MAC: Mines and Communities

Tahltan Chief Jerry Asp Removed from Office by Elders

Published by MAC on 2005-02-10

Elders continue demand: "Tahltan chief step down" - Tahltan Band Office Occupation (Day 25)

February 10th, 2005

by Ron Collins,

Jerry Asp is the elected Indian Act chief of the Tahltan First Nation. Last month, he was the poster boy for the BC Liberal government's new "BC Mining Plan" which promoted a new synergy between native communities and the mining industry. Now he is not even welcomed in his own office.

35 Tahltan elders, between the ages of 55 and 84, have been occupying their band council's office in Telegraph Creek for 25 days. They say their chief has abandoned traditional values in pursuit of a fast buck and are asking him to step down.

The elders are concerned that there has been a lack of consultation with the community in the negotiations to start several new mining projects on their traditional territory. They insist they are not against mining or other industry but want "sustainable development and accountability".

"It's embarrassing!" says Lillian Moyer, a firey elder and one of four band councilors who are supporting the occupation. "People come up to me on the street and talk about how upset they are about the new projects but the council doesn't know about the decisions until they were slapped on the table as done deals. These decisions are being made by the two chiefs of the Tahltan Nation (Louis Louie and Jerry Asp) along with the central council but without the support of the band council." Only one councilor, Asp's cousin, supports him.

There is no legal requirement for the chiefs to have the support of their council.

Oscar Dennis holds degrees in first nations studies and anthropology and is a member of the Iskut Band which is part of the Tahltan Nation. He supports the elders' action and in an interview this week, said "Traditionally, when a band chief is no longer acting in the interest of his people, he steps down taking what dignity he has left with him."

Dennis said that Asp is "trying to impose a government based on ideals that have more in common with the Bush administration, than with traditional values. You can't do that and expect it to work smoothly. Traditional values need to be given serious consideration when decisions affect our people and traditional territories."

Asp appears to be in a conflict of interest since he is both the Chief Operations Officer of Tahltan Nation Development Corporation (TNDC) which is bidding on the mining projects as well as the chief councilor giving the contracts the go ahead. Terri Brown, a spokesperson for the Tahltan says Jerry Asp's relatives hold many of the key positions in the company as well as in the band administration. "The Tahltan and Iskut Bands along with the central council are the three shareholders of TNDC yet the band members have no say in the company's direction."

Dennis says a large percent of the population want Asp removed but are afraid to speak out because many of them work for him. Besides being chief, he is the area's major employer. "Without the separation of government and business, there can be no democracy for our people."

The elders are concerned that the possible environmental impacts of the proposed projects are not being given enough weight in the planning. For example, Nova Gold plans to build an access road which will cross a tributary to the Stikine river and then run along the river for hundreds of kilometers. The river is home to salmon that come from Alaska to spawn. The Tahltan people have harvested the salmon sustainably for thousands of years. They say that with salmon already struggling to survive, putting more pressure on their limited resources brings them one step closer to extinction -- a future that the Tahltan people themselves have so far managed to avoid.

Currently, unemployment in the area is below 6%. Lower than the national average and far lower than that of most reservations. With a mine already in operation in Eskay Creek, they don't see a need for more projects at this time.

Asp has attained a court injunction to remove the protesters from his office but it would not likely be used except as a last resort. The publicity of having elders dragged from his office by the RCMP could be political suicide. Moyer says that despite the threat of jail, the elders are content and telling stories. They say they "won't leave until [Asp] is out of here. They will have to carry us out."

Jerry Asp's office declined to be interviewed for this report.

Elders with e-mail -- government and industry take note

Stephen Hume, The Vancouver Sun Saturday, February 5, 2005

Last June, the province was trumpeting breakthrough relationships with first nations as a welcome to new investment capital for British Columbia's mining sector.

Initiatives with first nations like the Tahltan of northwestern B.C. aimed to assure certainty for mining investors. The Liberals continued to push this theme in their Mining Plan, released in mid-January.

Prominent in the literature promoting new relationships between government, industry and aboriginal peoples is articulate Tahltan Chief Jerry Asp, who's now the government's pro-development poster boy.

"Relations have definitely improved," Asp is quoted as saying in a government newsletter. "We wanted to send a signal that the Tahltan people are supportive of mining on their land . . . We want to make sure that any mining that happens on our traditional land is a win-win for all parties -- the Tahltan people, the mining industry and the government."

The newsletter quotes Dan Jepsen, executive director of the B.C. and Yukon Chamber of Mines, describing Tahltan support as a major step toward the certainty industry requires.

So imagine the surprise when, on Jan. 17, a group of 35 traditional Tahltan elders, some of them in their mid-80s, occupied the band office in Telegraph Creek to protest mining development on their territory and repudiated Chief Asp's authority to speak on their behalf.

They were still there, 18 days later, when I called the band office Thursday. Elder Pat Etzerza told me they have no intention of leaving any time soon, despite the fact that Asp has obtained an injunction that would legally oust them.

The chief sighed when I asked him where things stood.

"You tell me," he said from his home in Dease Lake. "Me and my council can't figure this out."

Asp confirmed he has indeed obtained an injunction to clear the band office -- "I can use it any time" -- but said he was reluctant to invoke the law against elders he thinks are being exploited. "It's the elders who have to settle this."

Oscar Dennis, a Tahltan graduate of the University of Northern B.C. with degrees in first nations studies and anthropology, said he recognizes the horns of the dilemma upon which Asp finds himself. Bringing outsider's law down on elders might well prove an act of political suicide.

Asp said he's supported by a Tahltan majority and he'd soon talk to other elders as well as those he says are being misled and exploited by outside interests -- environmentalists, feminists and agitators from other tribal groups.

"We elders have been used as window dressing," countered Etzerza. "The window blinds have been closed to us. Well, the elders have learned how to open the blinds. We're talking accountability, transparency and responsibility. That's all we're asking."

A tiny community of 450 on the Stikine River about 1,000 kilometres northwest of Vancouver, Telegraph Creek and the tribulations of Chief Asp might seem a blip on the consciousness of the Lower Mainland. But it serves as a powerful reminder of something that government and industry frequently fail to take into account.

First, aboriginal government is far deeper and more complex than many mainstream politicians and business leaders comprehend. The elected forms of government imposed by the Indian Act rest, sometimes uncomfortably, upon governing structures that reach back to the beginning of time for many of these communities -- and sometimes seem invisible to outsiders.

Relationships among elected leaders, people on the land and elders who are custodians of the traditional culture are influenced by the complicated dynamics of ancient family territorial jurisdictions, hereditary clan ranks and affiliations, and rights to intellectual property based on lineages legitimized by principles that don't apply in mainstream culture.

Elders such as those occupying the band office in Telegraph Creek, for example, have a moral suasion in aboriginal communities that simply does not exist in mainstream society, where seniors are routinely marginalized -- turn 65 and you're out -- and their social role trivialized.

Second, elected aboriginal councils with which mainstream government and industry prefer to deal, remain a colonial -- and therefore suspect -- veneer upon these older forms of government.

Third, the era of colonization is ending. Nobody, least of all aboriginal communities, wants to return exclusively to the old ways, but traditional forms of governance -- as they have been in the Nisga'a Treaty -- will have to be acknowledged and accommodated.

So if government and industry are sincere about wanting to establish certainty in resource development, they are going to have to get past the temptation to stage dog-and-pony shows that amount to public relations exercises.

Too often these events only pay lip service to genuine consultation. What set off the Tahltan eruption, it seems, was a pro-development session that Dennis said industry considered consultation but which offended many elders because "all they did was tell us their plans for exploiting resources on our territory."

Protests like the one taking place in Telegraph Creek, whatever the cause of the breakdown in relations between the chief and a significant faction of his band members, are a reminder that in the age of elders with e-mail, the old way of doing business is ending.

In future, consultations must be genuine. They should be organized not by public relations specialists but by anthropologists and aboriginal advisers who are sensitive to both the official and the unofficial power structures in communities.

They have to involve everybody on a forthright and honest basis, particularly elders. Industry must learn to listen as well as talk.

The alternative is more upheavals like the one tearing apart Telegraph Creek, where there is indeed a signal being sent to other first nations in B.C. -- but it's hardly the one endorsed by glowing government propaganda and industrial public relations.

Tahltan Chief Jerry Asp Removed from Office by Elders


January 24 2005

1. The embattled chief of the Tahltan First Nation is seeking an injunction today to gain access to the band office. The office has been occupied by protestors since Thursday but chief Jerry Asp says he has to get into the office today.

(Asp) "My social assistance cheques have to go out on Tuesday morning. All my students - I have 50 or 60 students outside who receive living allowance at the end of every month and so Friday is their deadline. I have no choice except to have my band office open and my staff go back to work to produce those cheques and even though it's a low number those people need that money. So I have no choice except to open that band office."

About 30 protestors including Tahltan elders started the sit in last week. They say Asp negotiated mining deals with Nova Gold without properly consulting them but Asp says there were several public meetings on the Nova Gold issue including one where members from outside were flown in at a large expense.

Asp says he attempted to talk with the protestors but says he was refused access with elders he brought with him. He says that went too far.

(Asp) "It's probably the worst thing that's ever happened to me personally but it's probably also one of the worst things ever happened to the Tahltan Nation. When they sent those five elders away, those elders will never forget that. They will never forgive that unless there's something drastic done."

Asp says he does not understand the protest and feels he still has support of the majority of the Tahltan community. It is unknown if the protestors are still occupying the band office this morning. Though the Tahltan First Nation appears torn over his leadership Asp says he will remain chief until the next election. He says despite a petition by elders that declares him no longer chief he will not resign. Protestors say they weren't consulted about a development deal the Tahltan has with mining company Nova Gold but Asp insists there has been plenty of consultations.

Tahltan Protestors Occupy Band Office

Terrace Standard

Web-Extra from Monday, January 24, 2005

By Jennifer Lang

A group of Tahltan elders concerned about mining development in their traditional territory took over the band office in Telegraph Creek last week, as tensions over the band's leadership - and its pro-mining stance - simmered over into political protest.

Spokesperson Terri Brown said between 30 and 40 people were camping out in the hopes that chief councilor Jerry Asp would quit.

Brown, a resident of Ottawa, and past president of the Native Women's Association of Canada, said the group was determined to stay.

"There are a lot of us who are dissatisfied with the chief," Brown said, as the standoff appeared poised to enter its fifth day.

On Jan. 18, 75-year-old band member Bobby Quock served chief councilor Jerry Asp with his notice. Protesters were also gathering signatures on a petition calling for Asp's resignation.

Brown said the protesters, most of whom had never taken part in a political demonstration before, are concerned with existing and potential mines and exploration projects taking place on traditional territory, raising fears that mining activity could harm sacred areas and hurt the environment.

Asp refuses to resign. In a statement, Asp said his decision has been reaffirmed by the Department of Indian affairs.

"Our elders are important to us as a nation culturally, politically and socially, and using them as a political bat to hit the current leadership over the head saddens and hurts me," he said.

Asp added he continues to enjoy the support of more than 1,500 members. "So far, only 30 members have publicly expressed a desire for a change in leadership."

The Tahltan have a long-established reputation as being at the forefront of aboriginal groups in B.C. who have been willing to work with mining companies, in return for jobs and other benefits.

Asp pointed to a policy paper dating from 1987 developed through consensus that the first nation is willing to work with industry and government in order to achieve long-term social and economic stability, all while enforcing a higher environmental standard. The result? Asp says the band has seen unemployment drop from 85 per cent to 6 per cent.

On Jan. 8 and 9, the Tahltan nation held a general assembly in Dease Lake to discuss mining exploration company Nova Gold's proposed Galore Creek development.

Chief Asp said the nation spent $100,000 on costs such as chartered planes to ensure Tahltan members from as far away as Ottawa were able to attend. Terri Brown and Cassiar Watch representative Jim Bourquin led much of the discussion about the proposed mining project, Asp said.

But the pair failed to dissuade the membership from endorsing the Tahltan leadership's intent to continue exploring negotiations for a participation agreement with Nova Gold.

Asp also questions Brown's concern over a band deficit of $1.2 million. Asp said the band has accrued a CMHC housing rental deficit of that amount from members who haven't paid their rent, but past band administrators borrowed from programs and services to cover the deficit.

"As a council we have been struggling with ways to address this housing deficit and we were ready to meet with the department of Indian affairs officials in Dease Lake when this 'sit-in' was begun."

Dease Lake RCMP Sgt. Duncan Dixon described the protest as peaceful.

"Jerry Asp, You are no longer Chief of the Tahltan People"

Press Release - Tahltan Elders Peaceful Demonstration

25th January 2005

Tahltan Elders are in their 11th day of occupation of the Tahltan Band office in Telegraph, B.C. In an unprecedented move 35 elders took over the band office on January 17, 2005. This day will go down in Tahltan history as the day the Elders took back their power. Elders have played a very marginal role in band, nation and corporate decision-making. Our land, resources and rights are being sold out from under us. The spiritual and collective power is so strong, no power, force could change or overpower. The senior elders hold meetings throughout the day, they tell stories. They give age-old teachings from our ancestors and their great love and reverence for the land - TAHLTAN TRADITIONAL TERRITORY - Prayers are offered for our nation, the land and all of Creation, including Jerry Asp. We have laughed together, cried together, and planned together. Each day brings and new teaching in many disguises. Yet, we stand strong to protect the land for future generations. This position is non-negotiable.

The Tahltan elders are demanding the resignation of the Indian Act Chief J. Asp. In their words they have fired the past Chief. We are united on this stand. One elder says, "He has done enough harm to our People, and puts us in danger of losing everything."

Clarence Quock, Band Councillor and runner for Jerry Asp informed the elders that a court injunction will be applied to have the dissidents removed. Asp's approach with the elders and his reference to them as dissidents has outraged Tahltans, who hold elders in high regard. The use of courts and laws to repress those without the financial means to employ legal representation is well-known. However, for an Aboriginal person to do the same is shameful. This story is about the haves and the have-nots. Asp is prepared to repress the dissenting voices in order to maintain a strangle hold on his people. Such control by his large family has been evident since Tahltans began organizing in the 70's. Traditional Tahltans are tired of having this large family dominate political discussions, political organizing and thwart efforts to unite our people.

Asp and family have learned the white mans' way well and are now using this knowledge against their people. They have mistakenly discounted us, saying we do not have any educated people. Our traditional knowledge goes back to time immemorial. Back to a time without papers, computers, and contemporary law. This knowledge has been upheld in the courts.

Last night, an elder's home was entered and an elder assaulted. This display of aggression was done in favor of Jerry Asp. With each passing day tension mounts and this will spark such behavior in frustration. The elders have never threatened any band staff or kept them out of the office. The elders are here in peace to strengthen our nation, not to put up further divisions among our people.

Elders talk about the lack of accountability, transparency and representation. Mining companies will destroy our country in the name of profit. Leaders like Jerry Asp, Curtis Rattray and Clarence Quock have stated that there is nothing we could do. We think not. We believe not. The elders are the Keepers of land, culture and language. When we stand with them, we stand with our ancestors, whose spirits have been with us every day of the occupation. We are spiritual people, we believe in ourselves. The collective is stronger than any one person, family, or belief. The Tahltan world view or philosophy though unwritten runs strong through our hearts, our minds and our veins.

For more information contact Terri Brown (250) 235-3151 or or Oscar Dennis (250) 234-3161 or

Tahltan Elders Media Release February 17, 2005

Dempsey Bob, Master Carver, Returns Home to Support the Tahltan Elders

(Telegraph Creek, BC/Ottawa) With little fanfare Dempsey Bob, a world-renowned Tahltan/Tlingit artist quietly joined the Tahltan elders' peaceful demonstration. The elders celebrate his spirit as the old ones have beckoned him to return to his homeland on a serious matter. Like many Tahltans living outside of their territory, Dempsey heard on January 17, 2005, that Tahltan elders had taken over the band office in Telegraph Creek, B.C. In disbelief, they phone relatives to give them an update. Like many Tahltans his conclusion was that "it's about time."

In an interview, Dempsey Bob firmly stated, "We have to protect our animals and fish. If we lose our animals it will be forever, we can't eat oil, gas and minerals."

Tahltan elders sit, knit, sleep, tell stories, sew, eat and talk about their great nation. They have been doing this for an entire month. The elders have forced Jerry Asp out of office. He no longer represents the Tahltan people. Jerry Asp has lost all credibility. He is far too cozy with industry and government and poses a threat to our very existence.

His threats and intimidation tactics do not work anymore. He has threatened the elders with a court injunction, lawsuits and violence. Twice two different supporters of Asp attacked an elder. However, the elders will not move until he formally resigns his position as Chief Councilor.

Henry Quock comes in regularly to tell stories and to tease people. Many times he brings tears of gratitude. He says, "In the past, a leader was watched from the time they were little. The elders chose a leader based solely upon his ability to be honest." Honesty was a principle that was absolutely honoured in a leader. That is a far cry from today's leaders. Today, we have leaders like Asp who can openly discredit, disrespect, and attack elders and walk away convinced that they are not worth listening to. It is a sad situation when a leader has not been taught properly in the ways of his people. This is definitely a recipe for disaster.

Sixty-four-year-old Lucy Brown has slept every night on the floor of the band office. Everyday she has words of encouragement. Do her actions count for anything? Do any of the elders count for anything? They certainly counted when Asp needed their support. Every day someone states, "We cannot give up, we have too much at stake." "If we give up, what will be left for our children?" and before anyone gets too serious, someone tells a joke.

We thank you all for your support.

For more information contact Terri Brown, Spokesperson at (613) 791-4492 or

Tahltan Elders Press Release February 25, 2005

"Dena nenn Sogga neh 'ine"

Tahltan Elders Declare a Moratorium on Resource Development Within Their Territory

On the 33rd day of the Tahltan Elders' sit in at the band offices in Telegraph Creek, B.C., Tahltan Elders have come to a consensus using a traditional decision-making process. The statement is named "Dena nenn Sogga neh 'ine" meaning, "Keepers of the Land" in the Tahltan Language. We are putting the Federal, Provincial and Indian Act Governments on notice that "the scam is over". The elders declare a moratorium on resource development within traditional Tahltan Territory.

Over the past 33 days the elders have reflected upon "the old days" and the way Tahltan governance progressed. Eighty-six year old Roy Quock said that, "the Elders would sit together and talk about a problem, until they all agreed upon a way to deal with it." This would mean that they had to reach full consensus. The process would be absent of attacks, accusations and aggressive behaviour. When a consensus decision is finally reached, it would be implemented immediately and all would move ahead in unity. The focus is always on what is best for the nation and the generations to come.

The decision to impose a moratorium took 33 days and without a lingering doubt, the Elders are fully prepared to move ahead in unity. Verna Callbreath a Crow Clan Elder says, "It's not just for us, it's for our children and grandchildren of tomorrow."

Therefore, it is both our right and our responsibility, as Tahltan Elders, to reclaim our legitimate place within Tahltan law and custom. The actions of chiefs and councils, Tahltan Central Council, and others who purport to represent Tahltan interest, have forced us to occupy the Band offices in Telegraph Creek. These non-representative individuals and bodies have exceeded their authority and no longer have the confidence or trust of the Tahltan People and therefore can no longer represent us.

Kukdookaa Terri Brown, past President of the Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) and the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC), and Spokesperson and assistant to the Elders states, "The Elders have shown tremendous courage to young people and the nation as a whole." "This experience has rekindled hope in my heart and I will forever honour and remember my elders."

For more information contact Terri Brown at (613) 791-4492 or or call Pat Edzerza (250) 235-3151

Tahltan Elders Statement "Dena nenn Sogga neh 'ine" (Protectors or Keepers of the Land)

We, the Tahltan People, historically a sovereign nation have occupied our traditional territories since time immemorial. Our culture is organized through a matrilineal clan system. This has always been and remains our broad governing structure. Tahltan Elders held the responsibility to uphold Tahltan beliefs, customs, values and laws for future generations.

Our inherent rights are given by Creator and cannot be diminished or removed by any law including discriminatory government legislation such as the Indian Act. The clan, elders, families and Tahltan People have been marginalized and fragmented by settler society and the genocidal practices of church and state. Tahltan land remains Unceded territory, which has never been surrendered or taken in war or conquest. We will defend in any way necessary our rights and freedoms, to be self-determining.

Today, we Tahltan People face numerous massive development projects. Agreements have been negotiated in secret between Indian Act chiefs, the Tahltan Central Council and government and industry. The promise of jobs does not compensate for loss of land, resources and impacts on the environment and people. This is not only a violation of Tahltan law; it is a fundamental violation of our rights under the Canadian Constitution. No indigenous culture could survive the combined impact of the proposed projects. Our land, and the creatures that depend on that land, would be devastated. Our Tahltan People would be devastated.

Therefore, it is both our right and our responsibility, as Tahltan Elders, to reclaim our legitimate place within Tahltan law and custom. The actions of chiefs and councils, Tahltan Central Council, and others who purport to represent Tahltan interest, have forced us to occupy the Band offices in Telegraph Creek. These non-represented individuals and bodies have exceeded their authority and no longer have the confidence or trust of the Tahltan People and therefore can no longer represent us.

Our responsibilities as Tahltan Elders require us to inform all those who would come to this land and desecrate it for their own financial gain that you can no longer negotiate agreements in secret. Tahltan Elders are the true, legitimate governing body. We will apply Tahltan laws to stabilize, build, and strengthen our nation. We will protect our way of life and Mother Earth from further harmful assaults.

We, the Tahltan Elders are the stewards of our homeland, which we have continued to sustain and hold in trust for future generations make this solemn declaration:

1. We assert our aboriginal title and inherent rights to the land and resources within our traditional territory.

2. We declare a complete moratorium on resource development in our territory until:
a. the leadership dispute has been resolved,
b. a fair, just, and legitimate process is developed which honours Tahltan custom and law;
c. all Tahltan members are consulted, informed and give final approval of development

3. Prior to any future development in Tahltan Territory, legal agreements must be negotiated with Tahltan Elders that ensure Tahltan People equitable share in revenues generated and are involved in all aspects of decision-making.

4. All agreements negotiated with industry and government to date, because of the absence of the participation and consent of the Tahltan Elders and Families, are hereby declared void. Ma Duu' Mussi Cho All My Relations

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