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Beware of Mining Hype

Despite PR blitz, First Nations have little to celebrate.

Chief John French, Takla First Nation, Tse Keh Nay 29 May

Chief John French of the Takla Nation helps speak on behalf of the The Tse Keh Nay (Takla, Tsay Keh Dene, and Kwadacha First Nations) regarding mining and other resource and land rights issues.

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Ceremony to protect Amazay/Duncan Lake.

The Tse Keh Nay leadership is compelled to add its voice to the recent hoopla surrounding the B.C. mining sector's claims of glory, such as those made by Michael McPhie in his recent editorial in the Vancouver Sun and those recently made in this publication.

From our perspective, far too many First Nations in this province have very little to celebrate when it comes to mining.

The irony is not lost on us that in mid-May, while Mr. McPhie and Minister of State for Mining Kevin Krueger were falling all over themselves to sing the praises of the industry during Mining Week in B.C., we were in public hearings in Smithers dealing with the proposed Kemess North mine.

We are here to protect our sacred and pristine Amazay Lake from Northgate Minerals Corporation, which plans to turn it into a massive contaminated dump. Our message to the panel and the public is simple: Amazay Lake will not be sacrificed for the benefit of the mining industry.

Industrial development has not been good to the Tse Keh Nay. In 1824, the fur trader and explorer Samuel Black came into our territory looking to establish a trading post. Our people guided him to Thutade Lake, near the site of the now proposed Kemess North mine. Here they fed him and took care of him. In turn, he carelessly set several fires, destroying large parts of our forests. We have been fighting to protect our land ever since 1824.

The flooding of our homelands to create the Williston Reservoir in the 1960s further harmed our people. We can no longer eat the mercury-contaminated fish from the lower half of our watershed. Now the upper half of the watershed is threatened from the Kemess North proposal.


Because of the mineral wealth in the Kemess region, the entire upper Finlay watershed has been tenured out to mining and exploration companies with no consultation with us. Not one square inch of our land is free from the threat of exploration and mining. Moreover, the government confesses it neither tracks nor coordinates any cumulative impact risk management in relation to mining, or any other developments.

Recent impacts on us include the Kemess South mine, which was steamrolled into our territory in the 1990s as part of a "compensation" package by the provincial government to Royal Oak Mines for the creation of Tatshenshini-Alsek Park. In this instance, while the company received an additional $160 million in tax breaks and subsidies, we received nothing much more than a contaminated mine site located on top of our sacred sites and in the middle of important caribou routes.

To us, today's mining boom looks a lot like the old fur trade and gold rush. Strangers come into our territory without permission, take our resources, spoil our land, and then walk away with the profits, leaving us with the mess. For example, we are confronted with one of B.C.'s top 10 Crown contaminated sites -- the former Bralorne mine with its toxic levels of mercury and other heavy metals.

And so it goes. Much glowing talk is made of paying workers $94,500 per year and of the $7 billion in investments provincially, yet far too little of that is realized in our communities. Instead, our communities remain in abject poverty, living in over-crowded, mould-ridden homes on tiny reserves. All the while, government and industry continue to suck our lands and resources out from under us.

It must be made clear that we are not against mining. We are however not going to stand by and allow government and industry to conduct business in our territory as they did in the past.

New Relationship?

Our position is that mining companies cannot march into our territory, stake out and explore sacred areas without permission, impose one-sided unsustainable plans to contaminate our waters, poison our fish, scare away our wildlife, and trample our medicinal plants. If that is what they have in mind, we will put all of our energy into stopping them any way we can.

The First Nations Leadership Council has made important statements about mining in the context of the New Relationship, on the need for them and government to recognize and respect our aboriginal rights and title. That is all we are seeking. But if the mining industry and government try to force themselves upon us, as in the past, then we will join forces with our allies to prevent this.

Instead, our message is this: We are more than willing to work with government and mining. We invite them to come to us in a respectful way, recognize our rights and title, our spiritual laws, engage in mutual land-use planning and cumulative impact management regime, then we will talk about meaningful revenue-sharing, jobs, contracting and reclamation opportunities as part of any reasonable mine proposal.

The mining industry cannot remain stuck in the old way of doing business, where its wealthy executives and its self-serving flatterers and its highly-paid labour force celebrate Mining Week in B.C. while we fight for our survival.

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