A small band in central British Columbia is threatening to shut down a big copper mine because the rapidly expanding operation does not employ anyone from the Wet’suwet’en First Nation.
“The Wet’suwet’en chief and council were instructed by their members to take whatever action is necessary, including direct action and legal action, to stop further mine expansion,” a statement by the band said.
Chief Karen Ogen said the band is determined to shut down the mine if Imperial Metals Corporation and its partner, a Japanese consortium, do not address Wet’suwet’en demands.
“I guess we are having to get tough with industry,” Ms. Ogen said in an interview on Tuesday. “We’re going to need to get [their] attention.”
A forest service road used by the mine crosses Indian Reserve number 7, and she hinted that may be the focus of future direct action by the band.
Ms. Ogen said the band is upset because none of its 250 members have found work at the Huckleberry Mine, 123 kilometres southwest of Houston.
Randall Thompson, vice-president of operations for Huckleberry Mine, said the company has had several meetings with the band over the past year, and is hoping future talks will resolve the dispute.
“We are working towards employing Wet’suwet’en members and we look forward to talking about it further,” he said.
Mr. Thompson said mine officials have not met with the band in the past few weeks, but want to resume talks.
“It’s ongoing dialogue and we really want to come to a solution. We really want to be proactive in this whole process of communication,” he said. “We want to work with the Wet’suwet’en. That’s our objective.”
The mine, which has been in operation since 1997, employs 260 people. Premier Christy Clark announced last year that it was expanding to add another 70 jobs.
But Ms. Ogen said none of the new positions are going to Wet’suwet’en members.
She said an explosion that destroyed a wood mill in Burns Lake last year was a real blow to her community, and the worsening economic situation has put band leaders under pressure to do something.
“That explosion hit our community hard,” she said. “The majority of our men were working at that mill. A lot of them had to get retrained for the mining industry, and yet not one of them works at Huckleberry Mine. Not one. Nor do we have any contracts with Huckleberry Mine. They are not doing anything to work with us, to build capacity, to support our community’s initiative.”
Ms. Ogden said meetings with the company did not seem to be going anywhere, so the band decided to issue a “stop work declaration” to mine officials.
“They are not hearing us,” she said. “We’ve sat down with them. We’ve had several meetings with Huckleberry Mine, with their vice-president, their president and their general manager, only to go in circles.”
Ms. Ogen said the mine expansion, which will extend the life of the site to 2021 and produce 424 million pounds of copper, is reportedly costing $455-million.
And that sounds like a lot to a small, impoverished band, she said.
“The amount of money that is going out the door for the upgrade, expansion and equipment in comparison to what we’re asking is a drop in the bucket,” Ms. Ogen said.