Tsilhqot'in Acquiesce to Test Drilling, Still Determined to Stop New Prosperity Mine


As the Canadian government’s environmental assessment of the controversial New Prosperity Mine proposal gets under way, the Tsilhqot’in (Chilcotin), whose territory would be decimated by the development, has acquiesced to test drilling on their land.

After much soul-searching in the form of several community meetings, the Tsilhqot’in Nation agreed to stop fighting and litigating against Taseko on the issue of test drills, while keeping its eye on the real goal, which is to make sure the mine itself never gets built.

"This was not a decision we made lightly," said Chief Marilyn Baptiste of the Xeni Gwet'in, one of the communities comprising the Tsilhqot’in National Government (TNG), in a statement. "The communities were prepared to oppose this exploration at all costs. We don't want any more damage to this sacred area. But as a Nation, we've made a decision to focus our energies on the real battle of defeating this project, full-stop."

The Tsilhqot'in communities—Tlet'inqox, Esdilagh, Yunesit'in, Tsi Del Del and Xeni Gwet'in—are supported by environmentalists and the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) in their opposition to the mine, a re-proposed version of Prosperity Mine, which the Canadian government rejected in 2010 on environmental grounds.

Taseko submitted what it called a scaled-down version of the proposal in 2011. It avoids destroying trout-rich Fish Lake, which was part of the first plan, but still proposes turning nearby Little Fish Lake into a tailings pond, a fact not mentioned in the company’s press release touting its revised plan, as The Straight pointed out when the plan was released last March.

As opposition mounted last year, the British Columbia government in October 2011 granted test-drilling permits. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) said in November that it would undertake a studious evaluation of the project. Soon after that the Tsilhqot’in set up a blockade and took Taseko to court, obtaining a 90-day injunction to stop the preliminary work that had been permitted by the province.

The court decision advised Taseko, the Tsilhqot’in and the provincial government to consult with one another and work it out. This led to meetings between the three parties.

For the short term the Tsilhqot’in agreed to allow Taseko to “carry out a significantly reduced exploration program under strict conditions” so that the federal government will have more information for its environmental analysis, the First Nation’s statement said. “On this basis, all parties have agreed to end all outstanding litigation about the exploration program.”

Taseko, for its part, has turned its attention to the Western Canada Wilderness Committee, an environmental group, by filing a lawsuit in British Columbia Supreme Court on March 1 against the group and one of its employees for what the company said were defamatory and inaccurate statements, according to the Canadian Press.