The Tsilhqot’in Nation headed to court on Tuesday, seeking to prevent Taseko Mines from going ahead with its multibillion-dollar “prosperity” gold and copper mine in southern British Columbia.
The claim, if successful, would stop Taseko from converting Teztan Biny (Fish Lake) into a mining waste dump site.
Teztan Biny is one of 16 lakes that the Canadian government marked for ‘reclassification’ last June, by using a controversial provision under the Fisheries Act known as ‘Schedule Two’ which allows them to redefine any lake as a “Tailings Impoundment Area.”
Once a lake is redefined it is no longer considered a natural body of water.
Central to the court action, which was brought on by Chief Marilyn Baptiste of the Xeni Gwet’in First Nation, a sub-group of Tsilhqot’in, is the Aboriginal right to fish in Teztan Biny. The lake, which is located within the Tsilhqot’in’s traditional land base, is home to a unique species of rainbow Trout that numbers more than 80,000.
If the company has its way, it will empty Teztan Biny of all it’s water, and create a replacement lake six kilometers away, “Prosperity Lake,” which would eventually become the new home for Teztan Biny’s inhabitants.
“The band’s lawyer, Jack Woodward, called Taseko’s plans to build a new lake ‘audacious’ and questioned the feasibility of creating the right conditions for these unique trout,” notes the Globe and Mail. “Normally, only God creates lakes,” he said. “The idea that there is some empty niche where you could find a habitat for 85,000 fish is a denial of what we know about how biological systems work.”
Putting things into an historical perspective, Chief Baptiste adds, “In 1864 we had our war leaders protect our territory on the west side – they were after gold then. Now we are looking to protect our territory on the east side. Back then our leaders knew we cannot eat gold. If they go after the gold now, that would destroy our fish and our water.”
To download a copy of the statement of claim, see woodwardandcompany.com. You can also contact Chief Marilyn Baptiste by phone, (250) 394 7023 Ext. 202; and visit protectfishlake.ca for some background.