MAC: Mines and Communities

Mine road blockade rooted in Tahltan dispute

Published by MAC on 2005-09-07

Mine road blockade rooted in Tahltan dispute

About the only thing that stands between Fortune Minerals Ltd. and a rich deposit of two billion tonnes of high-quality anthracite coal in northwestern British Columbia is a small road blockade -- and a tangle of native community politics.

By Mark Hume, Globe & Mail

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Vancouver -- About the only thing that stands between Fortune Minerals Ltd. and a rich deposit of two billion tonnes of high-quality anthracite coal in northwestern British Columbia is a small road blockade -- and a tangle of native community politics.

While a seven-week-old blockade put up by some members of the Tahltan First Nation was expected to end this week, perhaps as early as today, the confused political landscape is likely to remain a challenge to the Ontario-based mining company for some time.

Terri Brown, a spokeswoman for a group blocking the access road to the Mount Klappan coal deposit, near the community of Dease Lake, said yesterday she was expecting the RCMP to begin arresting the protesters at any time.

"We have been negotiating with the RCMP so that we can do this peacefully," Ms. Brown said.

She said 50 to 60 members of the Tahltan First Nation would be on hand to witness the arrests, but she wasn't sure just how many protesters would be taken away by police.

However, RCMP Corporal Fred Roach of the Dease Lake detachment, said he was still hopeful police could negotiate an end to the blockade, which began in early July to stop Fortune Minerals Ltd. from sending equipment in to the Mount Klappan site to do environmental assessment work.

"I'll tell you straight up, there'll be no arrests made today. We're still trying to mediate a happy ending to this," Cpl. Roach said.

Ms. Brown said the protesters have indicated they will continue blocking the road until they are arrested in order to underscore the seriousness of their opposition to the mine, which has the tentative support of the elected Tahltan Central Council.

"People are very, very emotional about this," Ms. Brown said. "It's not common that we take such a strong stand . . . [and] it's not going to end until the last person is arrested."

She said the protest is against wide-open resource development in the mineral-rich region, where a number of mines are proposed.

But according to affidavits filed in court in support of an injunction request by Fortune Minerals, the blockade was set up when a family group within the Tahltan Nation objected to the mine on the grounds that it had not been approved by the family.

Robin Goad, president of Fortune Minerals, said yesterday the blockade took his company by surprise because the project had already been endorsed by the Tahltan Central Council, the elected body that governs the Tahltan First Nation.

Mr. Goad said the blockade, which initially involved about a dozen people, is the work of "a small, dissident group," within the Tahltan Nation that is in conflict with the Tahltan's elected leadership.

Several months ago, a split was highlighted when a group of elders in Telegraph Creek occupied the band offices and demanded the resignation of Chief Gerry Asp.

Mr. Asp remains chief of the Tahltan Nation and the sit-in continues in Telegraph Creek.

Gordon Loverin, a communications representative for the Tahltan Central Council, said the blockade isn't a protest against Mr. Asp, but is an attempt by one family group to claim territorial rights for the Mount Klappan area.

"At the root of it is that someone has convinced . . . [them] they can claim it as family holdings. That has created quite a conflict within the Tahltan territory," Mr. Loverin said.

Although the family at the centre of the claim, that of Oscar Dennis, has traditionally hunted and trapped in the Mount Klappan area, Mr. Loverin said the Tahltan Central Council does not feel that gives his family ownership.

"Rights and title is a collective right, not an individual right," he said.

Mr. Loverin said the protesters are supported by only about 65 people in the 6,000-member Tahltan First Nation and he believes -- although he said he could not prove it -- that some environmental groups are funding the protest.

"Tensions are high," he said. "The vast majority [of Tahltan] do not support the actions of Oscar Dennis or Terri Brown."

Mr. Loverin said many Tahltan people fear they might lose their jobs if the blockade continues, forcing a delay in the proposed Mount Klappan coal mine, which aims to open in 2007.

In an affidavit filed in support of an injunction application by Fortune Minerals, Garry Merkel, chair of the Tahltan Nation Development Corp., said that if the blockade continues, 60 jobs could be lost, along with a $1.5-million contract.

Tahltan remain committed despite injunction

For Immediate Release Tahltan Traditional Territory

September 5, 2005

Tahltan Territory, BC - The Tahltan Elders, youth and families were disappointed by the injunction granted against their blockade to protect their lands and people against Fortune Mineral's open pit coal mine and Shell's coalbed methane proposals. However, their commitment to ensuring no unsustainable development takes place remains strong.

"We view this as a minor setback in a much longer struggle for the Tahltan to protect the future of their people and the air, land and water on which they rely, said Rhoda Quock, "We believe the courts will set aside this decision once our lawyers have a chance to tell our story."

The blockader's lawyer was unable to appear yet the court granted the injunction after Fortune Mineral's refused to postpone the hearing to allow the blockaders to be represented.

"We believe the court made this decision based upon incomplete information and affidavits that misrepresent internal Tahltan disputes, said Lillian Moyer, Tahltan Elder. "We are optimistic that when the court hears how the Tahltan Central Council (TCC) has manipulated the facts the courts will reconsider the injunction."

Blockaders are stopping access to the Mount Klappan and the Sacred Headwaters, where the first trickles of four magnificent rivers flow-Spatsizi, Nass, Klappan and Skeena. The surrounding Stikine is a globally significant natural area and the centre of Tahltan culture. The salmon from these river and the wildlife and plants have sustained Tahltan for thousands of years.

Tahltan Elders have been occupying the Tahltan Band office for seven months protesting the lack of accountability of some elected Tahltan leaders including the TCC, which claims to represent the Tahltan Nation. The Elders have declared a moratorium on all new development until leadership accountability issues are resolved and agreements are reached about including Tahltan in all aspects of decision making.

We are disappointed that BC courts decided to balance Fortune Minerals economic claims over the Tahltan's title and rights without giving us opportunity to tell to be heard, said Oscar Dennis, one of the named defendants. "But we are not worried because our Nation will continue to defend our lands.

For more information: Rhoda Quock 0118816-3146-6505 or 250.234.3138 (messages) Lillian Moyer 250.235.3151

RCMP Poised to Arrest Tahltan Elders and Youth at the Klappan Blockade

For Immediate Release Tahltan Traditional Territory

September 5, 2005

On September 3 a court injunction and enforcement order was delivered to the Tahltan people at the Klappan Blockade. The court was held over 2000 miles away in Vancouver with very short notice. The RCMP will be moving in on Tuesday, September 6, to enforce the order. To add insult to injury Garry Merckel, Appointed President of the TNDC and Curtis Rattray, Chair, Tahltan Central Council have signed affidavits in support of the order. This illustrates, the blatant disrespect of the people who live on the land.

On July 16, Tahltan Nation members and Elders began a blockade of the Klappan Road. One of many political actions taken to regain control over traditional lands and resources in the vast, pristine Tahltan Territory. Since, the Tahltan Nation Elders Sit-in began in Telegraph Creek on January 17, Tahltan Nation members have taken responsibility over land and resources. A moratorium statement was released in February to stop resource development until certain conditions are met. The lack of consultation over resources sparked the original stand off. One of the most recent actions, was a wildcat walkout of Tahltan Nation Development Corporation employees demanding resignation of the President. This led to the resignation of Jerry Asp shortly after the walk out.

Elder Jenny Quock, has been on the blockade for the past 7 weeks. Jenny says, "It's confusing when they can treat us like criminals, for defending our rights and our land. The real criminals are government and industry for destroying what does not belong to them." The elders led a prayer with the defenders of the land, guests and supporters as night fell upon the camp last night. The light of the campfire gives us hope each night and we discuss new ideas and encourage one another. Young men work around the camp in the day to prepare wood, water and do their chores.

We all know what this country was built upon. This is the stark reality of Aboriginal People in a country that continues to ignore their fundamental human rights. When our women elders sing and beat the drum, we feel the connection with our ancestors and Mother Earth. Whatever happens in the next 48 hours will not define us a People. We will continue to define ourselves and it is in this realization we find Peace.

Dempsey Quock a young man who grew up on the outside, values what he has learned from our Elders. As he works throughout the day he takes breaks to ask questions and make comments. What he is learning is what we are fighting for. The right to determine our future and the right to practise our ways and pass it on to future generations. Dempsey can be heard saying to our elders, " Our rights are human rights, everyone in the world has the right to practise their culture and spiritual ways. He goes on to state that, "If we lose Klappan I will not have the opportunity to learn what was taken from me at a young age. We thank everyone who has come to support us. We pray for your safety and ours.

For more information contact Rhoda Quock at 250-234-3023 or peterandrhoda@yt.sympatico

Telegraph Elders, Tl'ab_not'_n Clan and Iskut First Nations Block the passage of heavy Industrial Equipment from entering the Sacred Headwaters

July 19, 2005 - For Immediate release

Fortune Minerals Blocked From Entering the Mount Klappan Coal Fields:

Telegraph Elders,Tl'ab_not'_n Clan and Iskut First Nations Block the passage of heavy Industrial Equipment from entering the Sacred Headwaters:

Fortune Minerals plan to begin drilling for coal in the Kla-bon-a-tine Sacred Headwaters/Mount Klappan area hit a roadblock over the weekend. In a display of growing Tahltan unity in opposition to failed leadership, the Iskut First Nations, Telegraph Tahltan Elders and Tl'ab_not'_n families put up a Blockade at the junction of Hwy 37 and the Eulue Lake road in northern British Columbia on Saturday July 16, 2005. The Eulue lake road is the current access way into the Mount Klappan Coalfields.

On June 18, 2005 Fortune Minerals was given notice that their project infringed upon Tl'ab_not'_n Aboriginal Title and Rights when the company was granted tenure without honorable consultation with the family whose traditional territory the tenure is located on. Fortune mineral to date has not responded to the notice.

Oscar Dennis the spokesperson for the Tl'ab_not'_n families states "The Fortune Minerals project in the Tl'ab_ne area would directly impact our traditional lifestyle, a lifestyle we've maintained for tens of thousand of years and to date we continue to use this area on a regular basis. Matter of fact a few of our campsites are set to be flooded with waste dumps. However, no one will destroy our world without first consulting with us."

The protesters felt that because of the breakdown in Tahltan leadership it would be appropriate for Fortune Minerals to engage directly with the people who would be mostly impacted by the proposed development.

On Monday July 18, Fortune Mineral's Robin Goad met briefly to inform the protesters that they will not engage with anyone other than the duly elected Tahltan officials. However, the Iskut First Nations elected officials are working with the protesters and some of the Iskut First Nations Council supported and participated in the blockade.

"We told Mr. Goad that no exploration and drilling will take place without the consent of our Elders and families. Fortune Minerals and the Crown made a major mistake by agreeing to rights in our territory without engaging with us first and we will maintain our Blockade until they begin to recognize our Rights and Title to our territory" says Oscar Dennis.

Fortune Minerals had plans to meet with Curtis Rattray of the Tahltan Central Council, Jerry Asp of the Tahltan Nation Development Corporation and Victoria regulators on July 21, 2005 in the Klappan. The protesters maintain that this will not take place!

A spokesperson for the Telegraph Elders asked Mr. Goad whether Fortune minerals would respect Tahltan Elders Moratorium (Dena nenn Sogga neh'ine) imposed on February 25, 2005, which prohibited any further resource development until certain conditions about governance, sustainability, shared decision-making, and revenue sharing were dealt with; and his response was a flat out "no they will not".

The Telegraph Elders have been very clear. No further resource development is allowed in the Sacred Headwaters, until the conditions in our moratorium are addressed and they insist they will do whatever it takes to prevent their lands from being invaded and exploited.

For more information contact: Oscar Dennis 250-234-3344

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