BC's "New Relationship" with Indigenous people:
Maintaining old colonial traditions
By Aaron Mercredi
On November 29th, the Tse Keh Nay Nation announced that they will shut down a flawed environmental assessment review taking place in Victoria that is supposed to discuss the proposed Kemess North mining project on their land. The Tse Keh Nay Nation is made up of the Takla, Tsay Keh Dene, and Kwadacha First Nations in north-central BC. After appealing to both the federal and provincial governments to deal openly and honestly with First Nations regarding decisions on mining developments, the Tse Keh Nay Nation continues to protest against the potential developments happening on their land.
The lake, the mine, and who wants it
The mine in question is the proposed Kemess North mine, which Vancouver-based Northgate Minerals is trying to develop in an area 430 kilometres Northwest of Prince George, between Williston Lake reservoir and Smithers. This mine would be an extension of the Kemess South mine whose resources are expected to be tapped out by 2008. In order to continue their investment and pursue gold and copper in the area, they are planning on investing $190 million in to Kemess North for an expected 11 more years of mining. Northgate plans to use Duncan Lake as a huge tailings pond for the 700 million tons of mining waste that will be left over. This, according to the company, is the only economically, most environmentally sound, and most viable option, though they have not proven it. The Tse Keh Nay disagree.
Duncan Lake, a 6-kilometre long, clear mountain lake, is known to the Tse Keh Nay people as Amazay Lake, which means ‘Little Mother,’ and comes from the lake’s historical use by caribou for calving. There is a lot of concern on what this mine would mean in the area and neither Northgate nor the governments of BC and Canada have convinced members of the Tse Keh Nay that the environment will not be harmed and they will be not be robbed in this project. Concerned community members fear the environmental impacts such a project would have on their land, and that the dams created in this project will leak poisoned water in to their drinking water downstream.
In its environmental-impact assessment, Northgate plans on transplanting the Dolly Varden, rainbow trout, and whitefish into nearby lakes, while it builds a 90-metre-high dam on one end of the lake and two smaller ones on the other side to prevent water from getting in and out of the lake. But throughout the research and assessment process, not only have the Indigenous people not been consulted, but the province has been pushing the development. Initially, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) stated that the company must carry out more fish studies and provide more details about their proposed habitat replacement plan. However, after a secret meeting with company officials this summer, the DFO reversed their position and said that the company’s habitat replacement plans were now acceptable.
Meanwhile, the Tse Keh Nay people have been left out of this process altogether. In March 2005, The federal and provincial governments announced that they would be conducting an environmental assessment of Northgate’s proposal. To this day, the Tse Keh Nay have not been included in this assessment, and public consultations and hearings in Tse Keh Nay communities have been pushed aside. The government has not met its own legal requirements to consult and accommodate First Nations. In a press release sent out on October 30th, the Tse Keh Nay announced that they would be participating in the joint Federal-Provincial Environmental Panel under protest.
History of deceit
There is a good reason for the Tse Keh Nay to be skeptical about a mine on their territory and the dams and developments that will come with it. There is a destructive history of these kinds of developments harming Indigenous people throughout Canada, but specifically in their area of BC. In 1952, the Kemano Power Project flooded the traditional Cheslatta homeland in the Cheslatta and Murray lakes area, forcing communities to relocate. When the W.A.C. Bennett Dam on the Peace River was finished in 1967, the Willison Lake reservoir flooded a 200-kilometre stretch of the Rocky Mountain Trench, dislocating Indigenous communities throughout the area. In both of these cases, the floodings took place on short notice, without proper consultation and with no compensation. Everything that people owned, the hunting, trap lines, food gathering and fishing areas, were swept away with the flood.
As a result of this, families were displaced and many were forced to move to non-Native communities away from their traditional living. Families who relied on the resources from their land were now trying to work their way out of poverty, unemployment and welfare, while having to fight off alcoholism and the effects of colonialism.
Whose resources anyway?
“As a nation we are not opposed to mining or economic development, but we have to remember what is important. Gold does not run through our blood. We are all made of water. We have pushed the boundaries too far if we are willing to destroy life itself, water as a means of getting cheaper gold.”
-Chief John Allen French
Northgate Minerals, Canada, and the province of BC are working together to take resources from Indigenous people in a province where 97% of the land that holds these resources is unceded Indigenous territory. If this project goes through, it sets an ugly precedent for other resource-based companies to go on to Indigenous people’s land and steal from them. The frustration felt by the Tse Keh Nay is a feeling that reverberates around the province as more and more Indigenous land is being put in the scope of big business. On November 23rd, the hereditary chiefs of the Wet’suwet’en Nation confronted the BC government, Norwest Corporation and Outrider Energy Ltd. to stop the development of a coalbed methane project on their land.
As a way of trying to make people forget about their record with Indigenous people, in their second term in office, the BC Liberals adopted a ‘New Relationship’ on how they will deal with Indigenous people in the province. It was basically a big public relations campaign that they used to try to make people forget the fact that it was they who brought in the racist referendum on treaties and who have taken an offensive of stealing Indigenous land and resources while at the same time criminalizing those who resist. With the Tse Keh Nay, the government has failed to live up to the three basic principles that they set for this relationship: that Aboriginal rights and title exist; that First Nations have the ability and authority to make decisions with respect to territories; and that there be shared decision-making between government and First Nations. They have shown that the relationship is still colonial, is still based on oppression, and that the only way for Indigenous people to survive is to fight back.
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