Williams Lake: Thursday October 7: The Tsilhqot’in Nation today called on the federal government to distance itself from the offensive remarks and warnings of violence by Williams Lake Chamber of Commerce president Walter Cobb – the latest in a growing number of verbal attacks coming from some prominent supporters of the proposed Prosperity Mine.
“How the federal government rules on the fate of Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) will reveal a lot about its true character, the positions it agrees with, and its respect for the law, the environment and its constitutional duties to First Nations,” said Tribal Chair Chief Joe Alphonse of Tl’etinqox-T’in.
Describing the choice for the federal government, Marilyn Baptiste, Chief of the Tsilhqot’in People of Xeni said: “We have the CEAA review panel report’s damning findings about this project, the precedents for rejecting projects based on such reports, the negative findings over 15 years from DFO, the support of First Nations, environmental groups, rights groups and individuals from across Canada, many concerned citizens in Williams Lake, and even the BC government’s own previous rulings on the need to protect this environment and First Nations rights from destructive projects.
“On the other hand we have an alliance between the BC government and Taseko that seeks to turn these beautiful precious lands and waters into a 35 sq km wasteland, because with current technology the company says the only way to make a profit from the low grade ore is to destroy everything. Apparently its arguments are so poor that it must result to having mine supporters like Mr. Cobb and Junior Mines Minister Randy Hawes trying to champion the mine by making derogatory – even racist – comments about First Nations and issuing statements that some extremists might see as condoning violence against us,” said Chief Percy Guichon of the Tsilhqot’in People of Tsi Deldel.
The TNG has stated it is ready to defend its lands against the company should an unjust ruling be made, but its position would be aimed at preventing Taseko Mines and the BC government from proceeding with work – especially while major court cases regarding First Nations rights are still before the courts. Taking action against the people of Williams Lake has never been a consideration.
“On the other hand, prominent mine champions Mr. Cobb and Mr. Hawes and like-minded proponents who appear to be working closely with the company, are treating this as a personal battle against First Nations and trying to incite non-aboriginal people with disgraceful insults about our people and by raising the prospect of violence against us and not condemning it,” said Chief Marilyn Baptiste.
The TNG has tried to ignore Mr. Cobb’s attacks in the past – even though he heads the Chamber of Commerce, and is a former Liberal MLA and so he has connections – because the TNG knows that he does not represent the majority view in Williams Lake. “But his latest statements, made on camera in front of the Williams Lake Chamber of Commerce and repeated again for print media, and those of some other leading campaigners for the mine, can no longer be ignored,” said Chief Joe Alphonse.
“When combined with similar comments by Junior Mines Minister Randy Hawes and others, it is clear that some of those most closely identified as working with Taseko Mines to promote this project have a derogatory view of First Nations and consider them to be an obstacle to be removed, not people with rights that need to be addressed.”
Chief Percy Guichon of the Tsilhqot’in People of Tsi Deldel said: “We believe most people realize that we oppose the mine because it would destroy pristine wilderness environment, a sacred and richly populated fishing lake, Teztan Biny (Fish Lake), and a way of life for our people who have lived here for countless generations, and not because we do not want work, as Mr. Cobb has stated, or because we do not care for our children, as Mr. Hawes has stated.
“But there may be some who see this total disregard for First Nations rights, cultures and environment based values and these comments about violence as a justification against First Nations should the mine be rejected.”
In a video-taped interview with APTN, which aired on Oct. 4, Mr. Cobb stated: “I have heard some pretty serious things that might take place if this project does not go ahead – I don’t want to even suggest that these things might happen. Do I understand where this is coming from? Yes. It is frustration.”
A few weeks earlier at a meeting with the Chamber, Junior Mines Minister Hawes made a similar statement and was quoted in a local paper as saying: “If this mine doesn’t go, there are going to be some very severe racial problems because a lot of the people, who are counting on this mine and are looking at it for hope, are going to blame the aboriginal community.”
Mr. Cobb and Mr. Hawes are not the only ones who have tried to dismiss the dire findings of serious and irreparable harm by the CEAA review panel and belittle First Nations and others who oppose this proposed mine, which the federal Department of fisheries and Oceans has warned since 1995 would be unacceptable if it killed Teztan Biny.
Earlier this summer, Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resource minister described the lake that is sacred to the Tsilhqot’in, is one of the top ten catch-and-release fishing lakes in BC, and has been featured on BC tourism brochures as “shallow,” “mucky” and a ‘pothole.” He is also on record dismissing those who fight to save the land and water as “eco-fascists.”
Premier Gordon Campbell has so far refused to distance himself from such comments. In a speech Oct, 1 to the Union of BC Municipalities, Mr. Campbell abandoned all pretence of caring about his once much vaunted New Relationship with First Nations and simply delivered the company line on this proposal and demanded Ottawa approve it.
Attached: Chronology of some of the comments from Mr. Hawes, Cobb and others in promoting this mine.
Media Inquiries: Chief Joe Alphonse, Tribal Chairman, Tsilhqot’in National Government: (250) 305-8282 or (250) 394-4212.
Chief Percy Guichon, Tsi Deldel: (250) 267-2507 or (250) 481-1163 ext.17
Chronology – Sample of statements by prominent mining champions in recent months:
1. Reported by the Canadian Press, June 16, 2010: Junior Mines Minister Randy Hawes’s response to an independent study by renowned Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic, which identified needed reforms to a mining system stacked against first nations in BC. “To be blunt, I think the report is hogwash,” said Mr. Hawes, questioning why Harvard doesn’t look in its own backyard or concentrate elsewhere in the world where there are egregious impacts on indigenous people….While he noted that some First Nations reject mining for a more traditional lifestyle, he also said traditional ways are linked to lower birth weights, higher birth rate deaths and lower life spans.
2. Taseko Mines Ltd. President and CEO Russell Hallbauer. July 6 call with investment analysts on future of prosperity project. In response to question about First Nations rights issues and ramifications. “That’s the government’s problem.”
3. BC’s Minister of Mines, Energy and Petroleum Bill Bennett, quoted in July 8 Globe and Mail story on the Prosperity mine proposal by Justine Hunter, gives his view of Fish Lake, which is sacred to First Nations, is one BC’s top ten catch-and -release fishing areas, and was featured on BC tourism brochures. “This is a tiny little pothole of a lake…a shallow, mucky lake with too many small rainbows in it.”
4. Minister Bennett’s view of environmentalists: July 12, Globe and Mail, report by Pat Brethour: “We either stand strong together against the loss of the Flathead Valley to the eco facists , or we will lose the Flathead. I am there, if you are there,” he (Bennett) writes in an e-mail sent Monday and obtained by The Globe and Mail.
5. Junior Mines Minster Hawes, at Aug. 26 meeting. 100 Mile House Free Press Aug. 31: “I don’t understand why they would put [Fish Lake] ahead of their future for their kids.” And: “As the mayor of Williams Lake said, if this mine doesn’t go, there are going to be some very severe racial problems because a lot of the people, who are counting on this mine and are looking at it for hope, are going to blame the aboriginal community.”
7. Williams Lake Mayor Kerry Cook disputes Hawes’ comments: 100 Mile House Free Press. Sept. 14: “Williams Lake council has clearly stated our support for this project and we understand there are groups and individuals who do not agree with our position. However, this is not, and should not be construed to be a racial issue.”
7. Walter Cobb: APTN Oct. 4: Evening News. On tape: “They don’t want to work…Some of those leaders seem to not want their people to work or prosper on the reserve.” And: “If this mine doesn’t go, there are going to be some very severe racial problems because a lot of the people, who are counting on this mine and are looking at it for hope, are going to blame the aboriginal community.”
Walter Cobb: Vancouver Province Oct. 5: Cobb said he stands by similar remarks he made to the Aboriginal Peoples’ Television Network on Monday. “That’s exactly what I meant,” Cobb told The Province Tuesday….Cobb said that in his view, First Nations “want the resources, they want the welfare, but they don’t want to have to pay for them.”