The Tsilhqot’in Nation has halted Taseko Mines Ltd. beginning exploratory drilling for its proposed New Prosperity Mine 185 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake.
Contractors for Taseko attempting to bring heavy equipment in Tuesday morning at around 6:30 a.m. were stopped by a peaceful protest at the junction of Highway 20 and the Farwell Canyon Road.
Leaders and community members from the six Tshilqot’in nations set up at the protest site Monday evening, 57 kilometres west of Williams Lake, where they have lit a small campfire on each side of the highway.
Finn Conradsen, manager of New Prosperity Field Program for TM, arrived at the site about 10:30 a.m Tuesday and spoke with Chief Joe Alphonse, Tsilhqot’in National Government tribal chair.
Their conversation, which started with a handshake, lasted about five minutes and was respectful on both sides.
“I just want to confirm with you that you will not allow us to bring equipment through,” Conradsen asked Alphonse.
Handing him some letters from the Tsilhqot’in Nation which he’d signed moments earlier, Alphonse said they would not be letting any Taseko contractors through.
“We want to protect our interests and everyone’s safety, which is why we have gone with a peaceful protest,” he added. “We did not want to put you in a stressful situation, we wanted to do this in a controlled environment, rather than out in the woods.”
Conradsen said the company appreciated the approach and thanked Alphonse for presenting him with the letters.
“Do you want to offer why you are opposed to the work that we are proposing?” Conradsen asked him.
“I think the biggest issue is the mine as a whole,” Alphonse responded. “We’ve been opposed to it as a nation and we went through the Canadian Environmental review process. It was rejected twice by the most industry-friendly government we’ve ever had.”
Alphonse said the drilling permit given to Taseko is provincial, but it’s the federal government that holds the key to the mine being developed.
“No matter what’s found there, it’s not going to overturn that federal process,” he said. “We feel the NDP has to do the honourable thing and pull the pin. If that means working out compensation with you guys they should be doing that.”
When Conradsen asked if there was anything further Taseko could do to resolve the conflict and allow the site drilling program to go ahead, Alphonse said that should have happened 25 years ago.
“The alternative to destroy our sacred area there is not an option,” he added. “We want to see big projects come through, but they have to be in areas where we are accepting of [them].”
He said they do not want an open pit mine in an area they consider sacred.
Conradsen thanked Alphonse and everyone at the protest for their respect, concern for safety and their time.
After Conradsen and a representative from Lake City Excavating left, Tl’etinqox Councillor Cecil Grinder led a cleansing ceremony at the site.
Yunesit’in (Stone) Chief Russell Myers Ross, who is also tribal chair of the TNG, said he felt conflicted, having to protest.
“When you go from Canada Day being yesterday, you have to think deeply about whether you feel you belong within the Canadian culture,” he said. “We’ve always been a Nation distinct from Canada and you hope that Canada would recognize our laws and authority. We’ve never ceded it.”
Myers Ross said to date, the Tsilhqot’in have made most of their opposition to the mine in the most civil routes as possible.
“We have been respectful in saying ‘no,’ and requesting the company to leave. We’ve been bringing these issues to the court through the appeal and failing to get our leave through the Supreme Court of Canada has been disappointing.”
Alphonse said he hopes the standoff will force the provincial government to act.
“It will put more pressure on the NDP to finally deal with this. They wanted to be government, they should act like it,” he said. “As long as the NDP continues to try and shred its responsibilities, the situation will keep escalating. They got to deal with it.”
In July 2017, Taseko received the permit for the drilling in the Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) area and immediately the Tsilhqot’in expressed outrage.
The exploratory drilling project proposed a 50-person camp, 321 trench/test pits, 110 geotechnical drill holes, 53 kilometres of new exploration trails and 66 km of access modification.
When contacted by the Tribune, Brian Battison, Taseko’s vice-president of corporate affairs said he was not able to comment at this time as to what the company’s next steps might be.
The Tsilhqot’in Nation says its members will organize a peaceful protest of exploratory drilling by Taseko Mines west of Williams Lake.
The nation said it will exercise its Aboriginal rights and ancestral laws to protect Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) and Yanah Biny (Little Fish Lake) – places of cultural and spiritual significance for the Tsilhqot’in people – in face of the Vancouver-based company’s New Prosperity gold and copper mine proposal.
Taseko wrote to the Tsilhqot’in Nation last week, advising it would mobilize heavy equipment, including logging and road-clearing equipment, starting on Tuesday, to be followed by the ground disturbance work.
“This project is dead,” said Tsilhqot’in National Government Tribal Chairman and Tl’etinqox Chief Joe Alphonse. “It cannot be built. Yet the company wants to come in and tear up a place that is as sacred to us as a church. We are deeply concerned about this escalating conflict.”
The B.C. government granted the exploratory drilling permit in 2017, allowing Taseko to build a 50-person camp, 321 trenches or test pits, 110 geotechnical drill holes, and 53 kilometres of new exploration trail.
This was despite the federal government refusing to approve it following its environmental assessment in 2014. Taseko has asked the Federal Court to review the decision.