by Craig Benjamin,
Campaigner for the Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Anne Marie Sam of the Nak'azdli First Nation stands near her great-grandfather's grave on the shores of the Nation River and points to Mt. Milligan, site of a gold and copper mine now under construction.
Walking up the long dusty road to where the Mt Milligan gold and copper mine is now under construction, Anne Marie Sam of the Nak’azdli First Nation describes the many ways – including hunting, fishing and gathering plant medicines – that her family has lived on the land that is now consumed by the mine’s footprint.
“This mine,” she says, “means that my children will not have the opportunity to grow up experiencing that same connection to the land.”
The Mt. Milligan mine, located northwest of Prince George in British Columbia is expected to begin operation this year and to continue production for at least 22 more years.
The mine affects lands, rivers and streams that are the subject of unresolved legal claims involving four First Nations, including Nak’azdli, which has never entered into a treaty with Canada. In their traditions, the people of Naka’zdli follow a Keyoh system in which responsibility to care for specific areas of the territory are handed down with the family from one generation to the next. The Mt. Milligan mine development consumes most of Anne Marie Sam’s family Keyoh.
The mine development was approved by environmental assessments carried out by the provincial and federal governments. The federal assessment acknowledged the importance of Indigenous peoples’ multigenerational use and traditional management of the land. Nonetheless, the assessment concluded that the mine would not cause significant harm because this use could resume some day in the future after mining ends.