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British Columbia Ancient Forests News


Posted September 11, 2014

B.C. First Nation is set to declare a vast chunk of the Chilcotin as a tribal park

Vancouver Sun, September 11, 2014

B.C. First Nation is set to declare a vast chunk of the Chilcotin as a tribal park
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Photo by Garth Lenz

A B.C. First Nation is set to declare a vast chunk of the Chilcotin as a tribal park, including the site of the controversial proposed New Prosperity mine at Fish Lake.

A formal ceremony unveiling Dasiqox Tribal Park is set for Oct. 4, less than four months after a landmark Supreme Court of Canada ruling found that the Tsilhqot’in people have title to 1,750 square kilometres of land west of Williams Lake.

Taseko Mines Ltd.’s Fish Lake property lies outside the title area recognized by the courts, but the natives — who have long opposed the mine and claim hunting, fishing, and trapping rights in the area — have now folded the mine site into the tribal park boundary.

Questions immediately arise as to the validity of the tribal park declaration and what it means for the future of the $1.1-billion New Prosperity copper-gold project.

Brian Battison, vice-president of corporate affairs for Taseko, said Wednesday he is aware of the forthcoming ceremony but could not comment until he knows more details. “I don’t really know what it means. I don’t know what a tribal park is, how it’s constituted, and what may or may not be allowed.”

The tribal park would cover about 3,120 square kilometres and protect cultural, heritage and ecological values, according to the Tsilhqot’in, while connecting to five surrounding provincial parks.

Dave Williams, president of Friends of the Nemiah Valley, which works closely with the Tsilhqot’in people on conservation projects, explained in an interview that large-scale industrial mining and clear-cut logging would not be allowed in the tribal park, but that smaller-scale resource activities such as sustainable logging with portable mills may be suitable to provide employment for natives.

“Their view is this is their sovereign territory,” Williams said. “People going into the territory and applying for licences of occupation or permits ... will have to go through the First Nations government.”

He said the tribal park declaration is unilateral for now, but his long-term hope is that the province could come on board under a joint management system similar to the Stein Valley Nlaka’pamux Heritage Park, established near Lytton in 1995.

Premier Christy Clark and John Rustad, Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, were in the Nemiah Valley on Wednesday, signing a letter of understanding that commits to building a more positive relationship with the Tsilhqot’in nation.

Communications officer Leanne Ritchie released a ministry statement saying the province had not received details of the tribal park, but hoped that the letter of understanding would provide the basis for future talks.

An August 2014 inventory report by consultant Wayne McCrory for the Xeni Gwet’in and Yunesit’in First Nations, with about 850 band members, noted that the area features a unique “rain shadow” forest ecosystem and some of the best habitat for large carnivores in North America.

Due to logging and mining threats, McCrory concluded: “The only option to protect this rich cultural/heritage landscape is through a designation of full protection status, such as a combined Tribal Park/provincial Class A Park or Conservancy.”

Taseko’s gold-copper mine project was approved by the provincial government, but twice rejected by federal panels and the federal government. Both federal panels cited damage to fish and fish habitat.

Even though Taseko changed its plans to preserve Fish Lake, which would have been destroyed in its first plan, the second panel review found the mine would result in the loss of Little Fish Lake to a 12-square-kilometre tailings pond and contaminate nearby Fish Lake and the upper Fish Creek system.

Taseko maintains the environmental review was badly flawed, saying it incorrectly assessed the project and its ability to prevent seepage from a tailings pond. Its legal challenge is before the Federal Court of Appeal, with a ruling possible before the end of the year.

First Nations are set to officially announce Dasiqox (“there for us”) Tribal Park in a ceremony at Fish Lake, also known as Teztan Biny, about 100 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake. Nuu-chah-nulth carver Tim Paul has donated a totem pole for the event.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada could not immediately comment on the tribal park designation.

On Monday, Taseko — which runs the Gibraltar copper-molybdenum mine 65 kilometres north of Williams Lake — announced a friendly $79-million takeover of Curis Resources, which is developing a copper project in Arizona.

What a Dasiqox Tribal Park would help to protect:

(1) Would connect five surrounding parks: Ts’yl?os, Big Creek, Nunsti, Big Creek, and Southern Chilcotin Mountains.

(2) More than 10,000 hectares of threatened white bark pine forest, perhaps the largest and healthiest such stands remaining in Western Canada, not decimated by white pine blister rust, the mountain pine beetle, and wildfires driven by climate change.

(3) The last viable refuge for the dryland grizzly bear, which historically occurred down the western mountains of North America in the lee of the coast ranges. The diet of these grizzlies ranges from white bark pine nuts to salmon.

(4) Important spawning habitat for chinook, sockeye, and coho salmon, having made lengthy journeys via the Fraser and Chilcotin rivers; the low sockeye run in Yohetta Creek is considered a unique genetic stock that is endangered.

(5) Migratory routes for mule deer as well as ancient Tsilhqot’in trails, both local and long-distance, some of them thought to date back thousands of years.

Source: Inventory report by consultant Wayne McCrory.

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