The mining company holding the rights to one of the world’s biggest untouched gold deposits within Canada’s only legally recognized Aboriginal rights and title area is preparing to conduct exploratory drilling against the wishes of the territory’s First Nations.
Last week, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Ward K. Branch dismissed the Tsilhqot’in Nation’s legal bid to stop Taseko Mines from starting exploratory drilling in the Fish Lake area, about a 4.5-hour southwest of Williams Lake in the Cariboo region.
“The history of the simultaneous efforts to establish Aboriginal rights, protect the environment, and develop what may be one of the world’s largest gold deposits, has been long and difficult,” Justice Branch said in his written decision.
“Based on the evidence presented to me, all parties and governments appear to be acting in good faith to advance what they each perceive to be the proper use for the land. But unfortunately, good faith cannot always prevent disagreement. That is when courts must step in to help the parties move forward.”
The Tsilhqot’in National Government had alleged the B.C. government breached its duty to consult and accommodate the Nation in approving the contentious plans for further exploration in the remote area.
Branch ruled both the consultation process and degree of accommodation by the provincial government to the Tsilhqot’in Nation were such that the honour of the Crown was maintained, and adequate reconciliation efforts were made in the circumstances.
The court decision is the latest in a long string of legal applications and disputes over several years between the mining company, the TNG, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and the provincial government.
The decision has cleared the way for Taseko Mines to construct 76 kilometres of new or modified road and trail, conduct 122 geotechnical drill sites, dig 367 trench or pit tests and clear 20 kilometres of seismic lines near Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) and Nabas, an area of cultural and spiritual significance for the Tŝilhqot’in.
The permit also allows the company to set up a 50-person camp with 11 mobile trailer units while the work is being conducted.
In the wake of the decision, TNG chiefs are now calling on Premier John Horgan to step in.
“The Tŝilhqot’in Nation will not stand by as Taseko Mines Ltd. moves forward with a drilling program for a mine that was rejected twice by the federal government and cannot be built,” said Chief Joe Alphonse, tribal chairman with the Tŝilhqot’in National Government in a news release.
“Drilling and exploration work at Teztan Biny stands to destroy centuries of sacred and protected sites that are integral to the preservation of Tŝilhqot’in culture.
“We are disappointed that the courts did not see through the smokescreen. This decision isn’t about Prosperity Mine being a good project; it’s about continuing to line the pockets of the shareholders of Taseko Mines.”
Two independent federal panels have confirmed the area is of unique and special importance to the Tŝilhqot’in, and this was a large factor in two federal rejections of a mine in this location.
The Tŝilhqot’in Nation said it is extremely disappointed and concerned that Taseko Mines now intends to carry out the drilling program as early as this week.
“The Nation will be reviewing all options to protect this critical cultural area.”
Taseko Mines vice-president Brian Battison was not immediately available for comment.
The company holds a mineral lease and mineral claims in the area — much of the same area that the TNG has also won Aboriginal rights and title over.
In his background information, Justice Branch said the area is said to contain one of the largest undeveloped gold and copper deposits in the world, containing an estimated 11 million ounces of gold and four billion pounds of copper.
If approved, it is anticipated that the mine would be in production for 20 years. Exploration and development efforts have already been ongoing for 20 years.