The Fight for Fish Lake (Teztan Biny) - Round Two: New Prosperity MIne


On February 26, 2014, the Minister of the Environment, Hon. Leona Aglukkaq, issued a decision statement regarding the New Prosperity Mine in British Columbia's Chilcotin district, concluding that “the New Prosperity Mine project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects that cannot be mitigated. The Governor in Council (the cabinet) has determined that those effects are not justified in the circumstances; therefore the project may not proceed.”

RAVEN supported the Tsilqhotin through both federal envrionmental reviews. Through this second round, once again our incredible donors made it possible for the Xeni Gwet'in First Nation and Tsilhqot'in National Government to participate fully with the best possible science and legal experts.  Now we all celebrate with the Tsilhqot'in!

We commend the minister for making this decision.  The mine, standing at the headwaters of the Taseko, Chilko, Chilcotin and Fraser River systems would:
• pose an unacceptable threat to one of the provinces greatest resources;
• destroy fresh water lakes and contaminate others;
• have severe impacts on some of the last, best grizzly bear habitat available to the endangered dryland interior grizzly population;
• have effects on Tsilhqot'in culture that could not be mitigated.

The area in question has been identified by distinguished ethno-botanist Nancy Turner as a “cultural keystone place” of great spiritual and cultural significance to the Tsilhqot'in people. The courts of the land have entrenched aboriginal rights to the area sufficient to prevent destructive industrial projects like new Prosperity. Costly and lengthy court cases would have ensued should the mine have been approved.

In the Tsilhqot'in media release, leadership once again emphasized that industry needs to realize they can't trample Aboriginal rights and the environment like a giant in a sandbox. They now call on this to be the end of a costly, pointless battle that has dragged on since at least 1995, when Taseko Mines Ltd. was first told by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans not to waste any further time or money pursuing this unacceptable project.

The minister's decision is rooted in the independent CEAA panel report.  On October 31, 2013, the panel reviewing the New Prosperity mine proposal released a scathing report that confirmed what the Tsilhqot’in have said all along: this project would have devastating cultural and environmental impacts, would contaminate Teztan Biny (Fish Lake), and would destroy an area of unique and special significance to the Tsilhqot’in people – as a critical fishery, as a cultural school, as a sacred site, and as some of their last intact hunting  and trapping grounds.

And here is a Quick Selection of Panel Report Key Findings.

Unfortunately, this decision doesn’t signify the end of our involvement.  There is still the judicial review, with which Taseko indicates they intend to forge ahead. Faced with the panels scathing independent report, Taseko immediately started attacking the credibility of the independent panel, culminating in a lawsuit filed at the end of November.  In this lawsuit, the company asks the Federal Court to set aside key findings of the Panel and declare the Panel’s process unfair to the company. The Tsilhqot’in have been listed as responders to this judicial review and will likely be in court for the next year or so. RAVEN will continue to raise funds for this legal action.

In order to participate in the judicial review, the Tsilhqot’in have estimated that $75,000 is required.  RAVEN has committed to helping to fundraise this amount by March 2014 so that the Tsilhqot’in have the resources they need to ensure that justice is served!

Please consider a small or large donation to assist the Tsilhqot’in in this ongoing struggle to protect Teztan Biny and their way of life. 

Thanks to RAVEN donors, we are a giant step closer to stopping this threat to their pristine and sacred mountain lake for a second and hopefully final time.  The Tsilhqot’in Nation has very limited resources to take on a mining company in court, so every donation can make a substantial difference.

Together, we can - and will - protect Teztan Biny once and for all.

This issue is making news now around the world.  Earth Focus, a program on LinkTV.org, chose it as the focus for an episode on social justice.  The Fight for Fish Lake is also part of a larger program on Canada's Rush for Gold.

Background on Tsilhqot’in Fight to Protect Fish Lake (Teztan Biny) & Nabas (surrounding area)

Fish Lake (Teztan Biny), Little Fish Lake (Yanah Biny) and Nabas (general area) are in a remote and beautiful area of profound cultural and spiritual importance to the Tsilhqot’in Nation. The area is very close to the salmon-rich Taseko and Chilko Rivers, and it also provides critical wetlands and lake habitat for wild rainbow trout, moose, grizzly bear, and many other mammals and migratory birds.

For twenty years Taseko Mines Limited (TML) has tried to get approval for a low-grade, open-pit copper and gold mine at Teztan Biny (Fish Lake.)  The Prosperity Mine proposal is one of the most contested mining projects in Canada.

After a rejection of the project in 2010 by the Federal government, based on a scathing independent panel report describing unprecedented impacts to the environment, and Tsilhqot’in current use, rights and culture, Taseko Mines Ltd. quickly announced it had ‘re-jigged’ the proposal and would re-submit.  This new proposal does not have the support of the Tsilhqot’in Nation.
For the first time, a mine proposal once rejected is being reviewed again by a new federal panel, over the objections of local First Nations.  This is unprecedented in the history of the federal environmental assessment process.

The Tsilhqot’in have multiple and unanimous resolutions from the AFN, UBCIC and FNS in support of their fight to protect this critically important area.

This is a key test of the new federal environmental assessment process.  It is also a test of the court system as Teztan Biny lies within one of the only court-proven Aboriginal rights areas in the country.  The Tsilhqot’in Nation v. B.C. (aka William Case) resulted in proven Tsilhqot’in rights to hunt, trap and trade that have not been appealed by Canada or B.C.

Fish lake photo - Lorna Elkins WHAT DO YOU VALUE MORE - WATER OR GOLD?
The Tsilhqot'in Nation is now engaged with a team of experts and lawyers to figure out what is needed and by when.  Most certainly the band will need to raise funds to cover more expert reports, science-based evidence, and legal arguments to put the best case forward when the CEAA panel convenes this year.  Those costs are not covered by the government. 

Although the federal government inititates the process, it does not pay for the work that must be done. That falls to the Tsilhqot'in alone.  But one expert report - such as a hydrogeology report examining the impacts on water - can cost $60,000!   Without those reports, the band has no facts upon which it can base its adamant refusal to allow this ecologically, permanently destructive mine to proceed. 

Thanks to Fitzhenry Family Foundation, Donner Canadian Foundation, Sierra Club Canada, Environmental Mining Education Foundation and individual donors,we raised more than $200,000 needed for the science and experts who testified at the CEAA hearings.

fishlake_aerial_1We celebrated with the Tsilhqot’in when the CEAA panel issued its final report. Based on the overwhelming evidence brought forward during public hearings, the independent Panel concluded that mine would have “cumulative high and irreversible impacts” in a number of areas, including Tsilhqot'in people and culture, that the false “Prosperity Lake” could not begin to meet DFO's requirements for “no net loss”, that the impacts on blue-listed (endangered) grizzly bears would also be cumulative and irreversible, and that navigation under the Navigable Waters Protection Act would be impossible.

The Panel also clearly described what would be at stake for the Tsilhqot'in people: "The Panel has determined that the loss of Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) and Nabas areas for current use activities, ceremonies, teaching, and cultural and spiritual practices would be irreversible, of high magnitude and have a long term effect on the Tsilhqot'in" [Report, p. 203]. The Panel confirmed that "the island in Teztan Biny (Fish Lake), which would be destroyed by the mine waste storage area, is a place of spiritual power and healing for the Tsilhqot'in."

On November 2, 2010, then-Environment Minister Jim Prentice announced that cabinet had rejected the mine! In a news release, the Environment Minister stated, "...the significant adverse environmental effects of the Prosperity project cannot be justified as it is currently proposed."

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