National Chiefs say No to B.C. mine – Black Press

Byline: Tom Fletcher

A remote lake in the B.C. ranch country has become the focus of a national dispute over government authority to regulate industry on Crown land.

Assembly of First Nations (AFN) leaders from across Canada have backed National Chief Shawn Atleo’s call for the federal cabinet to reject the Prosperity gold and copper mine proposal near Williams Lake after more than a decade of study.

B.C. issued an environmental assessment permit for the mine in January, after reviewing volumes of surveys on the effect of using Fish Lake as storage for acidic waste rock and replacing the lost rainbow trout habitat with a new reservoir.

A federal assessment panel came to similar conclusions, but Atleo noted its observation that the mine plan would destroy a site of “spiritual power and healing for the Tsilhqot’in.”

The Tsilhqot’in National Government and associated bands have been prominent in court battle against federal and provincial authority on land that was never subject to treaties. It has rejected treaty negotiations as well as all mining in its traditional territory.

The federal panel doesn’t make a recommendation on whether the environmental impact is justified by the $800 million investment and 500 direct jobs for a region hit hard by the pine beetle infestation. The B.C. cabinet decided it is, and the federal government faces the same choice after a summer-long consultation with aboriginal groups.

The AFN resolution passed in Winnipeg describes the Prosperity mine project as a test case. The chiefs’ assembly voted to “advise the federal government that First Nations across Canada are watching its decision to see whether there remains any value or integrity in environmental assessments for major projects, or whether First Nations must turn to litigation and other means to assert our rights and protect our cultures.”

Detailed habitat studies and fishing surveys going back to the late 1990s show that Fish Lake has an abundance of naturally occurring rainbow trout. Creel surveys showed the lake was fished successfully hundreds of times each year.

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