Tahltan Protestors Occupy Band OfficePublished by MAC on 2005-01-24
Tahltan Protestors Occupy Band Office
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.