By Lloyd Dolha
The BC government approved the controversial Tulsequah Chief multi-metal mine located 160 kilometres north of Atlin, despite being stopped twice from proceeding by the BC courts for lack of adequate consultation with the Taku River Tlingit First Nation of the sprawling Taku River watershed of northwestern BC.
On December13, 2002, Stan Hagen, the minister for Sustainable Resource Management, issued an approval certificate for the Redfern Resources Ltd. project proposal stating that the government’s approval of the project contains strict rules for the protection of the environment that addresses the concerns of Taku River Tlingit.
In a press release issued that day, the minister stated the approval is “based on serious consultation and accommodation of First Nations’ interests, more than any previous resource decision in BC.
“We’re dismayed and very angry about this decision. The courts told them twice they need to consult with us on certain matters,” said Tlingit spokesman John Ward.
Back in March of 1998, the Tulsequah Chief mine was approved by the provincial Environmental Assessment Office. The following year, the Taku River Tlingit First Nation challenged that assessment in the provincial Supreme Court, arguing that the environmental assessment process was flawed and compromised their aboriginal rights protected under the Canadian constitution.
In the Taku River Tlingit v. Ringstad case of June 2000, the Supreme Court found that the province did not adequately consult with the Tlingit and the approval certificate was subsequently quashed.
The province appealed the decision to the BC Court of Appeal, arguing that they did not have a legal or fiduciary duty to consult with First Nations or consider those rights claimed until those rights are proven in court.
The Court of Appeal rejected that argument stating the provincial Crown’s position of ignoring those rights had “the effect of robbing s. 35 (1) [of the Canadian Constitution] of much of its constitutional significance” that would “effectively end any prospect of meaningful negotiation or settlement of aboriginal land claims.”
A few days later, Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), commented in a press release, “I am absolutely astounded that the provincial government would issue the Project Approval Certificate without meaningfully consulting the Taku River Tlingit after such strong wording from the court.
The court clearly stated that for government to proceed with land and resource use approvals without taking aboriginal title into account would be a constitutional violation of aboriginal rights and lead to a serious injustice.”
The $148 million project to re-develop the mine and upgrade the 160 kilometre access road from Atlin to the mine site, if allowed to proceed, is expected to create 300 new jobs during the construction phase and 260 direct and indirect jobs.
The multi-metal mine will produce copper, lead, zinc, gold and silver as it did when it originally operated from 1951 to 1957.
One of the major concerns is the leaching of acid rock drainage that is still happening from the original mine.
The proposed impoundment of mine tailings from the newer upgraded mine would have to be contained in perpetuity as they would occur just upstream from significant salmon bearing areas.
The mine is located on the Tulsequah River 12 miles upstream from its confluence with the Take River and immediately upstream from the Alaska/BC border.
The 18,000 square kilometers of the Taku River watershed is still pristine with exceptional wildlife and environmental values and the Tlingit still harvest the flora and fauna of the Taku River drainage as they have historically.
The Taku River produces two million salmon annually and there are fears that new mining activity could put those runs at risk.