PLEASE NOTE: the Globe and Mail is now using LOWER CASE for First Nations while capitalizing the name of the mining company. See Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo's reaction below.
Taseko Mines asks Harper to place limits on first nations input
JUSTINE HUNTER - Apr. 30, 2012
VICTORIA- No aboriginal prayer ceremonies, please, and no kindergarten plays about dead fish: The request from Taseko Mines Ltd. seeks to reshape the federal environmental review for its new Prosperity Mines application.
The review is expected to get under way as early as this week, with the appointment of a panel and terms of reference, after the company's first proposal for a copper and gold mine was rejected because of significant adverse environmental effects.
With the Harper government clamping down on environmental opposition in the Northern Gateway pipeline hearings, first nations leaders are worried that Ottawa is now sympathetic to the request to limit their opposition to the massive open pit mine.
"It scares us, we're afraid this company will influence them," said Chief Joe Alphonse, chair of the Tsilhqot'in National Government. He said the company should abandon its project if it isn't willing to respect the community's traditions, which include prayers and drumming.
"That is who we are," he said in an interview Monday. "If you don't respect our culture and our spirituality as a company, then pack up and leave, this is the way things are in the Tsilhqot'in. We are spiritual people."
The federal environmental review panel rejected Taseko Mines's Prosperity project in November, 2010. Taseko's revised proposal no longer includes the destruction of Fish Lake, but the Tsilhqot'in still oppose it.
In a letter to federal environment minister Peter Kent, Taseko president Russell Hallbauer complained last November that the "fairness and objectivity" of that the first panel review was tainted by allowing a first nations activist to sit on the panel.
The panel gave "priority status to the interests and perspectives" of first nations by allowing aboriginal prayer ceremonies at the opening of the hearings, he wrote. And science was given short shrift when the panel allowed a group of kindergarten children to present a play "in which the children wore fish cut-outs on their heads, moved around the floor, and then all fall over simultaneously, symbolizing the death of the fish."
Taseko spokesman Brian Battison said the company believes Ottawa is sending out a more encouraging signal to industry because of its stance on the Northern Gateway pipeline hearings.
"We've been listening very carefully to what the Prime Minister and [natural resources minister] Joe Oliver has been saying, and we are encouraged by their sentiment and the content."
In April, the federal government proposed legislation to take from regulators the final word on approvals and to limit the ability of opponents to intervene in environmental assessments.
But B.C. environment minister Terry Lake said he has been told by Ottawa that the Prosperity review will not be covered by the new rules, when they come into force.
In its own assessment process, the B.C. government did approve the original mine project. But Mr. Lake doesn't agree with the company's approach to limiting the input of first nations. "I'm not in favour of shutting down that kind of emotion," he said Monday. "It's a very diverse province, there are historical factors that come into play and the Tsihlqot'in have different values they hold dear."
The mine site, southwest of Williams Lake in B.C.'s Cariboo region, is one of the largest undeveloped gold and copper deposits in Canada.
Bob Simpson, the Independent MLA for Cariboo North, called the company's complaints "inflammatory." But he said Taseko should not translate Ottawa's pushback on environmental opposition into a chance to limit engagement by first nations.
"The federal government is going after the environmental ‘outsiders' and has tried to limit non-aboriginal presentations, but nobody is going after first nations right to have their say in the way that is most meaningful way to them."
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Atleo calls bid to nix native spirituality from mine hearings 'outrageous'
BY PETER O'NEIL, POSTMEDIA NEWS MAY 1, 2012
OTTAWA - The bid by a Vancouver company to eliminate consideration of native spirituality and even prohibit aboriginal children's plays at a federal environmental review hearing is "completely outrageous" and runs counter to the direction of many major companies seeking to work with First Nations, Assembly of First Nations National Chief Shawn Atleo said Tuesday.
Atleo was commenting on the disclosure of a letter sent by Taseko Mines Ltd. to Environment Minister Peter Kent in November that called for measures to eliminate possible pro-aboriginal bias in a pending review of the company's gold-copper mine in the B.C. interior.
"The actions of the company are completely outrageous," said Atleo. "I know increasingly companies are 'getting' the need to recognize and respect First Nations rights and title, so this isn't the way forward."
Atleo said he supports the position of aboriginal leaders around Williams Lake, B.C., who voiced outrage Monday over the letter that was made public by independent B.C. legislator Bob Simpson.
"Those notions go against the work to create and build trust, to develop respect and respectful relationships," Atleo said in an interview.
He said the company's objection to a children's play in a previous federal panel review, which led to Ottawa rejecting the mine application in 2010, was particularly troubling.
"It's their future that's at stake here."
Atleo said First Nations people can't be separated from their spiritual connection to land and culture, and he said rituals such as drumming and prayers before hearings should be a natural part of the process.
"This is how our people transmit our culture, through language, though prayer, through songs, through ceremony, between generations."
Vancouver-based Taseko failed in its 2010 bid to get federal approval after a "scathing" federal review that made repeated references to the spiritual importance of the land around the mine site and especially Fish Lake, which the company wanted to turn into a tailing pond.
Taseko President Russell Hallbauer's letter in November asked Kent to not permit aboriginal prayer ceremonies at the hearings, and he also said children's plays should be banned.
The previous panel allowed "a group of Kindergarten children to present a play, in which the children wore fish cut-outs on their heads, moved around the floor, and then all fell over simultaneously, symbolizing the death of the fish," Hallbauer wrote.
Allowing opening prayers wasn't "appropriate" and a "sensational" anti-project film also shouldn't be part of a process that is supposed to be "objective and fact-based," he wrote.
And the new panel, which has yet to be named, "does not have any right to attribute significance to the spirituality of a place per se", he added.
The company also complained that one of the three panel members, metallurgist and former environmental mining supervisor Nalaine Morin, was a member of a First Nations organization in the area that was opposed to the project.
Brian Battison, Taseko's vice president of corporate affairs, argued Monday that spirituality isn't part of federal environmental review legislation and shouldn't be considered.
He said the company is objecting to children's plays, films and prayers because such events bring too much emotion into the hearings.
"The whole process moves so far beyond the true facts that it makes it very, very difficult for everybody, I think, including the panel, to not try to consciously or unconsciously reflect all of that in their findings," Battison said.
"And what happens is the science and the facts get lost, and if they don't get lost they get overwhelmed by these circumstances."
A spokesman for Kent said Monday the letter would not change the terms of reference for the new panel, which hasn't yet been named.