In a massive display of opposition to unsustainable development and unaccountable government, 13 Tahltan were arrested peacefully this afternoon.
After a moving ceremony witnessed by 100 supporters, including 15 Wet’suwet’en chiefs, Tahltan Elders and youth put their bodies on the line to protect the Sacred Headwaters of the Skeena, Stikine, Nass and Klappan watersheds from coal and coalbed methane projects.
After braving the elements 24 hours a day, seven days a week for two months, 9 Elders and 4 youth refused to stand aside and allow Fortune Minerals to move their heavy machinery in the Sacred Headwaters to begin exploratory drilling for coal.
Lillian Moyer, a 66 year old grandmother, who is also a Tahltan Band Councillor, was the first Elder to be arrested. Lillian, who lives in Telegraph Creek, and has been one of the leaders in organizing the Tahltan Elders. (The Elders have called for a moratorium on all new development until a comprehensive planning process is put in place and internal Tahltan governance issues are resolved.)
Bertha Louie, a Director of the Tahltan Central Council (which was one of the few Tahltan groups to support Fortune’s injunction) was also arrested along with James Dennis, Rita Louie (wife of Iskut Band Chief Louis Louie), John Noles, Irma Bourquin, Mable Dennis, Jerry Quock, and other influential Tahltan leaders.
The arrested Elders and youth were transported 100 km north to Dease Lake for processing.
Fortune Mineral’s show of force could have been avoided, but the Tahltan’s compromise offer last week to allow access to Fortune contractors working on six scientific, geological and anthropological studies was never responded to by the company. Instead the Ontario-based company instructed the RCMP to enforce an injunction that was obtained ex parte (without the Tahltan being represented).
Yesterday, the Tahltan’s lawyer filed a motion in BC Supreme Court for a hearing to get the injunction set aside. Fortune and the RCMP were asked to delay arrests until the Tahltan had an opportunity to defend themselves in court. Fortune Minerals and the RCMP proceeded anyway.
The decision to arrest Elders for defending their land raises questions about the BC government’s commitment to building a new relationship based on reconciliation with First Nations.