November 30, 2011
British Columbia mine dispute linked to guerrilla war in 1864
A legal battle between First Nations and the proponent of a billion dollar gold and copper mine in central British Columbia is linked directly to a guerrilla war in 1864.
Both events were triggered by conflicts surrounding road construction to a proposed development.
“The British lied to our war leaders and said they were going to peaceful talks, before they were hung,” said Marilyn Baptiste, the elected chief of the Xeni Gwet’in, one of the six bands that comprise the Tshilhqot’in Nation.
“For many generations, they have painted our war leaders as murderers. Now, they are painting us as vicious road blockers. The company is making me out to be the vicious one, who doesn’t recognize the authority of the B.C. government.”
Earlier this week in Vancouver, the Tsilhqot’in Nation and Taseko Mines Ltd were engaged in a fight in B.C. Supreme Court about permits for road construction to a gold field near Williams Lake, B.C.
Taseko is seeking a restraining order against Baptiste as the company claims she illegally obstructed a convoy of workers and equipment from entering the proposed Prosperity Mine site on Nov. 12.
In the run up to the court proceedings, Taseko circulated a video of the chief, which was shot by a contractor.
Taseko alleges the video “clearly brings into question a sworn affidavit by Baptiste claiming her presence at the mine site last weekend was peaceful and did not constitute a blockade.”
The company also said “the safety of Taseko workers and the integrity of Taseko’s equipment may be compromised should they choose to proceed with their legally authorized work.”
Taseko argued that the contractor, Jeremy Crozier, had a permit to carry out work, before a review of the New Prosperity Mine proposal, by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.
The B.C. government approved two permits, which allow Taseko to start extensive exploratory work, including roadbuilding, drilling, excavation of test pits and timber clearing.
According to Baptiste, she had peaceful discussions with Taseko employees through several RCMP officers and they agreed to turn around.
“The Tsilhqot’in are seeking an injunction to prevent exploration work from proceeding, and we have a separate application before the courts for a judicial review of the B.C. permits granted for the work, which we believe were illegal and must be revoked or suspended,” said Tsilhqot’in Tribal Chair Joe Alphonse.
B.C Supreme Court Justice David Vickers ruled in November 2007 that the Tsilhqot’in have proven Aboriginal title to about 200,000 square hectares around Williams Lake.
The judge made a number of important findings, such as the B.C government has violated Aboriginal title in an unconstitutional and illegal fashion, ever since it joined Canada in 1871.
The Tsilhqot’in are appealing Vickers’ decision not to grant title to the proven areas of Aboriginal title, which includes the proposed mine site.
Taseko argues the mine site is on Crown Land and the company holds a valid, long-term mineral lease.
The CEAA ruled on Nov. 7 that the New Prosperity Mine project will undergo a new environmental assessment.
This decision, which came only three months after the original application was rejected, sets the stage for the current B.C. Supreme Court proceedings.
This legal fight surrounding the prosperity mine proposal is part of a battle over territory, which dates back to 1864 and the deadliest attack by Aboriginal people on European settler colonialists in western Canada.
In 1863, Victoria businessman Alfred Waddington hired 91 workers to build a road and bridges from Bute Inlet to Fort Alexandria.
The road was intended to provide access to gold fields near Williams Lake.
The roadwork generated intense conflict with reports that the roadbuilder mistreated and refused to share food with Tsilhqot’in workers, and Tsilquot’in girls were raped and forced into prostitution for food.
The foreman threatened the Tsilhqot’in with smallpox in the spring of 1864 for stealing bags of flour from the roadbuilder’s base camp.
About 70-85 per cent of the Tsilhqot’in population had already been killed, when traders deliberately spread small pox using infected blankets in 1862.
In response, the Tsiloqot’in led by Chief Klatsassin or Lhatasassine launched a guerilla war, which killed 21 roadbuilders, packers and a farmer.
More than 100 men were involved in a campaign to capture Klatsassin and his supporters, which lasted 146 days.
The Tsilhqot’in sought to negotiate peace and believed they had been granted immunity, when Klatsassin and a group of chiefs travelled to meet with B.C. Governor Frederick Seymour.
Klatsassin and four others were convicted of murder and hung in what is now Quesnel, on Oct. 26, 1864.
The British had full possession of the territory, when the field forces withdrew, about a month after the trials were complete.
Two books support Tsilqhot’in claims about the small pox outbreak and the rape of young girls by road crews. The books are Nemiah: The unconquered country by Terry Glavine and The Chilcotin War by Melvin Rothenburger.
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