BC Government Must Intervene to Protect Tsilhqot’in Rights Threatened by Needless Mining Exploration
“The Panel is convinced that the Tsilhqot’in cultural attachment to Fish Lake (Teztan Biny) and the Nabas areas is so profound that they cannot reasonably be expected to accept the conversion of that area into the proposed New Prosperity mine.” – from the 2013 federal environmental assessment of the last project proposed by Taseko Mines and ultimately rejected by the federal government
Amnesty International is urging the Province of British Columbia to suspend permits that could allow destructive mineral exploration to begin as early as this week on lands that the Tsilhqot’in National Government has long sought to protect.
The Tsilhqot’in people describe Teẑtan Biny (Fish Lake) and Yanah Biny (Little Fish Lake) and the surrounding area as “a place of profound cultural and spiritual significance.” The destructive impacts of mining exploration cannot be justified, especially in light of the fact that exploration will almost certainly never lead to the actual opening of a mine.
The federal government has twice rejected proposals by Taseko Mines Ltd. to open a large, open pit gold-copper mine in the area. Tsilhqot’in concerns over the impacts on their culture, heritage and spiritual traditions were a crucial factor in these decisions. These concerns remain unchanged.
The fact that the previous provincial government issued new exploration permits in the same area, and to the same company, highlights profound flaws in a provincial mining regulatory system.
In Amnesty International’s views, planned exploration activities in the area of Teẑtan Biny and Yanah Biny violate rights protected in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and other international human rights standards, as well as the protection of Indigenous rights in the Canadian Constitution.
BC’s mining laws are outdated and must be urgently reformed to bring the province in line with its human rights obligations, particularly with regard to upholding the rights of Indigenous peoples. The granting of exploration permits under this flawed system does not shield the province or Taseko Mines from their human rights responsibilities.
The fact that the Taseko Mines is determined to push through exploration despite the continued opposition of the Tsilhqot’in people demonstrates flagrant disregard for its responsibility to respect human rights.
Five years ago, a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada found that the Tsilhqot’in people had continued ownership over a large part of their traditional territory, as well as ongoing Aboriginal land use rights over other areas including Teẑtan Biny and Yanah Biny. That decision came after an onerous two-decade long process in which the provincial government fought vigorously to deny and minimize the rights of the Tsilhqot’in people.
The province’s numerous public commitments to reconciliation, and its fundamental legal obligation to uphold the rights of Indigenous peoples without discrimination, requires the province to abandon such adversarial approaches.
The province should work collaboratively with the Tsilhqot’in in respect to the future of Teẑtan Biny and Yanah Biny. The first step must be to suspend the exploration permits that needlessly threaten both this area and the prospects of reconciliation.