Tahltan compare Sheslay dispute to Sacred Headwaters

Mining company Doubleview backs off drilling temporarily, but president says it has legal right to explore in historical area

We all know that history tends to get repeated, but who knew it would happen this soon?

Tahltan Central Council President Chad Day said last week that the presence of a copper and gold mining company in Tahltan traditional territory 50 kilometres east of Telegraph Creek could mean a Sacred Headwaters-like struggle all over again.

This comes two months after the provincial government bought back coal licences from coal mining company Fortune Minerals to ease a decade-long conflict in the much contested Klappan, or Sacred Headwaters area.

Last week, Day and four Tahltan elders descended by helicopter into another area, this time Sheslay River where many Tahltan historically lived and where many burial sites still exist, to tell mining company Doubleview that they should stop doing exploratory drilling in a wide swath of land.

“It may not have received the publicity of the Headwaters and the Klappan, but now that we’re coming together and have made a decision to protect that area, it could easily turn into another situation like that,” said Day after returning from the Doubleview camp.

The Tahltan push to protect the Sacred Headwaters involved years of organized blockades and other disruptions, as well as lawsuits and injunctions wielded in defence by mining companies.

Alternating versions surfaced of what happened in the remote Sheslay meeting, with Day saying he received a promise from company president Farshad Shirvani that Doubleview would stop drilling for the summer, and Shirvani posting in a July 8 press release on the company website that he wants to resume drilling as soon as possible.

The Doubleview release calls the action by the Tahltan Central Council and elders a “blockade,” while Day described it simply as a visit and a stern meeting with the company after which the company pressed stop on its drilling equipment.

Shirvani was still occupied in camp last week, but in the press release says, “We have dealt respectfully with the Tahltan Nation ever since we commenced first-ever drilling at the Hat in 2013. Exploration in this district has been carried out for more than half a century, and Tahltan Drilling Services has been contracted for all of Doubleview’s drilling to date.”

The release goes on to say that “Our aim is to resume drilling as quickly as possible…we are consulting with our legal counsel to determine the best steps to take to allow drilling to resume.”

Tahltan communications liaison Richard Truman said that Tahltan Drilling Services is a company once associated with the Tahltan Development Corporation but that the central council severed ties with it recently over the issues at Sheslay.

“They have completely damaged the creeks and filled them up with timber so they can cross the creeks,” said Day.

“We were able to go down to the drill site, and it made the elders very sad that this kind of activity is going on when the Tahltan have never consented to this.”

A stretch of land containing Tahltan First Nation burial sites and a historical dwelling area for many, Day says the province did not properly consult with the Tahltan before drilling permits were granted to several companies.

He also says it is a major moose hunting area for Tahltan.

Doubleview, on its website, stands by the fact that it received the permits in good faith from the government and that it is their legal right to continue exploring in the area for what they call a rich copper and gold play.

Day said the Tahltan environmental department and elders have been concerned about the area since the permits were granted by the province in 2012.

For its part, the Energy and Mines ministry is respecting both the Tahltan and the companies that want to drill in the territory.

“We respect the position of the Tahltan Nation and we are working with them and industry to resolve this matter in a way that benefits all parties,” said a ministry statement.

“It is important to recognize that these companies have the necessary permits to undertake work on their tenures and they are within their rights to do so.”

All this will sound familiar to many, as the past decade has seen a number of high profile standoffs between the Tahltan First Nation and their allies who aim to protect the land for various cultural and environmental reasons and various mineral resource companies wanting to mine the land.

In 2012, the province bought back coalbed gas leases awarded to Shell Canada in 2004 after protests from the Tahltan and other groups.

And this year, a similar buyout happened when the province bought back licences owned by anthracite coal mining company Fortune Minerals, putting a halt to the development in the Sacred Headwaters for at least the next 10 years.

This spring, the Tahltan signed a co-management with Imperial Metals to allow the Red Chris mine to open in their territory despite concerns raised by the failure of another earthen dam built by Imperial at Mount Polley last year.

“The Tahltan Nation is open to exploration and development in certain areas,” said Day.