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NEWS: The Tsilhqot’in seek to defend Fish Lake/ Teztan Biny

There have been some major recent developments with respect to Fish Lake/ Teztan Biny over the past few weeks.

The BC government approves preparatory work on the Prosperity Mine
Several weeks ago, British Columbia Minister of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations Steve Thomson signed an Occupant License which permits Taseko Mines Limited to proceed immediately with sixty proposed drill holes, test pits, and 24-kilometres of road construction for the Prosperity Mine near Fish Lake. This permission was granted prior to the recent announcement – or completion within the next 12 months – of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency review of the Taseko proposal for the mine.

The Tsilhqot’in National Government says the provincial approval is unlawful
In response to Thomson’s decision, the Tsilhqot’in National Government stated, “British Columbia recently issued approvals that authorize the proponent to extensively drill, build roads and clear trees throughout this area of such critical importance to our people. The Tsilhqot’in Nation considers the approvals issued by British Columbia unlawful because of the Province’s failure to meaningfully consult or accommodate our Nation or to justify the impacts on our proven Aboriginal rights to hunt and trap throughout those lands. …The Tsilhqot’in Nation stands united in its sacred commitment to our ancestors and to our future generations – we will honour and we will protect the lands that give us life.”

The Tsilhqot’in go to court to stop the preparatory work
The Canadian Press reports this morning, “Last week, the Tsilhqot’in Nation said it had gone to court in an attempt to block Taseko from doing any preparatory work. In a petition filed with the B.C. Supreme Court, the First Nations group asks the court to halt any drilling, excavation, timber clearing, road construction and the like while reviewing provincial approvals for the work on a revised mine plan. In seeking the court review, the petition says provincial government officials should have consulted with the Tsilhqot’in before the approvals were granted. Chief Joe Alphonse, tribal chairman of the Tsilhqot’in National Government, said the decision affects the group’s rights and culture.” The Globe and Mail adds, “The First Nations community has filed an injunction to stop Taseko from beginning the work until the court hears a petition it filed last week for government approval to be revoked, (its lawyer Jay) Nelson said. ‘Taseko’s indicated that it’s intent on carrying out that work as soon as possible,’ he said, adding that this insistence, despite the pending court case, forced the injunction request.”

Taseko proceeds anyway, and Tsilhqot’in activists block their access
The article adds, “Taseko Mines Ltd. said Monday that it has begun legal action against (three) individuals who it claims have obstructed preparatory work on its proposed Prosperity gold-copper project. In a brief release that gave few details, the company said its action stems from an incident on Saturday in which Taseko employees travelling in a convoy were ‘unlawfully obstructed’. ‘…Taseko employees turned the equipment convoy around and did not pursue the work they were permitted to undertake,’ it said. …(On Monday, Taseko) initiated legal proceedings against the individuals responsible for the obstruction and is seeking an order restraining them, or any other individuals, from unlawfully interfering with the company’s lawfully approved work,’ it added.”

A flawed federal environmental review of the mine is now underway
The article also notes, “Although initially rejected by Ottawa because of environmental concerns, including plans to turn Fish Lake into a tailing pond, the federal Environmental Assessment Agency has since (on November 7) agreed to consider a revised proposal.” The CEAA has never before considered a proposal that had already been turned down by a federal review panel, then modified and resubmitted. The entire review – including public hearings and a written report – is to be completed no later than November 2012. Chief Alphonse has stated, “The company is on record admitting this new option is worse than the one that was rejected last year, and a CEAA review panel has already agreed with that assessment. To proceed any further will place an unjustified burden on us and on taxpayers and will demonstrate the excessive influence that this company, its lobbyists and hired guns have on government.” The members of the review panel will be ‘experts’ appointed by environment minister Peter Kent.

Clark and Harper want the mine
On February 8, Christy Clark, now premier of British Columbia, said she would demand that Prime Minister Stephen Harper reverse his government’s original decision to reject the Prosperity Mine. She said, “At the political level, they see how dumb this decision is, so I think there’s an appetite to change it.” While in Nunavut this past August, visiting a mine there that would dump its waste into a freshwater lake, Harper stated, “Obviously, when you dig holes here you create some environmental issues and those have to be addressed, but that can’t stop development… Are there effects of development on the environment? Absolutely there are effects. We seek to minimize those effects. We seek to remediate those effects and we work closely with local communities and particularly with aboriginal groups in parts of the country like this to ensure that we minimize our impact.”

Governments fail to respect Tsilhqot’in rights
David Williams, president of the Friends of the Nemaiah Valley, has written, “It is no surprise that the Tsilhqot’in National Government, and many others, too, continue to oppose the very idea of Prosperity mine, whether it destroys Teztan Biny or not. However such a mine were to be developed, the impacts on the local ecosystem and Tsilhqot’in culture and society would be devastating. …The central fact that continues to elude government, the corporate sector, and especially the mainstream media, is that aboriginal rights and the sovereignty issue that underlies them must be recognized. …If the mine, indeed any resource extraction, were to proceed without prior consultation and accommodation, and we believe even permission, from the First Nation on whose lands the resources are situated, an illegal act will have occurred.”

The Council of Canadians stands in solidarity with the Tsilhqot’in
The Council of Canadians continues to stand in solidarity with the Tsilhqot’in Nation which includes the Xeni Gwet’in, Tl’esqoxt’in, Yunesit’in, Tl’etinqox, Tsi Del Del, and Ulkatcho communities. In May 2010, anticipating that the first federal review panel would approve the destruction of Fish Lake, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow stated, “We will stand shoulder to shoulder with the Tsilhqot’in to protect this lake.” For a review of our ongoing campaign to help defend Fish Lake, please see http://canadians.org/blog/?p=4501.

More soon.