Sacred Headwaters mine stand-off: Meeting CEO fails to ease tensions
An emergency Saturday evening meeting between Fortune Minerals CEO Robin Goad and the Tahltan Nation elders who recently issued his company an eviction notice from their territory failed to resolve tensions over a proposed mine, according to local environmental group, Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition.
The meeting, also attended Anita McPhee, president of the Tahltan Central Council – the political body which represents several bands and 5,000 members throughout the region – and Marie Quock, chief of the nearby Iskut Band Council, took place at Beauty Camp, a historic hunting and fishing outpost amid the Klappan, or “Sacred Headwaters”, approximately 330 km northeast of Prince Rupert.
The birthplace of three major BC salmon rivers – the Skeena, the Nass and the Stikine – the Klappan has been the site of intense conflict over resource development on several previous occasions. Just last December, Shell Oil abandoned its decade-long campaign for coal bed methane development in the region, following years of ardent Tahltan protest.
Recently, Tahltan elders have shifted their focus to Fortune Minerals’ exploratory drilling for its proposed 4,000 hectare Arctos open-pit anthracite coal mine, which would involve blowing the top off of Mount Klappan. Tahltan concerns culminated in the arrival of 30 or more elders and their supporters in the Klappan last week, and the issuance of an eviction notice to the company.
“We didn’t fight Shell for ten years so a coal company could come along and build an open pit mine in the heart of the Sacred Headwaters,” says Mary Dennis, a Tahltan elder. “We’ve stopped bigger industrial projects before and we’ll do it again with help from our supporters and allies.”
On August 15, following an initial visit to Beauty Camp by three Fortune employees, with an RCMP escort, a mutual cooling off was agreed to, pending Saturday’s follow-up meeting with Goad.
The following is an excerpted account of the meeting from Skeena Watershed’s Dana Hibbard:
…Fortune Minerals arrived with an RCMP escort. Chairs were set up and the meeting was called to order with a sense of urgency as the helicopters needed to take off in less than an hour to make it back to Terrace before night fall. With Mount Klappan immediately in the background Fortune Minerals’ representatives introduced themselves to four generations of Tahltan people, united in their opposition to Fortune’s plans to develop a coal mine in the heart of the Sacred Headwaters.
The meeting got off to an awkward start as Robin Goad, CEO of Fortune Minerals, recognized the Tahtltan’s responsibility to the stewardship of their land and then attested that his company also had a “historic responsibility” to the area. The members of the crowd looked around at each other, incredulous that this man could compare Fortune Minerals’ thirteen years in the Klappan to the millennia that the Tahltan have spent living in and protecting the Sacred Headwaters. This disregard for the Tahltan people, their Aboriginal Rights and Title and their ancient cultural and spiritual connection to the area continued throughout the meeting.
Incredibly, at one point Goad disputed with the Tahltan as to which mountain is actually Mount Klappan. He claimed that his coal mine was not on Mount Klappan but was on the mountain behind him. The crowd cried in unison “that IS Mount Klappan.” Goad momentarily tried to deny this, but soon fell silent.
Although he initially recognized that he was on Tahltan territory, Goad continually asserted his company’s legal right to be in the area. He also referenced the millions of dollars his company and their investors have spent to develop their project. He asked the Tahltan to respect his investors. With the shouts and laughter of children playing in the background McPhee responded that the Tahltan also have investors, their children are their investors!…
…Rather than look for solutions between his company and the Tahltan people Goad said over and over that the Tahltan need to respect the environmental assessment process and that they should convey their concerns to the Government of BC.
Goad’s concern stems in part from the confusing leadership being shown on the file from the BC Liberal Government. His company is operating under approved exploration permits, while undergoing an environmental assessment for the mine. After promising to protect the Klappan in this year’s provincial election, eliciting praise from local leaders like McPhee, less than a month following the provincial election, the Clark Government triggered accusations of breaking this campaign promise with the “fast-tracking” of the environmental assessment of Fortune’s project.
This duplicitous approach from the province has clearly led to frustrations for both Fortune and First Nations. “I am not surprised that our people are taking action against Fortune Minerals,” said McPhee, on learning of the elders’ recent initiative. “We have had concerns with a coal mine in the Klappan for many years and our people want to see the Klappan/Sacred Headwaters permanently protected.”
According to Skeena Watershed’s Hibbard, “Goad is also sending mixed signals. He repeatedly stated his respect for the Tahltan First Nation and repeatedly ignored their requests that his company leave their territory. When Goad made reference to how the Tahltan are frustrating his company’s work, Marie Quock responded that his company is frustrating her people’s lifestyle and their ability to hunt for food.”
“Annita McPhee spoke of the Resolution that was recently unanimously passed by the Tahltan to protect the Klappan. Making reference to the many developments the Tahltan have decided to allow on their territory she continued on to say that there are some places the Tahltan have to protect and they were drawing the line.”
Clearly, Saturday’s meeting failed to yield a positive resolution to the mounting tensions over Fortune’s exploratory work and the fast-tracked – or as Goad prefers, “streamlined” – environmental assessment for its proposed mine.
Update: A spokesperson for the BC Ministry of Energy and Mines declined to comment on the story at this time.