Xeni Gwet’in Chief Roger William (left) drums to open a meeting in Ottawa while Tsilhqo’tin Tribal Chair Joe Alphonse and National Chief Shawn Atleo look on

Xeni Gwet’in Chief Roger William (left) drums to open a meeting in Ottawa while Tsilhqo’tin Tribal Chair Joe Alphonse and National Chief Shawn Atleo look on

Crown jewel on table in Cariboo

The Tsilhqot'in Nation's claim for title to the Nemiah Valley is central to the puzzling rejection of Taseko Mines' latest proposal

VICTORIA – The New Prosperity mineral deposit near Williams Lake is described by the industry as one of the largest in the world, containing 5.3 billion pounds of copper and 13.3 million ounces of gold.

The Harper government’s decision to reject open-pit mine development for a second time is seen by elected officials in the Cariboo region as a disaster. One of Quesnel’s sawmills is preparing to close for good, and I’ve been told there is more to come as the post-pine beetle era unfolds.

Here in the B.C. capital, the decision is mainly viewed as a huge mistake. Taseko Mines is going to court to show that the federal panel used the wrong design when reviewing the company’s expensively revised plan. The province has permitted two successful mines that operate in the same area, one of which is run by Taseko.

In Ottawa, this is a Supreme Court of Canada test case over who owns the land and the mineral wealth underneath.

In traditional Canadian law, the province owns it. This was highlighted in the recent discussion between B.C. Premier Christy Clark and Alberta’s Alison Redford over royalties from oil.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper emphasized the unresolved land claim that hangs over the project in his comments at a mining conference in Toronto this week.

Six aboriginal communities make up the Tsilhqot’in Nation, which has a long and bitter history of resistance against the Crown. They almost won a declaration of title to 40,000 hectares known as the Nemiah Valley: forests, wild horses, minerals and all, in a 339-day trial that ended in 2007.

Their case suffered a setback at the B.C. Court of Appeal, and is now before the highest court. Aboriginal rights have been established, but this would be the first clear title.

Tsilhqot’in tribal chair Joe Alphonse was pleasantly surprised to see Taseko turned down again. He said the Tsilhqot’in National Government is releasing its own mining policies soon.

“We welcome opportunities to look at projects that are environmentally sound and we need economic opportunities,” Alphonse told the Williams Lake Tribune.

Somehow efforts to move mine waste rock from Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) to a sealed storage site two kilometres away are not enough to protect groundwater, although they are sufficient at the nearby Gibraltar and Mount Polley mines. And Alphonse makes it clear this mysterious environmental problem will be solved once he and his fellow chiefs have control of the resource.

A Supreme Court of Canada ruling on aboriginal title is required to settle this. If some limited form of title is at last defined for the treaty-less majority of B.C., or at least Tsilhqot’in territory, the fate of the mine may become clear.

Conventional wisdom on this is that the mining company didn’t try hard enough to establish a working relationship with the Tsilhqot’in. For his part, Taseko CEO Russell Hallbauer says the chiefs refused to meet with him, which isn’t surprising from a group that doesn’t recognize the B.C. forests ministry either.

Here’s a sample of the volume of evidence that may determine the future of B.C.

Archeological studies presented at trial describe “18 roasting and/or pit depressions” at Teztan Biny. It’s not clear if these were for seasonal food preparation or for pit houses, which would indicate a more permanent settlement at the lake. Nor is it clear whether these “cultural depressions” have been identified as being of Tsilhqot’in origin.

Oral histories are also uncertain. Tsilhqot’in witnesses testified that Teztan Biny has been used in the 20th century as a hunting and fishing camp.

The mine was rejected due to ill-defined cultural as well as environmental concerns. B.C. residents could finally see some answers this year.

Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc

 

Just Posted

An example of the forest land in the Port Renfrew and Fairy Creek area of Vancouver Island is shown on May 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jen Osborne
Old-growth logging opponents launch hunger strike as arrests continue at Fairy Creek

Zain Haq says the hunger strikers will gather today at Burrard Street in downtown Vancouver

The City of Victoria is hoping to ring in the summer by celebrating local art and offering some distanced, live music to surprise people in parks, plazas and other public spaces. (Photo courtesy of the City of Victoria)
Live, pop-up concerts and local art being showcased in Victoria this summer

People will see surprise serenades at 16 locations throughout the summer

An example of the forest land in the Port Renfrew and Fairy Creek area of Vancouver Island is shown on May 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jen Osborne
Old-growth logging opponents launch hunger strike as arrests continue at Fairy Creek

Zain Haq says the hunger strikers will gather today at Burrard Street in downtown Vancouver

Jada Benwell and Connor Larkey are the valedictorians of the 2021 graduating class at Parkland Secondary School. (Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Pandemic taught lessons in perseverance for North Saanich high schoolers

Parkland Secondary School to release 2021 grad ceremony video on June 25

The 14th annual Oak Bay Young Exceptional Star (YES) awards June 3. (Christine van Reeuwyk/News Staff)
Oak Bay celebrates its Young Exceptional Stars with outdoor award ceremony

Nine young people recognized in 14th annual awards

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Premier John Horgan speaks as provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, right, and health minister Adrian Dix look on during a press conference to update on the province’s fall pandemic preparedness plan during a press conference from the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials to provide details on Step 2 of COVID reopening plan Monday

Step 2 could allow for larger gatherings and a resumption of recreational travel

Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller is seen during a news conference, Wednesday May 19, 2021 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Indigenous child-welfare battle heads to court despite calls for Ottawa to drop cases

Feds are poised to argue against two Canadian Human Rights Tribunal rulings

The Great Ogopogo Bathtub Race has been held in Summerland as a fundraising event. Do you know which Canadian city introduced this sport? (Black Press file photo)
QUIZ: A summer’s day at the water

How much do you know about boats, lakes and water?

Two-year-old Ivy McLeod laughs while playing with Lucky the puppy outside their Chilliwack home on Thursday, June 10, 2021. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
VIDEO: B.C. family finds ‘perfect’ puppy with limb difference for 2-year-old Ivy

Ivy has special bond with Lucky the puppy who was also born with limb difference

A million-dollar ticket was sold to an individual in Vernon from the Lotto Max draw Friday, June 11, 2021. (Photo courtesy of BCLC)
Lottery ticket worth $1 million sold in Vernon

One lucky individual holds one of 20 tickets worth $1 million from Friday’s Lotto Max draw

“65 years, I’ve carried the stories in my mind and live it every day,” says Jack Kruger. (Athena Bonneau)
‘Maybe this time they will listen’: Survivor shares stories from B.C. residential school

Jack Kruger, living in Syilx territory, wasn’t surprised by news of 215 children’s remains found on the grounds of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School

A logging truck carries its load down the Elaho Valley near in Squamish, B.C. in this file photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chuck Stoody
Squamish Nation calls for old-growth logging moratorium in its territory

The nation says 44% of old-growth forests in its 6,900-square kilometre territory are protected while the rest remain at risk

Most Read