Fortune Minerals CEO Robin Goad is reportedly flying into the Sacred Headwaters, in northwest BC, for an emergency discussion this evening with elders of the Tahltan Nation. The 5 pm meeting will address the eviction notice issued by a group of 30 or more Tahltan elders, referring to themselves as the Klabona Keepers, to Goad’s company on Wednesday, according to Shannon McPhail, Executive Director of Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition. McPhail, whose organization is supporting the elders’ action, has spent the week at their camp, amid Tahltan traditional territory in the Klappan, or “Sacred Headwaters”.
The Klappan is the birthplace of three major BC salmon rivers – the Skeena, the Nass and the Stikine.
Tahltan elders have a successful track record of turning away unwanted development from their territory, having convinced Shell Oil to abandon its proposed coal bed methane operations in the same location last year.
“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.”
Fortune Minerals has been conducting exploratory drilling – under approved permits from the BC Government – for anthracite coal, in preparation for a proposed 4,000 hectare open-pit mine that would involve blowing off the top of Mount Klappan, a sacred site for the Tahltan peoples. The proposed Arctos Anthracite Project, currently under provincial environmental review, sits next to the Spatsizi Wilderness Area, approximately 330 km northeast of Prince Rupert – an important ancestral hunting and fishing site for Tahltans.
Following the 24-hour eviction notice issued on August 14, three representatives of Fortune Minerals visited the elders’ camp on Thursday evening, says McPhail. The meeting resulted in a temporary truce between the company and representatives of the Klabona Keepers – with Fortune agreeing to halt exploration activities pending today’s meeting with the company’s CEO.
The Tahltan Central Council, which represents several bands with 5,000 members throughout the region, recently passed a unanimous resolution opposing industrial development in the Sacred Headwaters. Says TCC President Annita McPhee, “I am not surprised that our people are taking action against Fortune Minerals, 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.”
“Fortune Minerals’ project is located in a critically important area that requires long term management and protection to preserve cultural and ecological values for the Tahltan people, and all of B.C.”
The BC Liberals also made protecting the Klappan a campaign promise in this year’s provincial election, eliciting praise from local leaders like McPhee. “We are very encouraged that the Provincial Government has committed to working with us to develop a protection vision for the Klappan,” she noted. “It is time to start building long term solutions that will protect our land and culture.”
Yet, less than a month following the provincial election, the Liberal Government triggered accusations of breaking this campaign promise, with the “fast-tracking” of the environmental assessment of Fortune’s project – leaving many in the region confused as to Premier Clark’s real intentions.
Ministry of Environment spokesperson Suntanu Dalal defended the province’s actions in June, suggesting the government would establish a provincial roundtable, including representatives from First Nations, industry, labour and environmental groups, “to provide guidance to government on how to balance the need to protect important parts of the environment with the need to create jobs and wealth.”
For her organization’s part, says Skeena Watershed’s McPhail, “Fortune Minerals couldn’t have picked a worse place to try and build an open-pit coal mine. This project is in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the company should withdraw, rather than angering local communities over a project that will never be built.”
Tahltan elder-led blockades have a history of lasting for months at a time. A 2005 action against Fortune Minerals barred the company from entering the Klappan, resulting in 15 arrests and a protracted legal battle. Years of similar protests compelled Shell to abandon its gas tenures in the region last December.
Watch for a follow-up report on the outcome of today’s meeting.