‘You’re going to destroy us too’ – Williams Lake Tribune
Prosperity mine panel hearings continued in Nemiah Valley last Wednesday, with presentations from numerous Xeni Gwet’in Nation members.
At the Xeni Gwet’in Community Band Hall March 31, Sean Nixon, legal counsel for the Tsilhqot’in National Government, told the federal panel reviewing the gold-copper mine project that the central position of the Tsilhqot’in National Government and Xeni Gwet’in Nation is that the mine would cause the permanent destruction of Fish Lake (Teztan Biny) and area, which would cause a “significant cultural loss for the Tsilhqot’in.”
“It would be a significant impact on their current use of the area, on cultural heritage in the area that could not be adequately mitigated through the fish compensation measure,” Nixon said.
If approved by the federal government, Prosperity Mine would be built about 125 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake at Fish Lake (Teztan Biny), which would be drained in order to build the mine.
Grade 5-7 students from the Naghtaneqed Elementary Junior Secondary School performed a play, Saving Fish Lake, for the panel to show how and why they care about Fish Lake.
Grade 9 student Leyton Setah said the mine will wreck his food sources.
“It will wreck our water source and it will wreck our life,” Leyton said. “Our life will be ruined because we wouldn’t be able to hunt our fish and that’s our way of life. Why would you guys do this to us? We never ruined your life.”
Shari Hughson, community health nurse for Nemiah Valley, said the Xeni Gwet’in people are rebuilding their lives and working hard to find a lifestyle that fits their beliefs and goals of self-sufficiency and a connection the land.
“ … The federal government needs to understand that anything they do or allow into this community that does not fit with the Xeni Gwet’in plan for recovery will probably damage the one community that could be the model for traditional First Nation success,” Hughson said.
She added that if the mine were to go through there would be metal health impacts due to the loss of territorial land that was a home to some communities and is a traditional and ongoing source of plants, animals, and fish, and has a historical and archaeological significance with pit houses present and is in a spiritual area.
She said it would “create considerable grief for some community members here.”
It would also, she said, lead to the loss of self-determination and the loss of control of part of their territory that wold have played a role in becoming more self-sufficient.
Alex Lulua said he has been hunting for all of his life and doesn’t know if he will be able to any longer if the mines goes through. “And I don’t know if I’ll be hunting anymore if those animals get into that tailings pond or that tailings pond does leak and go down the stream into the rivers,” Lulua said, adding that he still lives off the land. He added that medicinal plants, such as Hellebore or “Indian medicine,” grow in the area and cure many sicknesses. “And yet you guys are going to destroy that. You’re going to destroy us too.”
Brian Battison, Taseko’s vice president of corporate affairs, responded to a previous undertaking regarding Mining, Your Future, and said the program is an initiative to help local people qualify for work in mining.
He said five objectives to support that goal include: helping the company meet its current and future employment needs; helping to maximize local employment opportunity, as it helps the company meet its first objective of earning respect, creating opportunity, and delivering value; designing the program using local input; building broad participation in the program; and encouraging First Nations participation in the program.
He noted that Taseko is a mining company and its expertise lies in mine-site operations.
“We are not a social service agency,” he said. “We are a mining company. And the program and the people must meet our needs.”
He said the provincial government, through its revenue sharing program, has pledged to share with local First Nations communities the revenue and mineral tax revenue generated by the mines, including Prosperity Mine.
Susie Setah said her parents taught her at a young age how to live off the land, hunt, fish, gather berries, and collect medicines. Now, as manager of the Charlene Williams Daycare, she teaches children those skills. While showing photos to the panel, Setah said she takes the children to lakes, including Fish Lake, to learn how to hunt and pick acorns and berries.
“And we name the berries in the language so the kids can learn the names,” she added.
Sami-Joe Perry, a Xeni Gwet’in First Nation member, said her grandparents have hunted and camped along Fish Lake long before she was born. “It does not take a scientist to figure out the damage it (Prosperity) will do to the land,” Perry said. “We see our lands as sacred and valuable as it is. We do not look at our trees, minerals, or waters as money. We look at them as Mother Earth’s gifts to help us heal, live and protect.”
April William said mining is hurting her people. “What if I was rich, really rich and I came and bought the mine and took over everything and shut everything down and took your guys’ jobs away, your ability to pay for your mortgage, you car, everything?” William asked. “That’s what you guys are doing towards us, doing that to our land, and we all stand up here trying to show you and trying to make you guys hear us, what our land is to us.”
To read more presentations and to read full transcripts of the hearing proceedings, visit the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency website. Click Canadian Environmental Agency Registry and type in Prosperity.