Native groups rally against mining in northPublished by MAC on 2005-11-01
Native groups rally against mining in north
By Mark Hume, Globe and Mail, Canada
November 1, 2005
VANCOUVER -- First nations in northern British Columbia are banding together in a bid to get more control over resource development after a battle over a proposed coal mine near Dease Lake.
After a weekend conference, several key native organizations in the north issued a joint statement yesterday at a rally outside the courthouse in Terrace, where a trial involving 15 Tahltan protesters was set to begin.
The trial was called off at the last minute, when the Crown dropped contempt-of-court charges against the Tahltan members, many of whom were elders. The native protesters blocked a mining access road for two months last summer despite an order from the Supreme Court of British Columbia not to interfere in the work being done by Fortune Minerals Ltd. The Ontario-based company wants to mine more than 200 million tonnes of coal near Mount Klappan, about 300 kilometres northeast of Prince Rupert.
Terry Brown, a spokesperson for the Tahltan protesters, said native leaders were pleased that the charges were dropped, but that didn't change anything because preparations for the mine are still going ahead, even though many Tahltans are opposed to it.
She said the dispute inspired northern natives to join forces to block future development throughout the north.
"The Nations of Northern BC will stand with those who step forward to protect their lands and waters. New development in our territories will only proceed with our free, prior and informed consent," the groups declared in a written statement.
Ms. Brown said any company that tries to push through development without first getting the support of aboriginal groups will become the target of protests involving the Tahltan, Gitxan, Wet'suwet'en, Haida, Tsimshian, Haisla and others.
Those groups claim territory that covers most of northern B.C., where new mining, logging, oil, gas and hydro developments are either planned or proposed.
Ms. Brown said there are more than 15 resource projects proposed in Tahltan territory alone.
Guujaaw, president of the Council of Haida Nations, was one of the native leaders who attended the conference.
The Haida are trying to get more control of logging activities on the Queen Charlotte Islands, which they call Haida Gwaii, and are concerned about offshore oil and gas drilling that is proposed for Queen Charlotte Sound.
Guujaaw said natives have to work together if they are to be effective.
"As our lands face continuing assault, we will need each other as never before," Guujaaw said in a written statement.
Despite the calls for native unity, the Tahltan continue to be divided internally.
The elected Tahltan Central Council issued a separate statement yesterday, saying that it has developed a new approval process to deal with resource proposals. Under the plan, the leadership would initial an agreement-in-principle with a resource company and then would put the issue before members in a ratification vote.
Ms. Brown rejected the statement, however, saying the Tahltan Central Council doesn't represent a majority of Tahltan members.
"The Iskut Tahltan pulled out of the council and the elders did [too] ... they don't have support of the people," she said.
Tom Christensen, B.C.'s Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, said the government is working to build a better relationship with natives.
He said a framework isn't fully in place yet but the goal is to have a system that gives natives a clear understanding of projects "and that ensures they are involved in the benefits that flow from those projects."
Mr. Christensen said it would be naive to think any project could get 100-per-cent support, but he's hopeful that through consultation, natives will come to embrace development.
"There's a huge opportunity for all of us [to prosper from resource development] but it has to be done in a way that benefits first nations as well," Mr. Christensen said.
A sign there is growing unrest among native communities in the north, however, came on the weekend when members of the Takla Lake First Nation blockaded a logging road and put up a temporary blockade on a CN Rail line.
Chief John French said the blockades were to express frustration over a lack of consultation with government and industry over development.