First Nations community split over Red Chris mine
CTV British Columbia
Published Monday, September 17, 2012 9:00PM PDT
Last Updated Thursday, September 20, 2012 7:31PM PDT
The Tahltan First Nation in northeastern B.C. may officially oppose the Red Chris mine project, but the community is divided internally – and that split may end up working in the company’s favour.
Elders James Dennis and Loveman Nole live less than 20 kilometres from the mine in the village of Iskut, and used to hunt and trap where bulldozers now graze on trees.
In 2005, Dennis and many other Tahltan blockaded a road to stop local exploration by Shell Oil. They won that battle, but their concerns are being raised once again by Red Chris.
“I think they should go home,” Dennis said. “They’re going to damage that whole mountain and they’re going to leave and we’re going to put up with it.”
The mine, operated by Vancouver-based Imperial Metals and located more than 900 kilometres north of Prince George, is surrounded by untouched wilderness and neighbours an area known as the “Sacred Headwaters” where three major B.C. rivers begin.
The protection of the Sacred Headwaters was a key issue in the protests against Shell Oil, but there haven’t been any blockades targeted against the Red Chris mine yet – possibly because a large percentage of the people working there are Tahltan.
The Etzerza family provides a perfect representation of the community’s division; CTV News found grandmother Lola Etzerza preserving fish gathered over the summer from the Stikine River using traditional methods. It’s an important food source many still depend on during the winter months.
“That’s why people are so worried about the mines coming in, because it might wreck their fishing,” she said.
But as she teaches preservation to her granddaughter, her son Dwayne is learning other skills at Red Chris.
“Right now I’m just driving a water truck,” he said. “You can actually get ahead, you know what I mean? Instead of working for a smaller wage.”
Despite the number of locals flocking to the opportunities presented by the project, First Nations leaders say their relationship with the company has always been strained and they’re unhappy with the way the Red Chris permit was issued.
They say they’re planning their next move with the help of a lawyer.
Meanwhile, Bill Adsit of the Tahltan Nation Development Corporation insists the concerns over the mine are overblown.
“We’ve done a lot of work here – we’ve got a lot of people working here. And I think most of the environmental threats the Nations is talking about can be mitigated in various ways,” Adsit said.
For more on how B.C.’s mining boom threatens eco-tourism in the province, tune in to the CTV News exclusive series The Big Dig on Friday
With a report from CTV British Columbia’s Ed Watson