The Legal Challenge to Save Teztan Biny is Victorious!
Teztan Biny, Fish Lake, has been a sacred place of spiritual renewal for countless generations for the Tsilhqot’in. This beautiful area is integral to the health of the last major Fraser River salmon run. The territory is also rich in gold and copper — resources Taseko Mines Ltd. wanted to exploit with its proposed New Prosperity Mine.
That project was dealt a death blow by the Supreme Court of Canada on May 14, 2020 when it denied Taseko leave to appeal the lower court and appeal court judgements upholding the federal rejection of the mine project. After more than a decade, Teztan Biny is officially spared and the Tsilhqot’in can declare a victory.
The Tŝilhqot’in Nation have fought to protect their rights, title and lands for over a decade at great cost. After winning multiple legal battles, the latest of which came just this week, they are celebrating a decisive win as Taseko has lost their final appeal.
Even though the New Prosperity project cannot proceed B.C.’s Mineral Explorations Act contains a loophole which allows mineral exploration : even when no actual mine permit is in place.
The RAVEN community has been with the Tsilhqot’in every step of the way. We’ve produced 2 films chronicling the struggle – Blue Gold, and Wild Horses, Unconquered People – and screened these at fundraisers and online to raise funds and awareness. We’ve organized numerous courthouse rallies, including an epic cross-country journey that brought Tsilhqot’in chiefs and elders to Ottawa to attend court hearings. Our Foundation partners have included major donors like Donner Canadian Foundation, Fitzhenry Family Foundation, Wilburforce Foundation and Global Greengrants, while over 1200 individuals donated airmails and funds to raise over a million dollars to secure this massive victory for Indigenous rights, clean water and the protection of sacred land.
A Brief History of a Long Struggle
For years, despite having the only proven Aboriginal Title in British Columbia, the Tsilhqot’in found themselves embroiled in ongoing court disputes to protect their sacred lands from copper and gold mining. These court battles have been instrumental in staving off desecration from Taseko’s proposed mine: they have also cost the Nation hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight industry and government in court. RAVEN supporters have been there every step of the way: together, we’ve raised significant funds for each of the court battles.
Taseko’s proposed New Prosperity mine in Tŝilhqot’in territory would have had disastrous impacts on the environment and Tsilhqot’in culture and rights. On May 14, 2020, The Tsilhqot’in Nation was finally able to declare the mining project is dead, celebrating the Supreme Court of Canada decision to deny Taseko Mines Limited’s application to appeal the rejection of the mine proposal by the federal government in 2014.
The New Prosperity mine was rejected – in 2010 and 2014 – based on environmental and cultural impacts. The independent federal panel of experts concluded in 2013 that New Prosperity would have significant and immitigable impacts on water quality, fisheries and Tsilhqot’in cultural heritage, rights and traditional practices . The panel’s report also noted that Taseko Mines was unable to even meet “proof of concept” for its unprecedented, unproven, entire-lake recirculation proposal and that Teztan Biny would be contaminated over time, despite mitigation efforts. With the SCC decision dismissing Taseko’s application, the company has no further legal avenues to appeal the rejection: the mine cannot be legally built.
In a precedent-setting 2014 decision, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled that the Tsilhqot’in Nation held Aboriginal title to almost 1,800 kilometres of land in central B.C., southwest of Williams Lake. The title land covers the Nemiah Valley and stretches north into the Brittany Triangle, along the Chilko River and part of Chilko Lake. That means the Tsilhqot’in Nation, made up of six communities including Xeni Gwet’in, has the right to exclusive use and control of the land.
Despite the death of the New Prosperity mine proposalmine,Taseko was issued a provincial permit to conduct exploratory work in July 2017 under the Mines Act and Mineral Tenure Act. The exploration permit gave Taseko the go-ahead to build 76 kilometres of roads and trails, 122 geotechnical drill sites, 367 trench or pit tests, 20 kilometres of seismic lines and a 50-person work camp.
In July 2018, the B.C. Court of Appeal granted the Tŝilhqot’in an injunction to stop Taseko’s exploratory work.In December 2019, the court dismissed Taseko’s efforts to overturn that injunction, while the Federal Court of Appeal dismissed Taseko’s applications for judicial reviews of decisions rejecting the New Prosperity mine proposal. A panel of three justices refused to uphold a single argument put forward by Taseko. While exploration is temporarily held off with the current injunctions, Taseko can renew their exploratory permit when it expires in July 2020.
Should Taseko continue to infringe upon the Tsilhqot’in’s rights through un-permited mineral exploration, a new case may need to be crafted seeking:
- affirmation of Tsilhqot’in’s Aboriginal rights to fish for sustenance, social and ceremonial purposes in the Claim Area.
- a finding that the exploratory drilling permits infringe on Tsilhqot’in Aboriginal rights.
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. For this vision to come to fruition, Taseko and any other potential mining projects must be stopped in court. 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.
Thank you for taking a Stand with Tsilhqot’in Nation to protect Teztan Biny.
Blue Gold: The Tsilhqot’in Fight for Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) from Susan Smitten on Vimeo.