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Tahltan Arrests Mark a Rocky Start to 'New Relationship'

BC government still pressing development without First Nations approval.

By Will Horter 21 Sep 2005 | TheTyee.ca
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What new relationship with First Nations?

It's ironic that last Friday, one day after the BC government announced $100 million to support First Nations capacity on resource issues, the RCMP moved in to arrest Tahltan elders and youth who are blockading coal and coal bed methane projects that have been given government go-ahead without their input.

The so-called 'new relationship' between the BC government and First Nations doesn't look so promising from the perspective of the Tahltan.

While the new relationship creates potential for reconciliation, its record will be judged by change on the ground, not by the government's rhetoric. Unfortunately for the Tahltan concerned about the future of the air, land and water, not to mention the dozen or so mega-projects being rammed down their throat, it looks like the BC Liberals' almost orgasmic support for mining and coal bed methane is overriding any interest in reconciliation.

Business as usual

Since the so-called new relationship talks have begun, the BC government has ignored the concerns of the Tahltan and proceeded with business as usual. The BC government has:

Allowed the RCMP to arrest Tahltan who have concerns about Fortune Mineral's and Shell's coal and coal bed methane projects, despite the fact that the protestors have not had an opportunity to defend their position in court or challenge the many misleading and erroneous statements submitted to the court to get the injunction;

Allowed the unauthorized construction (which still has not been investigated) of a new road turn off from Hwy 37 through a tradition camp to Ealue Lake Road, where the protestors are blockading;

Approved a Special Use Permit (SUP) for Fortune Minerals to use Ealue Lake Road without consulting with the Iskut band, the elders or the families with camps and trap lines affected by Fortune Minerals' proposed open-pit coal mine; and approved the environmental assessment of BC Metal's Red Kris mine over the objection of the Iskut band, the families and other Tahltan groups. The mine is located just south of Iskut. (Incidentally, the government separated the tailings pond from the assessment and assessed the mine-not the cumulative impacts).

It is unfortunate that while the Tahltan work to resolve internal governance issues and unite all Tahltan under one nation, the BC government and companies like Fortune Minerals, Shell and BC Metals continue to try to divide and conquer the Tahltan by picking and choosing whichever Tahltan representatives suit their ephemeral interests.

Stonewalled

The Tahltan Elders and youth who are standing up to the dozen or so government and industry proposals to carve up their territory are concerned about their economic, cultural and environmental well being.

They think Fortune, Shell, BC Metals, Nova Gold and other project proponents all need to engage in a cumulative process which assesses each project on its merits, but allows the Tahltan to evaluate the benefits and impacts of each project in relation to the other.

The Tahltan have been stonewalled in their attempts to create dialogue and bring some sanity to the development process. And government and industry are doing everything possible to move forward quickly. But from those facing arrest today, the current mining, fossil fuel, hydro and road/rail free-for-all is too much, too fast.

As the arrests occur this afternoon in Tahltan country, the much touted new relationship probably seems like empty rhetoric.

Smart sounding words are easy, changing things on the ground takes courage. The jury is still out for on Campbell's government commitment to breaking new ground, but this is an extremely bad start.

Will Horter is Executive Director of Dogwood Initiative, a Victorian-based NGO which helps people change the balance of power to create healthy prosperous communities. See www.dogwoodinitiative.org for more news and views on First Nations, communities and democracy.

Previous Tyee articles about this issue:

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