Today, the sun is shining just a little more brightly in Tsilhqot’in territory. Glinting off of the alpine waters of Teztan Biny – also known as Fish Lake – the dancing light is a gift that, thanks to a precedent-setting legal victory, will keep on giving, forever.
On a Thursday morning before a holiday weekend, the Supreme Court of Canada announced an end to the Tsilhqot’in’s decades long struggle to defeat Taseko’s New Prosperity Mine. On May 14, 2020, the court denied Taseko leave to appeal the lower court and appeal court judgements, upholding the federal rejection of the mine project. After decades of pushing back, with more than ten years of RAVEN support, Teztan Biny has been officially protected. It’s a tremendous, hard-won, and resounding victory for the Tsilhqot’in and for the RAVEN community that stood by the Nation.
There are some events that stick with you for life. You remember where you were, like when planes flew into the twin towers or your grandchild was born, and you carry the history in your being from then on. I vividly recall the day the Tsilhqot’in won for the first time: I was burning off steam at the YMCA and saw my husband approach with urgency. My brain switched to “someone must have died” and everything went slo-mo. I could see his mouth moving but my inner drama drowned out the words. He took the weights out of my hands and repeated, “They won. The Tsilhqot’in won. The mine is rejected. — RAVEN co-founder and Executive Director Susan Smitten
The lure of precious and semi-precious minerals below the surface kept the stakes high. Despite two federal rejections following exhaustive independent environmental reviews and “scathing” reports, Taseko used the courts in a relentless effort to push through established environmental protocols and push past Indigenous rights for corporate profit.
It took some gumption to launch a court challenge to the environmental assessment following conclusions that cited “…significant adverse environmental effects on fish and fish habitat, on navigation, on the current use of lands and resources for traditional purposes by First Nations and on cultural heritage, and on certain potential or established Aboriginal rights [to hunt, trap and fish].”
Had Taseko won, their outrageous claim – that corporations are owed the same duty of consultation as Indigenous Nations – would have set a dangerous legal precedent.
It was a brutally unfair setup: a multi-national mining company with the deepest pockets and an eye on the ‘prize’ of gold and copper in the Tsilhqot’in hills, and a small Nation with determination, commitment – but limited resources to fight a court battle that dragged on and on.
Enter RAVEN, and the amazing people like you who have been willing, year in and year out, to link arms, open chequebooks, and fund the pursuit of justice.
We at RAVEN and a powerful cohort of donors and funders like Donner Canadian Foundation, Fitzhenry Family Foundation, Global Greengrants, and Wilburforce Foundation all stood with the Xeni Gwet’in and Yunesit’in as they steadfastly defended their culture and sacred places from a company determined to get the permit needed to access the gold.
Through countless appeals and campaigns in response to Taseko’s every relentless move, you stood resolute, and today we hope you savour this victory that is so richly earned.
“The Supreme Court of Canada dismissed Taseko Mines Limited’s application for leave to appeal. This means the rejection of New Prosperity by the Government of Canada in 2014 stands once and for all. We thank and honour the Tŝilhqot’in youth, elders, leaders and members, the Indigenous Nations that stood by our side, and our allies and supporters, for fighting with all of your heart and spirit to protect Teẑtan Biny and Nabaŝ. Nexwechanalyagh (We thank you).” — Tsilhqot’in National Government Statement
The Tsilhqot’in vision for the area is to create Dasiqox Tribal Park, a protected area that would be open for everyone to visit and enjoy. This is the dream which has been propelling the Tsilhqot’in’s legal actions to protect their territory over the course of the past 12 years. For this vision to come to fruition, Taseko’s further mining explorations must be stopped in court.
Taseko is still sitting on permits issued by BC’s former Liberal government on its last day in office, which allow mineral exploration – including drillign and road building – even without a project is in place. Should Taseko continue to infringe upon the Tsilhqot’in’s rights through un-permited mineral exploration, a new case may need to be crafted to affirm Tsilhqot’in’s Aboriginal rights to fish for sustenance, social and ceremonial purposes in the Claim Area, and to establish that the exploratory drilling permits infringe on Tsilhqot’in Aboriginal rights.
Says Susan Smitten, “The lakes are home to a genetically unique type of rainbow trout. They are also in the headwaters of one of the last major viable salmon run that comes up the Fraser River, and water in the area is pure enough that the people are able to drink directly from the source — a testament to the protection the Tsilhqot’in have provided their traditional lands for generations. The area also provides important habitat for the threatened South Chilcotin grizzly bear.
But there is something more. The power of the place is palpable: it’s something that defies description and yet once experienced is transformative. Clearly not everyone succumbs. The lure of precious and semi-precious minerals below the surface proved too irresistible.
Which brings me to 2020. I will hold the memory of May 14th for the rest of my days. It overwrites in a way the long, tangled history of one company’s desire to subjugate Tsilhqot’in land, rights, culture and history. It is with gratitude to Tsilhqot’in leadership, past and present, to the communities, to their legal teams and the experts, and to the donors of all stripes that I write this.”
No matter what the future holds, thanks to all of us, NO MATTER WHAT, New Prosperity is dead and gone We know we will step up again to firm up the ground around this important victory, but for now: please close your eyes and imagine iridescent swallows arcing over the water of Teztan Biny. Breathe in the spring lupines and fresh young sage in the alpine meadows and look to the grazing wild horses for whom this place can now remain home for generations.
Thank you for taking a stand with Tsilhqot’in Nation to protect Teztan Biny. That commitment shines brighter than any gold. The most precious thing of all? This community, and the power we have when we stand together.