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First Nation announces blockade at new Imperial Metals mine

A group of Tahltan Nation elders have blocked entry to Imperial Metals' Red Chris mine near Iskut in northern British Columbia in response to a serious mining waste spill at the company's Mount Polley mine.

Red Chris mine, a $500 million dollar copper-gold mine scheduled to open later this year, will join three active mining operations owned by Imperial Metals in B.C.

The elders, who stand under the name Klabona Keepers, sent out a notice earlier today announcing they would blockade the mine.

"In response to the Mount Polley mine tailings disaster and our serious concerns over the pending Imperial Metals Red Chris mine, the Klabona Keepers from the Tahltan Nation will blockade the Red Chris property Friday August 8, 2014 at 1 p.m.," read the notice.

It's not the first time Klabona Keepers have protested industrial development on Tahltan land; in 2006 they blocked development at Red Chris and the year after they successfully filed an injunction against construction of a road through their traditional territory.

The Keepers state on their website they are not opposed to economic development on their land so long their traditions and laws are obliged. So far Imperial Metals has not received endorsement by the First Nation.

"The mine does not have all of the permits required to open," wrote Chad Norman Day, president of Tahltan Central Council, in a press release.

He added the company and the First Nation have been trying to negotiate an Impact Benefit Agreement (IBA), a contract that details impacts and responsibilities of both parties, and how the associated aboriginal community will benefit from the operation through employment and economic development.

To date, no IBA has been signed, Day noted, and with the incident at Mount Polley the two sides were no closer to reaching an agreement.

"This latest news obviously means we have new questions and concerns that we must discuss with Imperial Metals about the tailings ponds at Red Chris," he wrote.

In the wake of the Mount Polley breach, Interior Health banned all water from Quesnel Lake, even though preliminary tests have shown that the water meets Canadian drinking water standards. This afternoon Interior Health lifted the ban for the town of Likely, B.C. No more than 200 people remain impacted by the water ban.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada has closed all fisheries in the area and is monitoring the situation as a sockeye salmon run in the range of 845,000 to 2.95 million is headed for the contaminated lake.

Klabona Keepers offered no end date on their blockade, but state on their website: "To those who come without respect, we must warn you: you will find us relentless and fierce in defending the Tahltan Sacred Headwaters."

Kristian Secher is completing a practicum with The Tyee with a focus on marine science and policy issues. Find his previous Tyee stories here.

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