On February 26, Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced the rejection of the mine proposal. In a media release, the Federal government stated, "the Minister of the Environment has concluded that the New Prosperity Mine project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects." And with that, the proposal was rejected for the third time.

Celebrate ... oh no wait, Taseko is reapplying 

Xeni Gwet'in Chief Roger William posted on Facebook last night that "the New Prosperity Mine Project has been REJECTED. Awesome news, been (a) long 24 year battle." He went on to thank the more than 630 First Nations communities across Canada and a whole host of allies.

Not surprisingly Taseko stock took an instant hit, dropping 6 per cent after the announcement. Even so, Taseko has stated that they will apply for project approval again. B.C.'s mining minister Bill Bennett disagreed with the decision and rejects the idea that the mine poses a significant risk to the environment. He announced yesterday that he is "extremely disappointed" and that "[t]his is a wonderful opportunity for the region, for the province, with literally hundreds of jobs at stake."

Really Bill? You don't think draining a lake and filling the hole with waste rock and toxic mine tailings is a bad idea?

Fish Lake and the lands of the Tsilhqot'in First Nation are safe. For now. A land claim that would secure the stewardship of Tsilhqot'in lands is before the Supreme Court of Canada and a ruling is expected no later than June of this year. If the Court rules in favour of the Tsilhqot'in claim, they will have the power to protect the land and waters that are sacred to them.

Meg Borthwick is a freelance writer and moderator for rabble’s discussion forum, babble. 

Photo: Dawn Hoogeveen 

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