By Frank Larue
The Tsilhqot’in Nation of central British Columbia has called on the federal government to distance itself from some offensive remarks and warnings of violence by Williams Lake Chamber of Commerce president Walter Cobb. The latest in a growing number of verbal attacks come from some prominent supporters of the proposed Prosperity mine. “How the federal government rules on the fate of Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) will reveal a lot about its true character, the positions it agrees with, and its respect for the law, the environment, and its constitutional duties to First Nations,” said Tribal Chair Joe Alphonse of the Tl’etinqox-T’in.
Proponents of the mine proposal, Taseko Mines, and First Nations have been anxiously awaiting a decision on the fate of the mine by the Harper government since September 10th. The Harper government had agreed to render a decision by that deadline after the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) panel review released its public report condemning the disastrous environmental impacts of the proposed mine project. “We have the CEAA review panel’s damning findings about this project, the precedents for rejecting projects based on such reports, the negative findings over 15 years from DFO, the support of First Nations, environmental groups… and even the BC government’s own previous rulings on the need to protect the environment and First Nations rights from destructive projects,” said Marilyn Baptiste, Chief of the Tsilhqot’in people, describing the choice for the federal government.
The October 7th release by the Tsilhqot’in revealed that on July 6th, during a conference call with investment analysts on the future of the project, Taseko Mines Ltd. President and CEO Russel Hallbauer responded to a question about First Nations rights issues by stating, “That’s the government’s problem.” In August, the 100 Mile House Free Press reported that Junior Mines Minister Randy Hawes held a meeting on August 26th to speak to First Nations concerns over the destruction of Fish Lake and quoted him as saying, “I don’t understand why they [First Nations] would put [Fish Lake] ahead of the future of their kids… As the mayor of Williams Lake said, if this mine doesn’t go, there are going to be some very severe racial problems because a lot of people who are counting on this mine and are looking for hope are going to blame the Aboriginal community.”
On October 4th, the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network (APTN) released a sound bite of Williams Lake Chamber of Commerce president Walter Cobb, who said, “They [First Nations people] don’t want to work… Some of those leaders seem to not want their people to work or prosper on the reserve.” On October 5th, The Province reported that “Cobb said in his view First Nations ‘want the resources, they want the welfare, but they don’t want to have pay for them.’” Chief Baptiste said mine proponents such as Cobb and Hawes are treating this as a personal battle with First Nations and are “trying to incite non-Aboriginal people with disgraceful insults about our people.”
Taseko Mines already received the blessing of the BC provincial government for the Prosperity Mine project when it obtained an environmental assessment certificate from the Ministry of the Environment in January 2010. This has allowed the company to move forward to secure necessary leases, licenses, and permits to advance the project. The prize is significant. The Prosperity Mine deposit of gold and copper is one of the largest undeveloped deposits in Canada containing an estimated 5.3-biilion pounds of copper and 13.3 million ounces of gold worth around $3 billion dollars. The project could create hundreds of jobs for the struggling economy of central BC over its 22-year life. That’s why Premier Gordon Campbell endorsed the project during a wrap-up speech at the annual convention of the Union of BC Municipalities in Whistler on October 1st. Campbell said the Prosperity project should be allowed to proceed and agrued that it should not be necessary for the federal and provincial governments to conduct seperate, drawn-out reviews of mining applications. He then called on the federal government to approve the project.
Tsi Deldel Chief Percy Guichon is hopeful that the public will understand the Aboriginal perspective. He said, “We believe most people realize that we oppose the mine because it would destroy pristine wilderness environment, a sacred and richly populated fishing lake, and not because we don’t want to work (as Mr. Cobb has stated) or because we do not care for our children (as Mr. Hawes has stated).”