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Trudeau’s make-or-break moment could be over Teztan Biny

Teztan Biny

The Council of Canadians has long opposed the destruction of Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) in Tsilhqot’in Nation territory in northern British Columbia.

Taseko Mines Ltd. wants to build the open-pit gold and copper New Prosperity mine near the lake and has been seeking a judicial review of the Harper government’s decision to reject the mine.

Michael Harris writes in iPolitics, “Taseko’s first application for the New Prosperity Mine – said to be the last major deposit of gold and copper in North America – included turning the pristine lake into a toxic dump site for the proposed mine’s tailings. Even without that outrageous component, the company’s proposal was turned down a second time in 2014 because the feds thought the mine would cause severe environmental damage, harm Tsilhqot’in culture and violate aboriginal rights. That same year – 2014 – the Supreme Court of Canada granted aboriginal title to more than 1,700 square kilometres of land in British Columbia to the Tsilhqot’in Nation.”

The Council of Canadians and our Williams Lake chapter were intervenors in that Supreme Court of Canada challenge.

Harris highlights, “[BC Premier] Christy Clark and her ministers have been enthusiastic supporters of the New Prosperity Mine since they approved it in 2010. It remains to be seen if Clark’s government will [now] grant permits to Taseko to get their project into motion – and past the point of no return.”

The permits being requested by Taseko from the provincial government are for “exploratory drilling”. Harris explains, “Here is what exploratory drilling comes down to: 122 drill set holes, 76 kilometres of roads, 367 test pits, 20 kilometres of seismic lines and a 50-man work camp.”

He then notes, “And this is where Ottawa comes in. The prime minister in particular. [Indigenous peoples] threatened way of life can only be preserved by a new deal with Indigenous Peoples, one that includes land settlements, access to capital and a true nation-to nation relationship. So far, Trudeau has been a good global marketer for Indigenous arts and crafts. But he hasn’t been much of a midwife in the birth of a new nation. [Instead] there have been multiple stab wounds. The Kinder-Morgan pipeline, the Site C hydro dam on the Peace River, the Petronas LNG terminal at Lelu Island at the mouth of the Skeena River – all opposed by most of the First Nations in British Columbia, all approved by the Trudeau government.”

The Grassy Narrows First Nation could also be added to that list. While Trudeau had vowed in January to take action “once and for all”, he now says it’s Ontario’s responsibility to clean up the mercury contamination in the English-Wabigoon River caused by a pulp and paper mill. Chief Simon Fobister says, “How can Trudeau say that he is reconciling with First Nations while passing the buck on cleaning up an ongoing toxic leak that has plagued our health and undermined our culture for fifty years?”

Yesterday, CBC reported, “Support for Trudeau’s Liberals has sharply declined over the last three months, dropping to its lowest levels since the last federal election. The party has taken a hit in the polls in every region of the country. The negative trend coincided with a number of issues that may have sapped Liberal strength, including the government’s pipeline decisions.”

Harris concludes, “If [the New Prosperity mine] gets the green light from Ottawa, the sun will set for Justin Trudeau somewhere over the western shores of Fish Lake.”

That view is also informed by Grand Chief Stewart Phillip who has stated, “The first time I saw the lake, I thought to myself, ‘This is the place where I might have to make the ultimate sacrifice.’ A sacred place. We must protect it.”

The Council of Canadians has been working in solidarity to defend Teztan Biny since 2008. This past January we co-hosted a fundraising event with the Tsilhqot’in National Government, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs, the Wilderness Committee, Amnesty International Vancouver and Friends of the Nemaiah Valley that raised $12,000 for a legal fight against the mine.

This coming April 10, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow will be speaking in the nearby community of Williams Lake.