Tsilhqot’in Chiefs to Minister Bennett: “Our culture cannot be bought”

Chiefs warn BC Minister of Mines that no amount of money can compensate for devastating environmental and cultural impacts of the proposed Prosperity mine

July 30, 2010, Williams Lake
– The Chiefs of the Tsilhqot’in Nation caution BC Minister of Mines Bill Bennett that no amount of money can compensate for the devastating impacts the proposed Prosperity mine would have on Tsilhqot’in traditional lands and culture.

This comes in response to Minister Bennett’s recently announced plan to make a “public offer” of revenue sharing to First Nations that would be impacted by the controversial Prosperity project – a proposed copper and gold mine that requires the permanent destruction of a lake considered sacred by the Tsilhqot’in people.

“Our culture cannot be bought,” said Chief Marilyn Baptiste. “The Minister still does not understand what is at stake for our people – we are fighting for our cultural survival. Our elders and our members say that the destruction of this area would be like tearing the heart out of our culture. It would be a poison that cannot be cured.”

In a strongly worded environmental assessment report issued earlier this month, an independent federal panel concluded that the project proposed by Taseko Mines Ltd. would have significant, high magnitude impacts on: productive fisheries, threatened grizzly bear populations, Tsilhqot’in traditional use and cultural heritage, and the Aboriginal rights of the Tsilhqot’in people. The panel cautioned that the mine would permanently destroy an “important cultural and spiritual area” for the Tsilhqot’in people and that impacts on “current use activities, ceremonies, teaching, and cultural and spiritual practices would be irreversible, of high magnitude and have a long-term effect on the Tsilhqot’in.”

The panel specifically noted that “First Nations frequently stated that financial benefits could not compensate for the destruction”.

“Our people have spoken and we have a duty to uphold,” said Chief Ivor Myers. “Our members came out 100 per cent united against this mine at the public hearings, despite all the talk of revenue sharing. If the Federal Government chose to approve the mine it would desecrate our sacred burial and ceremonial sites – as a Nation we simply cannot allow that to happen.”

“Our members want jobs like everyone else,” said Chief Percy Guichon. “We partner with industry, we support development and we’ve entered agreements with government. We are working to raise our quality of life. But we cannot create healthy communities by destroying the lands that sustain us. We will not create economic development at the loss of a sacred lake or at the cost of who we are as Tsilhqot’in people.”

Chief Frances Laceese noted that the Minister’s planned “public offer” to First Nations is typical of the disrespect the Tsilhqot’in people have seen from the provincial government and Taseko. “This isn’t a good faith effort to hear the outcry from our communities or to deal with our concerns. It’s a publicity stunt. They want to keep the public distracted from the true costs of this mine – environmental and cultural destruction on a scale beyond anything a federal panel has described in the past”.

Chief Joe Alphonse, Tribal Chair of the Tsilhqot’in National Government, dismissed the Minister’s plan to make a public offer to First Nations as “a desperate move by a desperate government trying to salvage a desperate mining company.”

“The Minister could not show any less concern for the environment or First Nations,” Chief Alphonse continued. “These are the most serious warnings of environmental and cultural damage ever issued by a federal panel, and the Minister completely ignores them. It’s full speed ahead. All he can talk about is the almighty dollar. If Taseko and the Minister still think they can ram this project through, they’re stuck in the dark ages. First Nations are lining up across the country to stand with us in defence of our lands and culture.”

Commitments of support for the Tsilhqot’in Nation have been issued from several First Nations in BC and Canada, and organizations like the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and the BC First Nations Summit. Last week, the Chiefs of the Assembly of First Nations passed a national resolution pledging their support for the Tsilhqot’in Nation and warning the federal government that approval for the project in light of the panel’s conclusions “would demonstrate utter disregard for the survival of First Nations as distinctive cultures within Canada.”

Media inquiries: Chief Joe Alphonse, Tribal Chair, TNG – 250.394.4212 (w); 250.394.4422 (h), 250.305.8282 (c).

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