Marie William of the Xeni Gwet'in fishes Teztan Biny (

Why Culture Matters: Prosperity Mine’s Impacts on the People and Land of the Nemaiah Valley


Editor’s Note: In the wake of two major developments regarding the highly controversial proposed Prosperity Mine – the Harper Government’s decision to provide Taseko Mines a new environmental review for an alternate version of the project and the BC government’s issuing of road building and exploration permits to the company, over First Nations opposition – David Williams of Friends of Nemaiah Valley provides a candid summary of the enormous environmental and cultural implications of the proposed mine. This is the first story from our new op-ed blog, Your Voice.


Earlier this week, we at Friends of the Nemaiah Valley (FONV) heard that the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) has agreed to conduct an environmental assessment of Taseko Mines Ltd. (TML) proposed “New Prosperity” mine application in Tsilhqot’in territory.

This unfortunate decision is misguided for many reasons. This is the third try by TML to develop this mine, one of the largest gold/copper deposits in British Columbia. It was turned down twice in the recent past because the environmental consequences would be too great. Even by Taseko’s own admission during hearings last year, this “tweaked” proposal, then known as Option II, would have even worse environmental consequences than the one rejected by the federal government.

While there are environmental reasons to reject this mine – it is in prime grizzly habitat, will destroy a large rainbow trout population, and threatens large salmon runs that are part of the Fraser River fishery – it is the impact it will have on the local Xeni Gwet’in community in the Nemaiah Valley that I want to focus on.

Picture a “camp” of up to 600 miners placed into a remote First Nations Community that is still largely dependent upon the land for sustenance and identity. This camp will be in place for up to 35 years.  250 Xeni Gwet’in, the People of the Rivers, live in the Nemaiah Valley alongside a small settler community of about fifty people. The latter operate small ranches, run wilderness lodges, fish, hunt and trap, and just like the way of life that prevails here.

Xeni Gwet’in, like indigenous people everywhere, identify with their land. They see themselves as part of it and view any action that destroys any part of it as an assault upon their very being. These days Tsihqot’in culture is recovering from the onslaughts of the colonial era; displacement from places they have relied upon for survival for virtually forever, the reserve system, and residential schools that were designed to destroy their language and culture. That recovery is well advanced in the Nemaiah Valley.  Fully 50% of the food consumed comes directly from the land and includes salmon and trout from Nabas.

Consequently they have the lowest diabetes rate in British Columbia. The Tsihlqot’in language, almost lost a few years ago, is now taught in the local school. Peter Brand, Director of the brilliant First Voices programme, says that of all the places he visits across the province the Nemaiah Valley Xeni Gwet’in live closest to their traditional way of life.

An ethic of caring for their land lies deep within the culture.

Chief Marilyn is one of three Xeni Gwet’in co-authors interviewed by Jonaki Bhattacharyya, doctoral candidate at the University of Waterloo. (It’s Who We Are: Locating Cultural Strength in Relationship with the Land, a chapter in a forthcoming book published by UBC Press).

“You need to teach about the importance of caring for water and resources as early as you can! And that’s how the language is learned.

The Tsilhqot’in language is where the deepest strength of who we are and how we’re tied to the land really is.”

Speaking of the panel hearings into Prosperity Mine specifically specifically Marilyn says:

“Our community here, Xeni Gwet’in…we went into the CEAA Panel hearings thinking that we weren’t going to have enough speakers. That was always the fear in all the communities. Because that is a very threatening, intimidating process! Even to us, as leaders!  But…our people did just tremendously.  It would blow your socks off! Our Elders, our people…just being there, filling the room all those days, and being here those long hours. You couldn’t chase them away if you wanted to. They’d probably chase you away! [laughs] And our youth, the school, all of the kids… The senior class decided to do some submissions.  They did a beautiful job. And the intermediate class, they did a play. That was so amazing! They did such a tremendous job. The strength and the voices of everybody in the Tsilhqot’in communities…”

From the same chapter by Bhattacharyya, Xeni Gwet’in Wild Horse Ranger David Setah: 

“I think in order to give, to find that strength…your kids should also know their past, your past histories… all that about being caretakers, Chilcotin War, all the legends. All that will lead them to who they are. And all that will strengthen them, because they know that they are actually Tsilhqot’ins, and they know their history. And they can go out there being proud because they know they’re connected to that area.

That’s one of my biggest goals is that we’re being caretakers. We’ve done it in the past, and with European contact and things like that, we can still do it. We must still keep in mind that we need to protect our rights. If we keep on in that fashion we’re just building ourselves a stronger nation, and it would be pretty hard for something to come in to affect us. The land is… to remain as a nation and to be recognized as a nation you need the land. We need to take care of the land. That’s what we did a long time ago.  And that’s why we’re situated in the areas that we are: to take care of the land.”
Culture matters. These voices bring an important message. Indigenous cultures and languages are vital repositories of knowledge and custom that show a thousand ways to be human. Indigenous cultures, and a way of life still strong in the Nemaiah Valley, can teach us all how better to live in this land. Until we learn to show respect for the land, and for them, we will continue an ethic of endless growth that is having cumulative environmental impacts that threaten the very ecosystems that make life on this planet possible.

The people of Xeni are not unsophisticated. They and their settler neighbours and friends were  opposed to Prosperity Mine last year. The new model is no better or even worse. They know what 600 miners running loose in their community will do to their way of life, to their land, and to their children. Drugs, alcohol and abuse will be an inevitable component. Mechanized recreation on a vast scale will destroy budding attempts by the community to build a local economy centred around wilderness and cultural tourism. There is plenty of precedent for similar disasters throughout Canada and in third world countries.

It is time to put an end to this colonialist venture if Canada is to maintain even the pretence of being a just nation.

David Williams is the President of Friends of the Nemaiah Valley


21 thoughts on “Why Culture Matters: Prosperity Mine’s Impacts on the People and Land of the Nemaiah Valley

  1. Susan … that person that was throwing scraps of copper away was a “jerk” for throwing that stuff in the outdoors — and a “fool” given the price of scrap metal these days.

    In answer to your question about do we need the copper however — the answer is YES. There is little we require in the way of transportation, distribution of food stuff and clothes etc, and of the electronics you used to make your post, that does not need it.

    So … the question then becomes where will this or any other BC mine be located … what safeguards can we put in place? Or would you rather we have it in a 3rd world country paying poverty wages and with NO environmental safeguards

  2. Gluttony for wealth trumps all other values .Canadas’ voters seem to vote for wealth gluttons.
    Do we really need to mine the copper there at Fish lake?
    What is that copper going to be used for?
    The electrician who just upgraded my old house, was throwing all his loose copper bits away in the trash.
    It’s a lousy attitude that allows corporations and rich people to be idolized and made financial priorities . Time for some house-cleaning, get priorities clear again- that will happen only if EVERYONE votes -we had our chance, this what happens when Canadian citizens don’t care enough to vote.
    The money grubbers don’t have a lot of social or environmental ethics -we as a huge non-voting group let them gain control through voter apathy.
    Learn to vote!!! Be willing to shape our future – not just react when life goes wrong!

  3. Unfortunately, there are very few mining operations in BC or anywhere in Canada, underground or open pit, that have been turned back to their natural state. This is the probably the most worrisome concern to the Xeni Gwet’in nation. No matter where you look, and I live next to a former open pit mine here in the Okanagan, none (or darn few) of the mining companies have lived up to their promises of restoration. Indeed, even if they have covered up the hole, effluent from the operation is still contaminating the water supply of nearby villiages and towns. The mining company leaves, changes names, and continues to pollute the province in another spot. That’s what corporations do. If the Xeni Gwet’in were to take this mine on as their responsibility, then they would have to live with it, but that certainly does not appear to be the case here.

  4. Thank you for your follow up comments David — as well as for your initial story. It causes all of us to examine what kind of a world we want to live in — and I say this with no sarcism.

    I am reminded of, and appreciate, the beauty our Creator has blessed us with every day. I am also blessed blessed by and appreciate the resources that our Creator has provided us with.

    My church is at times inside 4 walls … at other times it is in the sparkle of the eyes, and the smile I see, on the faces of my grandschildren … and at a time in the past of inner turmoil and depression it was in the beauty of a golden Cariboo sunsrise blazing come through the trees.

    I mean no disrespect, and ask only how will we solve the conflicts we inevitably have occuring when project such as this mine come up.

    The people of Nabas do not wish to have the mine … but in all corners of the province we see ongoing calls to end development … and each new one is just as passionate as those before it.

    If not this jmine, then which, and where, and who will be left feeling unherard and not respected. We must find a better way to meet the needs of each other.

  5. In a democracy folks who can’t prevail need to look eleswhere. There is no shortage of copper on this planet so technology will not be handicaped by our opening another mine or not.
    There is a growing shortage of unspoiled nature which should mean to any thoughful person that unspoiled nature has a higher value than another mine.
    Having been a pilot that regularly crossed the northern half of BC in the sixties I can tell you that the scars from the early part of the last century remained for us to see.
    Humans cannot seem to live and work the land without leaving evidence of a lot of damage. Prosperity Mine would just be another in a long list. No amount of pious propoganda will convince me otherwise.

  6. Hello, Alan;

    I’d like to take this opportunity to answer your question regarding the location of a mining camp to any First Nation community. The camp is in the Caretaker Area and declared Aboriginal Wilderness Preserve of the Xeni Gwet’in First Nation, shared with the Yunesit’in (Stone) Tsilhqot’in community. It is in a proven Tsilhqot’in “rights” area as determined by the Supreme Court of B.C. This is Nabas, a place where archaeologists have found evidence of human habitation going back at least 6500 years. Present day Xeni Gwet’in are almost certainly the descendants of those early people. Xeni Gwet’in people occupy this space today, as hunters and fishers, trappers, and gatherers of food plants and medicines. They live here seasonally. It is a sacred place to them, equivalent to a church, where they conduct ceremonies and Gatherings. Xeni Gwet’in people live throughout their territory rather than in a small, centralized community, though there is a band office, health office, school and small subdivision 35 kms west from Nabas.

    All statements in my article are based on established facts and serious scholarship. I am happy to answer any other questions you have.

  7. As one who worked in underground mines, I wonder, if an underground mine would be possible. The environmental impact then would be limited to the access roads. Water discharge could be filtered to drinking standards, as proved possible in Saskatchewan 30 years ago.

  8. Alan, I appreciate your thoughts and perspective. I wouldn’t disagree that there’s some level of protest to most forms of resource development today – and I’d argue that’s healthy and essential. In the very least, that opposition forces regulators and lawmakers to give careful consideration to how the project proceeds, to make concessions to First Nations and concerned groups and citizens, ultimately resulting in a better project. Left utterly unchecked, corporations will naturally cut as many corners as possible – that’s not a judgement, but a factual statement. Corporations can only, by their own charters, be concerned with maximizing shareholder profits – for corporate officers to place any other consideration ahead of profits is a fiduciary breach that should result in their firing. That’s why it falls to citizens to pressure regulators and lawmakers to more thoroughly scrutinize every proposed development. If environmental, human health and cultural concerns can be sufficiently addressed in the planning of a project, then great; if not, we need to be prepared in this day and age of ecological and climate calamity to say no to certain projects.

    In closing, I and many others did approach this proposal with an open mind initially. But we’ve gone through several years of public process on this – everything has been laid out and rehashed and it has been ruled on and rejected by the federal government. Now you’re asking me to continue having an open mind as the project is revisited. That’s not necessary. The time for open minds has past. First Nations have looked at the project and its amended proposal and said “no.” We should not be having to delve back into this whole mess again. It’s as though corporations like Taseko and governments like Campbell/Clark simply won’t take no for an answer – and that’s simply unfair to the public and First Nations, not to mention an enormous waste of tax dollars.

  9. PS … I really do think we want the same thing over-all.

    For the main part, to be able to enjoy the gifts we have been blessed with by modern technology — AND — to be able to enjoy the beauty of creation we also have been blessed with.

    YES they are, and will be, hard to have come together, but I beleive it can be done.

  10. Damien …

    Because I have a voracious appetite for political news, and things that over-all affect our province, I see and read a lot.

    You covered many things in your reponse to me, however for now I will focus on just one; opposition to “… not all mines – this mine”

    I appogoloze if this a generalization but I am not aware of one major development being proposed in this province, over the past several years, that has not run into opposition from one or more protest groups.

    I do not want to see are landscape scared like it was decades ago — or as it is now in places like China, India, Africa and elsewhere. We need to have careful planning to bring projects online with the “least amount of disruption” possible … AND we need plans for when their lifespan is completed so that remediation work can be done.

    Projects such as this mine, but not neccessarily this particular one, can have a long and lasting positive affect for all.

    I only ask that you, and others, consider this with an open mind to the posibility.

  11. Alan, you’re wrong in ascribing a “no to everything” mentality to me or my colleagues. We’re for smart, sustainable development that creates good Canadian jobs without destroying our precious environment. Perhaps you would have me rush into this project like the Province has done, only to be embarrassed by Harper’s rejection of it (and they’re still at it – pushing forward with permits and winding up in court with the First Nations!)

    I’m not opposed to all mines; I’m opposed to this one. I’m opposed to it because of facts and science. I was opposed to the first proposal because according to DFO, the federal Environment Ministry, and numerous highly respected independent interveners, it was impossible to build the mine without enormous adverse ecological and cultural impacts. I’m opposed to the new version because it still threatens Fish Creek, Taseko Lake and the Taseko River (ironic, given the company’s name) – major salmon habitat connected to the Fraser River. The Tsilhqot’in feel this second proposal (which was well known before as it was introduced at the Federal Panel Review), is as bad or worse than the first.

    I’m opposed to this mine because Taseko has no credibility – they lied about this version being “economically unfeasible” at the time of the first review – then ONE DAY AFTER that was rejected, they flip-flopped and said they could do the alternate proposal without destroying the lake. On top of that, they were investigated for the RCMP for insider trading after millions of shares were dumped in the weeks before the Ministry rejected the project. They’ve also blatantly lied about how many jobs the project will create. In short, we can’t trust a goddamned word they say.

    Finally, I’m opposed to this mine because the First Nations whose traditional territory this is – whose title and rights have been confirmed by the longest and arguably most seminal court case in BC history, the Williams case – and it would be foolish for the Province or Canada to push this thing through over First Nations opposition. Understand they have a deeply entrenched legal right to say no to this project and we ignore that at our own financial peril. They will sue and they will win and we, as taxpayers, will be left holding the bag…Those are my reasons for opposing this mine, Alan – not all mines – this mine.

  12. Ashton I truly DO respect what you have to say — and I know that First Nations People had to endure some pretty horrific things. That said — how do you move forward by staying in the past (I ask this from personal experience)?

    Also … this is a modern word with modern conveniences. Even the clothes we wear, the food we eat, the vehicles we drive, the computer you usewd to write your post, require the metals this mine (or others) produce.

    Without them, how do you propose we live in todays modern society??

    We must seek a balance that we can all be in harmony with. Simply saying “NO” without an alternative is no solution

  13. I am a member of the Tsilhqot’in Nation and oppose this mine 100%! I will, along with my people, do whatever it takes to save our land. This is our life, our culture, our traditions at stake here. Haven’t we (as Aboriginal People) endured enough since colonialism? I know Alan’s comments talk about there being no point to rehashing things that happened decades upon decades ago but our past as Aboriginal People is a painful one. It has made us who we are today and is the reason we will fight this mine to the bitter end. Our land is almost all that is left of what our ancestors past onto us and we will not lose it’s beauty, its gracefulness, its bounty to a mine. I am Tsilhqot’in, this is my land, and i am prepared to fight this.

  14. Well. if they want the minerals they should do it without any effect to the land or the people living on it. So I guess it will all have to be underground. Oh, and instead of shipping the concentrate offshore to the government’s Chinese friends, the copper should be refined here in BC and the finished product sold to whoever wants it. If these conditions can’t be met. No mine.

  15. There is a lot of money at stake here – and also a lifestyle/way of life for people that have lived on this land for centuries and have the right to continue to do so.

    Again we have corporate greed trying to trump everything – promising whatever and usually falling far short of their promises.

    This is exactly what the OW was all about – the greed, the arrogance, the corruption and all the other negatives of the 1%, while sticking it to the other 99%.

    If this is native land then to hell with the mining companies – unless the first nation people want to mine the land themselves – which I very much doubt.

    Sure as heck, the governments or the mining companies don’t want people coming in to dig up their home land/gardens/properties – so why do it to others eh ! Ah, only in Canada you say eh!!!!

    I see serious problems on the horizon for not only the provincial government, but also the federal government as well. To dismiss owner concerns in an arrogant and insulting fashion is like waving a red flag to a bull.

    The very sad part of all this is that it is all over corporate greed. A traditional first nation group of people will have their lives ruined for no good reason.

  16. Given the website, I am NOT surprised at all to see the thumbs down on my comments. It only goes to prove that people are NOT prepared to try and make things work to the benefit of all.

    I could not care less if people are purple, pink, polka dot, black, white, or red. Inside we are all the same and re-hashing things that happened decades and decades ago regretably reminds me of the Hatfields and McCoys.

    There were things in my life that I had to work through, anfd that did not happen until I made a concious choice to put the past behind me … to see today as the day I was living in … and the future as something to be explored and looked forward to.

    YES I am in favor of the mine going ahead — however NOT if if the revieiws do indeed say it should not. Some on the other hand, youself included, appear to be opposed no matter what.

    So I ask, who has the open mind? Who is prepared to see all sides and options available? Who wants to see benefits of good jobs and good wages shared by all who live in the region and area?

    A closed mind, by anyone, is a sad and sorry thing to see.

  17. Alan, you say, “Let’s learn to live & work together” – can you not do that without the mine being built? I’m sure the Tsilhqot’in would be happy to live and work together so long as this mine doesn’t get built on their territory. Or is building the mine your prerequisite for “living and working together”?…PS do you refuse to acknowledge the effects of colonialism on BC’s aboriginal peoples?! Do you really think those effects don’t linger very much still today? Do you not see the parallels between the Chilcotin War of 1864 (which, incidentally was over a gold mine in the very same region) and the direction things are headed today? I think the parallels are unmistakeable. So what is “inflammatory” about David’s comment re: colonialism?

  18. I lived inj the Cariboo for 30 years & so have some knowledgeable about the area & ALL who call it home.
    … a “camp” of up to 600 miners placed into a remote First Nations Community (exactly how close will the camp be to any nearby First Nations community)
    … recovering from the onslaughts of the colonial era (talk about inflammatory)
    … fully 50% of the food consumed comes directly from the land and includes salmon and trout from Nabas. Consequently they have the lowest diabetes rate in British Columbia. (I doubt if doctors & nurses at Cariboo Memorial Hospital would agree with that statement)
    … until we learn to show respect for the land, and for them, we will continue an ethic of endless growth that is having cumulative environmental impacts that threaten the very ecosystems that make life on this planet possible (to enjoy the conveniences of modern day requires we make use of the gifts God (of our own understanding) has created for us. Lets use them carefully & then return the land back to a natural state. Or should we instead bring in even MORE of the things ALL of us use from high polluting countries like China, India, etc.
    Let’s learn to live & work together

Comments are closed.