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First Nations Exult as Canadian Government Rejects Taseko's New Prosperity Mine

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First Nations across Canada on February 27 were lauding the federal government’s final rejection of a mining proposal that would have destroyed Tsilhquot’in sacred lands and caused untold environmental damage.

“We are celebrating this decision to reject once again this terrible project, which threatened our pristine waters, fish and aboriginal rights,” said Chief Joe Alphonse, tribal chair for the Tsilhqot’in National Government, in a statement. “We commend the federal government for not bowing to industry lobbying and instead respecting the science and the independent process which came to the conclusion that this project would have devastating impacts on the environment and our Nation’s ability to practice our rights in a sacred spiritual site. These impacts could not be mitigated.”

The battle had been waged since 1995, when Taseko Mines Ltd.’s initial proposal to mine gold and copper in the ecologically sensitive area of British Columbia was first rejected. A second proposal was rejected in 2010, also for environmental reasons. The main objection was that the plan called for destroying sacred Fish Lake and turning it into a tailings pond. Nearby Little Fish Lake would not have fared much better.

Taseko resubmitted its plan in 2011, calling it the New Prosperity Mine and including measures to preserve Fish Lake. The mine would have inhabited the Fish Creek watershed, which includes the two Fish lakes and drains into the Taseko River, according to Mining Weekly. First Nations groups solidly backed the Tsilhquot’in in their opposition.

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The February 26 decision had similar objections to the earlier rejections.

“The Minister of the Environment has concluded that the New Prosperity Mine project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects that cannot be mitigated,” Canada’s Environment Ministry, headed by Leona Aglukkaq, said in a statement. “The Governor in Council has determined that those effects are not justified in the circumstances; therefore, the project may not proceed.”

Also welcoming the decision were Assembly of First Nations (AFN) National Chief Shawn A-in-chut Atleo; Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, and “First Nations everywhere,” the Tsilhquot’in said. The Council of Canadians applauded the decision as well.

“The Assembly of First Nations is proud to stand with the Tsilhqot’in to celebrate this victory, just as we have stood with them throughout all stages of their fight for the recognition of First Nations rights and title,” Atleo said in the statement. “We commend the Tsilhqot’in for their incredible perseverance protecting their rights, their scared sites, their peoples and their economies. We commend the Minister and the federal government for making the right decision that is symbolic of a path forward right across this country—respecting indigenous rights and title, respecting environmental concerns and clearing away barriers to building respectful and sustainable approaches to community and economic development. This decision and this victory for the Tsilhqot’in is a victory for all First Nations and for all Canada. Strong First Nations make for a stronger Canada.”

Taseko has said it will submit a new application and proposal.

“The company fundamentally disagrees with the decision the federal government has made and believes they based their decision on a panel report which contains serious flaws,” Taseko said in a statement on February 27. “New Prosperity can be built to a high standard of environmental integrity, including the full protection of Fish Lake.”