In what has been a decade’s long fight to stop mining at Teztan Biny, Tsilhqot’in territory is protected from drilling and road building — at least for now.
On September 6, 2019, the BC Supreme Court granted Tsilhqot’in Nation an injunction that prohibits Taseko Mines Ltd. (TML) from moving forward with its exploratory drilling program at Teẑtan Biny (Fish Lake) and Nabaŝ (the surrounding area). Even though their New Prosperity mine proposal is on the rocks – as confirmed by a federal judge – the outgoing BC government grantedTaseko permits for an exploratory drilling permits in 2017.
The Tsilhqot’in fight against the mine was among the first cases we took on when RAVEN was a tiny fledgling organization with 2 staff. There is something about this mine proposal- the utter disrespect for a sacred place and a strong and proud Nation – that resonates powerfully for people. Donors not only gave money but supported the Tsilhqot’in with their presence at court hearings. This victory would not have happened without the dedication of everyone who donated, attended rallies, wrote letters and stood with the Tsilhqot’in through this long fight.
In response to the decision, Tribal Chairman of the Tŝilhqot’in National Government, Joe Alphonse said, “Taseko has been nothing but disrespectful and the message to them here today is loud and clear – stop threatening our cultural and sacred lands because it’s a battle they aren’t ever going to win.”
Teztan Biny, or Fish Lake, is a rich freshwater ecosystem in the headwaters of Chilcotin River, an important tributary of the Fraser. It supports a large and genetically unique wild trout population as well as other wildlife, plants and medicines. It’s home to many Tŝilhqot’in people who were born near the lake.
Chief Joe Alphonse has said that a mine near Teztan Biny or Fish Lake, an area of profound cultural and spiritual importance, would threaten his people’s way of life. “It’s a very spiritual area,” Alphonse said. “As a child growing up, our dad used to take myself and my cousin Paul hunting there. Then later in life … that was an area that a lot of our people would go to do ceremony.”
Independent expert panels have confirmed Teztan Biny’s unique cultural significance as a place of ceremony, healing, cultural teachings, ancestral grounds, hunting, trapping and gathering grounds.
A Brief History
Taseko Mines previously proposed draining the lake and using it as a tailings pond for a huge open-pit copper and gold mine. That proposal, the Prosperity Mine, was rejected in 2010. Taseko’s next iteration of the project, New Prosperity, proposed building the tailings pond upstream from the lake. Taseko’s plan called for more than 360 trenches, a series of test pits, 122 drill sites and 48 kilometres of cleared trails and roads.
This proposal was also rejected in 2014 by the federal government over concerns it would be too damaging to the environment and unavoidable impacts on Tŝilhqot’in culture, heritage and rights.
Despite the ruling, outgoing Premier Christy Clark, on her last day in office in July 2017 gave Taseko a provincial permit under the Mineral Tenure Act to carry out exploratory drilling and road-building. Even though by then New Prosperity had been rejected by the federal governnment, exploratory works under the Mineral Tenure Act do not require proponents to have a permitted mine project.
The Tŝilhqot’in communities have been fighting that exploration permit ever since. The Tŝilhqot’in launched a civil claim for infringement on their proven Aboriginal rights at Teztan Biny. When the company moved to start work this summer, Tsilhqot’in members established a roadblock on July 2 to bar the company’s workers from accessing the site, southwest of Williams Lake, B.C.
During the summer of 2019, as Tsilhqot’in members peacefully stood in the path of drilling rigs and excavators, the Tsilhqot’in Nation and Taseko Mines made competing injunction requests to the court. Taseko’s injunction sought to stop the Tsilhqot’in blockade that was preventing further exploratory drilling, which the judge shut down on September 6th.
What does this victory mean for Teztan Biny and for the RAVEN community who support Tsilhqot’in Nation?
The injunction, effectively stopping all construction, will stay in place until the Tsilhqot’in main case — a civil claim for infringement of Aboriginal rights over the 2017 exploration permits granted to Taseko — is heard.
RAVEN is actively fundraising for that case: the injunction gives the Tsilhqot’in significant breathing room to prepare their main case without worrying about Taseko’s heavy machinery desecrating a special, sacred place.
RAVEN is thrilled to congratulate the Tŝilhqot’in National Government — and the Tŝilhqot’in people – for protecting this beautiful corner of B.C. on all of our behalf. The Tsilhqot’in vision for the area is Dasiqox Tribal Park, a protected area open for all British Columbians to visit and enjoy. For this vision to come to pass, Taseko and any other potential mining project must be stopped in court. This is what the Tsilhqot’in civil case is designed to accomplish.
In the meantime, the September 6, 2019 judgment protects Teẑtan Biny and Nabaŝ from disruption and degradation by TML before a full hearing of this important constitutional issue.
In the coming months, stay tuned for updates about the Tsilhqot’in civil case. This strategic legal action can prevent not just Taseko’s zombie mine but future mining proposals at Teztan Biny. Donate to support that case here: https://fundraise.raventrust.com/give/152727/#!/donation/checkout
We’re amazed and humbled by the generosity and staying power of the RAVEN community. On behalf of this incredible community, we offer our deepest thanks. And now: let’s celebrate!