Open Letter to Taseko Mines Limited: Destruction of Fish Lake in Tsilqot’in Territory by Arthur Topham
[Author’s Note: The following letter was sent to the Editor of the Quesnel Cariboo Observer by myself after reading the front page article in their March 18, 2010 edition headed: “Public support key to mine project’s success.” (See article below as well)
The story covered an “appeal” given to the Quesnel Chamber of Commerce by Taseko Mines Limited vice president Brian Battison concerning Taseko’s controversial “Prosperity” copper-gold mine slated for development in what is known as Tsilqot’in Traditional territory, aka the Chilcotin area of B.C. located south west of Williams Lake, B.C.
The one major monkey wrench which Taseko Mines attempts to downplay while waxing eloquent to Quesnel Chamber of Commerce members about money and jobs and progress is the blatant fact that in order to build their mine they would have to destroy a lake (Fish Lake, also known as Tetzan Biny in the native tongue), held sacred by the indigenous residents in an area of B.C. still as yet unceded to the federal or provincial governments in any title settlement.
The letter, to date, has not been published by the Observer and considering its length may not appear in full should it actually be published. As such I decided to make it an Open Letter to Taseko Mines Limited so that the general public would have online access to its contents.
Interested and concerned supporters of the Tsilqot’in people are asked to pass it along to their friends and associates.]
Open Letter to Taseko Mines Limited: Destruction of Fish Lake in Tsilqot’in Territory
By Arthur Topham
March 19, 2010
President, CEO and Director
Chairman of the Board and Director
Direct: (778) 373-4545
Taseko Mines Limited
#300 – 905 West Pender Street
Vancouver, BC, Canada
4633 Barkerville Hwy
March 19, 2010
Quesnel Cariboo Observer
Re: Public support key to mine project’s success, Observer, March 18/10
Your article states that Taseko Mines Limited vice president spoke of many things but he might as well, as the Walrus in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass, have spoke of “shoes – and ships – and sealing wax – of cabbages – and kings – And why the sea is boiling hot – and whether pigs have wings.”
All Battison’s talk of “employment” and “millions in capital investment” and “sustainability” and “relationships” sounds no different than what the Walrus stated to the Oysters prior to gobbling them up for lunch.
The “key,” unlike what Taseko is proposing, is not “public support” for a flawed project but the realization, by all the players in this deceptive deal, that the land in question is legal in the hands of the Chilcotin people and that they, and they alone in the final analysis, have the last word in whether or not a mine will manifest within their traditional, unceded territories. Anything else is subterfuge and within the same realm of fantasy as the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland.
Taseko is saying, “Essentially we’re building another Gibralter in the Cariboo,” but my response to that disingenuous statement would be: Actually, no. Due to the manner in which this process is being steam-rollered through the negotiations process what Taseko is laying the foundations for is another Oka Uprising or, an example more close to home, another Gustafsen Lake stand-off, like what we witnessed back in 1995 out of 100 Mile House when the former NDP government and the Canadian military attempted to lie to the public via the media and violently remove a small group of native Sundancers from off of their traditional territory.
For Prosperity the sacrifice of a relatively small lake, Fish Lake (Tetzan Biny in the native language), is not a big deal relative to their gargantuan plans for the future. This may seem quite normal to them seeing as they don’t live in the area or have any historic or spiritual ties to the land there, but for the people of the Tsilqot’in Nation this small, unassuming and placid lake symbolizes the essence of all that composes their culture, history and way of life.
When Battison stated that, “some First Nation chiefs have expressed ’strong and inflexible’ positions on Prosperity. Opinions, he said, they are ‘entitled to hold,’” we come to the crux of the issue; one that Battison and others would rather not acknowledge and deal with it.
When he speaks of “some” First Nations chiefs he is referring to ALL the First Nations chiefs within the surrounding, unceded territories where the proposed Prosperity mine would be located if it were to ever materialize.
Fish Lake is located deep within the Tsilqot’in Nation’s traditional, unceded territory. As Black’s Law Dictionary clearly states, unceded means the land has never been yielded or assigned or granted by the Tsilqot’in government to either the federal or provincial governments in any legal and binding treaty. As such it is still legally in possession by the people who have lived in the area for thousands of years.
While this is, admittedly, a rather inconvenient truth for both levels of government and for the corporation that is desperately attempting to circumvent these established facts in order to build their mine it nonetheless is the actual reality rather than what all the rhetoric coming from Taseko’s vice president Brian Battison would have the gullible public believe.
It would be a grave error on Battison’s part to think that the adamant position of all of these chief’s is merely “opinion” that they are “entitled to hold.” Far from it. Their position is backed by history, tradition and legal precedent and for all of the public relations scamming that’s occurring in the media the facts still remain: the land belongs to the Tsilqot’in Nation and it is up to them whether they wish to allow corporate interests to destroy what they claim is a sacred lake. No outsiders have the legal or moral right to question the position taken by the chiefs. Taseko knows this. The Campbell government knows this. The Federal Conservative government knows this. And you can be bloody sure that the mainstream media also knows it yet refuses, as is their duty and responsibility to the public, to inform readers of this fact of life.
The Campbell government giving Prosperity the “go-ahead” is meaningless within the context of treaty rights and traditional ownership of the land in question.
Another fact, not mentioned, is that no outside body thus far has been able to buy off any of the chiefs and thus create the typical “divide and conquer” scenario among the local chiefs. This is a great problem for both government and Taseko as it’s normally par for the course that they manage to produce a red apple here or there to complete the signing and give-away process regardless of what the people themselves desire.
The abject failure by government, Taseko, the media and the dumbed-down public to concede the fact that the land is still owned and controlled by the Tsilqot’in people and that they are fully within their legal rights to oppose this massive deception called “Prosperity,” will ultimately result in a clash if blindly pursued; one bound to explode into hatred and violence and potential bloodshed if these government and corporate entities don’t get a grip on the actual gravity of the situation.
The people of the Chilcotin territory are peace-loving and fair-minded but they are also extremely cognizant of the history of their people and past attempts by government to deceive them and exploit their territories. They have proven themselves to be a people strong enough and courageous enough to stand up for their land, their culture and their spiritual values. It would therefore, as I’ve already stated, be a remarkably foolish error to try and force this project upon a people who have stood in defiance of subjugation since the European settlers first set foot in their territory.
All the talk therefore about “working with” First Nations; providing “employment” and “partnerships” and “opportunities” for “training” and “advancement” is nothing but smoke and mirrors that the chiefs and the people they represent see through.
It’s time we stopped promoting all the feverish pitch for Taseko along with the selfishness and greed and lying and started respecting the wishes of our first people. That is the only true way to prosperity for everyone.
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