In a pristine corner of northwestern B.C. called the Klappan, a drama is unfolding that might seriously compromise the relationship between First Nations and the booming natural resource sector in B.C.
The 4,000 square kilometre region southeast of Iskut is called the Sacred Headwaters by Tahltan people because it is the source of three wild salmon rivers – the Skeena, Nass and Stikine – and because it has been full of life for thousands of years. Tahltan people consider the Klappan to be Earth’s birthplace and it’s a well-travelled, traditional hunting ground that carries significant cultural, spiritual and social values for the Tahltan Nation.
Our territory is also rich in mineral and energy resources and that has led to both success stories and conflict as the Province and private companies have sought to exploit the natural resources of our territory.
Our people support responsible development that protects the environment and respects Tahltan rights and traditional uses. Companies that understand this, and that commit to working with us in deciding how to use the resources of our territory, have thrived. We have partnerships with AltaGas on the Forrest Kerr, Volcano and McLymont power projects. We are working closely with Imperial Metals on its Red Chris copper mine, and we have supported the construction of the Northwest Transmission Line into our territory.
However, companies that do not respect our Nation’s stewardship responsibilities for the Klappan have faced conflict.
In 2012, Shell Canada gave up its gas tenures in the Sacred Headwaters after a seven-year fight with our Nation. Shell correctly understood that, without the support of our people, their project was not viable.
Now, Fortune Minerals is at risk of failing to learn the same lesson. Fortune is trying to push ahead with its Arctos Anthracite Coal Project, an open-pit coal mine at Mount Klappan.
To move the coal, Fortune also wants to rebuild an abandoned railway that will cut right through the heart of the Klappan and open up our territory to more development.
Our people are united in their desire to protect the Klappan from the impacts of Fortune’s proposed project. We have clearly communicated this to Fortune, and asked them to respect our Nation’s stewardship role and invest its resources elsewhere. Despite this, the company continues to try to promote Arctos in our communities, including the distribution of videos that suggest working together would be a “win-win for both sides.”
These efforts do not build support for their project. Rather, they strengthen our people’s resolve to save Mount Klappan from destruction.
We’re saying that Fortune’s actions pose risks for not only their project, but also for development elsewhere in our territory. If our values and rights aren’t protected and respected in critical areas such as the Sacred Headwaters, we will view the risks of development as far outweighing the benefits. Conflict could become the norm, not the exception.
The Province needs to understand that by pushing one project forward, it is risking a broader relationship that could provide immense benefits to all parties: the Tahltan, the mining industry, the Province, and the people of British Columbia. Fortune needs to learn what Shell finally acknowledged in 2012 – without the support of our Nation, their project will remain a dream on some office room drawing board.
We all need to work together to protect our values in critical areas while building a sustainable economic future. This is a balanced and reasonable approach to expansion of the mining industry in northwest British Columbia. We have demonstrated our willingness, readiness and capacity to move forward with companies and the Province on projects that respect that vision. That is the blueprint for the future, and our people will continue to resist companies and projects that don’t truly embrace this vision.
*Annita McPhee is in her third term as President of the Tahltan Central Council, First Nations in Canada.