‘This is not Canada’: inside the Tsilhqot’in Nation’s battle against Taseko Mines

A proposed copper and gold mine has been rejected twice by the federal government for its impacts on Fish Lake, an area considered sacred by the Tsilhqot’in. But B.C.’s mining laws allow the company to move ahead with exploration work anyway. That doesn’t square with Tsilhqot’in law and the community says it won’t back down

Image result for the narwhal: ‘This is not Canada’: inside the Tsilhqot’in Nation’s battle against Taseko Mines
Xeni Gwet’in Chief Jimmy Lulua sits in a pit house built as part of the Xeni Gwet’in traditional village near the shores of Chilko Lake in the Nemiah Valley. Photo: Louis Bockner / The Narwhal

The brand-new, 21-foot Highfield boat, bought by Xeni Gwet’in First Nation to enforce Tsilhqot’in laws on Chilko Lake, docks at the pebble beach on a small island and Chief Jimmy Lulua dives in.

Chilko Lake Louis Bockner Taseko New Prosperity Tsilhqot’in Nation
Where the road through the Nemiah Valley in Tsilhqot’in territory ends, Chilko Lake begins. The mountains that rise from its shores offer a stark contrast to the open landscape of the Xeni Gwet’in traditional territory. Photo: Louis Bockner / The Narwhal

A quick dry-off and Lulua is ready to give a history lesson.

“We have always owned this land. Everywhere you look belongs to us. The land is who we are as Tsilhqot’in people. We say we are people of the river, people of the blue water,” he said.

“This is not B.C., this is not Canada. The jurisdiction is ours,” he said.

Chief Jimmy Lulua of the Xeni Gwet'in Louis Bockner Taseko New Prosperity Tsilhqot’in Nation
Chief Jimmy Lulua of the Xeni Gwet’in was elected in a 2018 landslide victory and is continuing the band’s decades-long fight against Taseko Mines’ proposed New Prosperity Mine at Fish Lake. Photo: Louis Bockner / The Narwhal

Neither is it the Wild West, Lulua emphasized and, as Tsilhqot’in communities master the complexities of writing laws and generating revenue, they are also figuring out how to control activities in a vast territory that, for the first time in Canadian history, has been legally acknowledged as belonging to Indigenous people who have used the land for thousands of years.

In a precedent-setting 2014 decision, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled that the Tsilhqot’in Nation held Aboriginal title to almost 1,800 kilometres of land in central B.C., southwest of Williams Lake. The title land covers the Nemiah Valley and stretches north into the Brittany Triangle, along the Chilko River and part of Chilko Lake. That means the Tsilhqot’in Nation, made up of six communities including Xeni Gwet’in, has the right to exclusive use and control of the land.

Dezine Studio Tsilhqot'in Nation New Prosperity Taseko Fish LakeIn 2014 the Tsilhqot’in won a 25-year legal battle when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the nation held Aboriginal title to almost 1,800 kilometres of land in central B.C. A larger area has been legally declared as a place where Tsilqot’in have rights to hunt, trap, fish and trade. Taseko Mines’ proposed New Prosperity mine is within this larger rights area, and also within an area the Tsilqot’in delcared as a tribal park in 2014. Map: Dezine Studio / The Narwhal

A larger area claimed by the First Nation, including Dasiqox Tribal Park, has been legally declared as Tsilhqot’in rights land, giving the right to hunt, trap, fish and trade. But, it remains a grey area where rules can be unclear.

The rights land includes Fish Lake, known as Teztan Biny, an area of profound cultural and spiritual significance, and ground zero for an almost 30-year fight against Taseko Mines Ltd.. That fight is reigniting as the mining company pushes to conduct extensive explorations while the Tsilhqot’in Nation remains adamant that Taseko equipment will not be allowed into the territory. MORE

RELATED:

Supreme Court rejects Tsilhqot’in appeal in Taseko mine case

The Tsilhqot’in Nation calls mine exploration a violation of human rights


First Nations protest Taseko Mines outside of federal court in Vancouver in 2017. (CBC)

 

The Tsilhqot’in Nation is facing off with Taseko Mining company again. Here’s what you need to know

Located in the South Chilcotin area, Fish Lake is at the centre of a clash between Taseko Mines and the Tsilhqot'in First Nation community.

VANCOUVER — A festering dispute between a First Nation and Vancouver-based mining company is expected to ramp up again this week, after Indigenous attempts to appeal an exploratory mining permit were struck down by the BC Supreme Court last month.

The Tsilhqot’in Nation says it will continue to protect what it considers a sacred lake from devastating environmental and cultural heritage impacts and is calling for a safe resolution to prevent Taseko Mines Ltd. (TML) from drilling in the area.

On June 13, the company gave a two-week notice that it plans to begin exploratory drilling by Tuesday in an area west of Williams Lake at Teztan Biny — or Fish Lake — after the Supreme Court refused an appeal of a B.C. court ruling which allowed Taseko to proceed.

The nation said on Monday it will assemble for peaceful action to prevent the drilling program.

Tsilhqot’in Tribal Chairman Chief Joe Alphonse told Star Vancouver they are choosing to stage the protest in a safe place Tuesday where they can “control the environment” because of worries about a possible escalation in the conflict if citizens are left to vent their frustration individually.

This will be the latest confrontation in a legal battle extending almost 25 years between the Tsilhqot’in Nation and Taseko.

Here’s what you need to know ahead of Tuesday.

The dispute

Taseko has done exploration work in area for the last 20 years. In 2008, the company proposed the New Prosperity Mine — a $1.5 billion open-pit gold and copper mine roughly 125 kilometres north of Williams Lake in the heart of Tsilhquot’in territory. It would drain Fish Lake, turning it into a tailings pit.

The Tsilhqot’in Nation say the area is of immense spiritual, environmental and cultural significance, arguing Fish Lake is one of B.C.’s most productive wild trout lakes and the surrounding area is an active cultural school and sacred site.

The mine would be inside the nation’s traditional territory including 300,000 hectares of wilderness and wildlife habitat which is constitutionally protected, just outside of its title lands which stretch 1,900 square kilometres. It falls within the bounds the nation has constitutionally protected rights to hunt, fish and trap. MORE

RELATED:

UPDATE:  Tsilhqot’in Nation stops Taseko Mines exploratory drilling
 

Tsilhqot’in Nation urges Taseko Mines to stop drilling plans before conflict grows

Nation said Teztan Biny area is of ‘profound cultural and spiritual importance’

Image result for Teztan Biny
A view of part of Teztan Biny (Fish Lake)

The Tsilhqot’in Nation is calling for a safe and peaceful resolution to prevent Taseko Mines Ltd. from doing exploratory drilling for its proposed New Prosperity Mine west of Williams Lake.

The conflict is the latest confrontation in a long legal battle between the Nation, which has declared title rights in the area and the mining company.

On June 13, Taseko gave two-week notice that it planned to begin its drilling program on Tuesday, July 2 in an area 125 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake at Teztan Biny (Fish Lake).

In a statement issued Tuesday, the Tsilhqot’in Nation said it wants TML to stand down on the drilling program and not bring machinery and personnel to the site. The nation is also asking the B.C. government to step up and help resolve the issue.

“The Tsilhqo’tin Nation opposes this drilling program as an imminent violation of its human rights under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” the statement noted.

Teztan Biny is located in traditional Tsilhqot’in territory and includes 300,000 hectares of wilderness and wildlife habitat. It is just outside of the 1,900 square kilometre area in which the TNG won title over in a historic 2014 Supreme Court of Canada ruling, but still within a broader area under land claim. MORE