Protesters occupy drill site in northwestern B.C.

RCMP oversee safe removal of equipment in Tahltan traditional territory

RCMP officers from Dease Lake last Friday oversaw the removal of drilling equipment after Tahltan protesters occupied a drill pad located within an area they want preserved from resource development.

The provincial government has suspended all new coal tenures and land leases in the Klappan Valley while continuing to speak with the Tahltan Central Council about conservation measures in the area but companies with other interests are still being allowed to do prospecting work there.

Reports from protesters that police arrived with snipers were dismissed by RCMP officials who said one rifle was carried by one officer as protection against bears.

The drill was located several kilometres along the Ealue Lake Road which leads from Hwy37 North to the Klappan Valley, an area the Tahltan say has historical and cultural significance.

The protesters were from the Klabona Keepers, a group of Tahltan elders and other activists who have been staging interventions in Klappan industrial operations for nearly 10 years.

The drill site which the Klabona Keepers were blocking was owned by Smithers-based Blackhawk and the protestors were there recently to examine what they said was a spill tray leaking oil, according to Rhoda Quock, who speaks for the Klabona Keepers.

“We told them they had 12 hours to take their drill out of there otherwise we will take it over,” said Quock.

“There were two snipers,” said Quock, whose husband was on the site. She said the RCMP took the radios of the protestors and did not allow them to respond to calls, such as Quock’s, who was trying to keep in touch with her husband.

Last year the Klabona Keepers had staged similar demonstrations against Fortune Minerals, which wants to develop an anthracite coal mine in the area, and Quock said the police had not been as assertive in shutting down those protests.

RCMP media official Sgt. Rob Vermeulen said the Dease Lake detachment responded.

“As with any protest the RCMP is an impartial party,” said Vermeulen.

“We had four uniformed members from Dease Lake detachment attend the site. One of the members carried a rifle for bear protection as they had to hike through the bush to get to the site, not unlike the protesters who had two rifles and a crossbow.”

Quock said usually the Klabona Keepers request officers from certain RCMP detachments for negotiations.

“Usually I request cops from out of the territory,” she said. “They were always nice to us.”