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Alberta Taseko Mines seeking court injunction after First Nation members block work at Fish Lake

Joe Alphonse, chief of the Tl'etinqox and the tribal chair of the Tsilhqot'in National Government (centre), said that Taseko should have consulted them 25 years ago.

Nolan Guichon/Tsilhqot'in National Government

A B.C. mining company is seeking a court injunction after its crew was blocked from beginning work this week on a controversial open-pit mine near Fish Lake, also known as Teztan Biny.

Brian Battison, vice-president of corporate affairs for Taseko Mines Ltd., said the company has no other choice but to pursue the authoritative option after members of the Tsilhqot’in Nation blockaded access to the site on Tuesday.

“What else can you do but rely on the law?” Mr. Battison said Wednesday.

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The roadblock was set up roughly 80 kilometres from the site of the proposed New Prosperity copper and gold mine project, southwest of Williams Lake. When Taseko crews arrived on Tuesday, members of the Tsilhqot’in Nation told them they did not have access to the site.

A Taseko manager asked several questions, including what the company could do to help the project proceed.

“I basically told them that they should have asked that question 25 years ago,” said Joe Alphonse, chief of the Tl'etinqox and the tribal chair of the Tsilhqot'in National Government (TNG).

Mr. Battison said in an interview that the geotechnical work his company is seeking to do would benefit everybody.

“It’s helpful to the First Nations who have concerns about how the mine proposal might affect the water quality of Fish Lake – that’s the central issue,” he said. “And, the information that we seek is required by the [provincial] Mines Act permitting process.”

Both sides describe the conversation as amiable, though Mr. Alphonse said later: “As a company, they must know that there is no way they’re ever going to develop a mine in the area.”

The mine was approved by B.C. in 2010 but rejected twice by the federal government on environmental grounds.

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A decision by B.C.'s Supreme Court last August allowed Taseko to proceed with investigative work around the site of the proposed mine, and the court refused to hear the Tsilhqot'in Nation's appeal of that decision last month.

The site lies just outside an area to which the TNG have aboriginal title – as confirmed in a landmark 2014 decision by the Supreme Court of Canada – and within a broader area subject to aboriginal claim.

The Tsilhqot’in say the area is a spiritual and sacred place – a resting place for ancestors, a site for ceremonial activities and a place of special significance for the Nation’s cultural identity and heritage – and that B.C.’s approval of the drilling violates human rights under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Taseko says there has been a great deal of need and support for the project over the years, including from Indigenous groups.

Mr. Battison said the project would mean 700 construction jobs over two years, more than 500 direct jobs for between 20 and 25 years of operation, and an estimated 1,285 indirect jobs relating to service supply.

“The opportunity is proven, here at New Prosperity,” he said. “People want to work, people want new opportunity for businesses.”

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Mr. Alphonse said First Nations do want to be involved in these types of projects, but they have to be properly consulted, and the projects pursued “in areas deemed to be acceptable."

“We want to be able to have a say in how [projects like this] are constructed,” he said. “Taseko, they don’t want to talk to us about anything like that. At this point in time, after 25 years, it would be political suicide for us to even sit down with them.”

With a report from the Canadian Press

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