A Tahltan Responds

The letter below was submitted to the Vancouver Sun by Beverly Slater (a Tahltan band member and law student at Univ. of Victoria) in response to an Op-ed by Gordon Loverin from Sept. 29 called The simple answer is share the wealth
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MISSIONARIES OR ALLIES?

Environmentalists groups are not out to convert Indians, just like the Tahltan Elders are not out to stop economic prosperity. But both want sustainability for future generations. These groups evolve from concerned individuals that work together to hold governments and industries accountable for their discretion and developmental impact on human health, and the natural environment.  The Tahltan Elders have had this role since time immemorial.

Mr. Lovin reports that: In northwestern B.C., the Tahltan Nation has enjoyed prosperity through its association with the mining industry. Through Barrick’s Eskay Creek gold and silver mine, opened in 1995, 117 Tahltan (30 per cent of the workforce) are employed through the Tahltan Nation Development Corp. Unemployment in Iskut, Dease Lake and Telegraph Creek has dropped from 85 per cent to six per cent, below the national average. It begs to question, why would we need five more mines operating within Tahltan territories?  If we have less than a 6 % unemployment rate already?

What about the rest of our people who are living off the land; fishing, hunting and trapping? What about the water? The West Coast Environmental Law Centre reported that where there are mines, there is certainty that there will be “an increase in drilling rigs and related equipment that will be transported onto the land; an increase in the amount of toxic waste that will need to be disposed of; and an increase in the dangerous air emissions that could have an impact on people who live near these activities.” Where do you live Mr. Loverin?

You speak of Canadian case law that demands industry and government to consult and accommodate Indigenous peoples. Yes that is true, but with this power comes responsibilities to act as the protectors of that which we are responsible for: our traditional territories. Additionally, how do we meet the legal tests of continuity and proof of title when industries continue to alter the landscape? Most of our evidence lies in the oral testimony of our Elders? How do the Elders identify place names and practices when those places are gone because of road building? Where will the evidence be to prove our title and rights? Flushed down the rivers or sitting below the mines holding wells!

Why would we want to negotiate our rights and title away? So multinational corporations can come in and exploit the land and then walk away so our Elders and residents of Telegraph, Dease and Iskut can be left behind with cleaning up, and live in the toxic environment?  Sierra Legal Defence reported that government regulations stipulate that mines that have identified a spill, apply their own discretion in determining whether the spill is too small or big enough to report.  In April of this year, the Petroleum Services Association of Canada forecast record drilling activity – they anticipate a total of 18,300 wells in Canada, many of which are being drilled in BC. So how many holding wells will be created to capture the toxic run off produced by all these mining projects? Our responsibilities include the protection of future generations. And this does not include dooming our children and grandchildren to the long term effects of exposure to the cumulative toxic mining materials produced through the mining process.

A concerned Tahltan Band Member
Beverly Slater

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