Tahltan stand up to Shell, bcMetals after First Nationsgather in sacred place
A new standoff is brewing in the Sacred Headwaters, in Tahltan country. Last week bcMetals was prevented from moving drilling equipment to begin clearing for a proposed gold mine near the town of Iskut. Tahltan concerned about the cumulative impact of proposed mining and coalbed methane operations in the Sacred Headwaters of the Nass, Stikine and Skeena rivers mounted the blockade.
This was the second time this summer that Tahltan denied bcMetals equipment access to the area. Back on June 16th Rhoda Quock, a spokesperson for the Iskut elders group Klabona Keepers, and elder Erma (Nole) Bourquin physically blocked bcMetals contractors from driving a D6 Cat excavator and drilling equipment sleds through trout spawning in Coyote creek, a tributary to Eddontenijon Lake and the Iskut River.
Subsequently, the government imposed a stop work order on bcMetals to prevent equipment in the stream while active spawning was occurring.
bcMetals is now seeking an injunction against the Tahltan, with the hearing taking place Sept 1 in a Vancouver court.
bcMetals attempt to force their way in to the Sacred Headwaters will meet heavy resistance from the Tahltan and neighbouring First Nations. Earlier in August eight First Nations gathered in the Sacred Headwaters to show their support for the Tahltan and their commitment to protect the area. The area is significant for most northern First Nations. The creation myths of the Haida, Tahltan and Nisga’a cultures say this is the place where the world began.
In a moving ceremony, leaders from the eigtht nations mixed water brought from their home territories with water from the Stikine, Skeena and Nass to illustrate their respect for the sacred area. They each took a portion of the sacred mixture home to sustain their resolve to protect the area.
bcMetals is not the first company to try to exploit the area’s mineral wealth. Last September, Fortune Minerals was prevented from moving drilling equipment for its coal-mining project by a three month blockade. The courts granted an injunction without allowing the Tahltan protestors to present their case and 14 Tahltan were arrested defending their territory. The courts however rejected Fortune Minerals’ attempt to extend the injunction, and the company has apparently learned its lesson and has not attempted to resume drilling.
Local opposition has also rebuffed Shell Canada’s efforts to develop coalbed methane in the Sacred Headwaters. Shell recently announced it would not attempt to resume its drilling for a second year because of ongoing Tahltan opposition.
The Sacred Headwaters is where the first trickles of four magnificent river systems begin to flow-Spatsizi (Stikine), Nass, Klappan and Skeena. The surrounding Stikine watershed is a globally important natural area. Over Eons the river has carved eighty kilometres of steep-walled canyon. Many species frequent the area-salmon, black and grizzly bears, mountain goats, Stone sheep, moose, caribou, wolf, coyotes, and numerous birds.
The salmon and trout from these rivers have helped sustain the Tahltan and downstream First Nations for thousands of years. Recently, an economic analysis determined that wild salmon on the Skeena contribute $100 million dollars into the regional economy.
All of this is threatened by the proposed coalbed methane, coal and gold mining operations that the BC government is trying to fast track for the region. Last fall, elders, band councillors and the Iskut community convened a visioning gathering at the end of which they agreed the entire Sacred Headwaters should be protected as a “Heritage Area”.
bcMetals is ignoring the Tahltan’s views and attempting to rely on a certificate of approval from the government to begin drilling. Mining Watch Canada and Sierra Legal Defence Fund are currently challenging this certificate.
The Sacred Headwaters is a test case for the BC government’s much touted “new relationship” with First Nations. How things proceed will illustrate whether the initiative is just a new spin on business-as-usual or is in fact a new approach to resolve land disputes with First Nations. Time will tell.
Regardless of the relationship between First Nations and the Province, bcMetals, Shell, Fortune Minerals and any other company trying to drill in the Sacred Headwaters proceed at their own peril. The Tahltan will not stand down.