RCMP officers have set up a camp between one occupied by Tahltan members and one established by a company which wants to develop an open-pit anthracite coal mine in the Klappan area north of here.
The Tahltan, who view the Klappan as a hunting and food-gathering area, have been threatening a blockade of Fortune Minerals which is gathering information that will lead to asking for provincial environmental clearance to open a mine they say could provide $10 billion in revenue over its lifetime.
The RCMP camp, set up this week, consists of several officers living in walled tents and equipped with all-terrain vehicles.
It hasn’t stopped Tahltan who have been regularly visiting the Fortune camp to hold drumming rallies.
They say Fortune’s plan is a disrespectful and damaging intrusion on culturally and spiritually important traditional territory.
RCMP Constable Lesley Smith said that the officers in the police camp were called in from various locations, and reports indicate that several were dispatched from Prince Rupert, over 300 kilometres southwest of the Klappan.
“Our RCMP members are at the site and aware of the concerns raised by the group that is there. We are going to continue to monitor the matter at this stage. We have an appropriate amount of RCMP members there speaking to both sides of the group and company to keep the peace, and everything is peaceful right now,” said Smith yesterday evening.
According to Iskut band council chief Marie Quock, on the first night of the drum rally effort earlier this week, protesters entered the Fortune camp itself.
“The first night one of the ladies who is in charge came out and said ‘this is an active mining camp and you can’t be here’ but nobody listened to her and kept on drumming, so she went back,” said Quock.
Tahltan Central Council president Annita McPhee said that on the second night the RCMP intervened and set limits on how close the drummers and singers could approach the mining camp.
“They said you could only go this far and can’t go into the camp,” said McPhee.
According to Quock the demonstrations continue to be peaceful, and she said that Tahltan members also staged a drum rally on Mount Klappan itself.
Fortune, headquartered in London, Ontario, set up in the Klappan in July to begin baseline data collection needed to apply for a provincial environmental review.
Not all Tahltan are opposed to Fortune’s plan.
Fortune official Troy Nazarewicz said seven Tahltan and one Gitxsan person are employed at the camp in addition to two non-aboriginal employees.
“We also continue to make every effort to increase aboriginal employment through our human resources and supply chain policies. Fortune Minerals has also hired one Tahltan and two Gitxsan citizens as community relations coordinators,” he said.
In the meantime, McPhee says she has contacted provincial mines minister Bill Bennett in hopes of convincing the province to protect the Klappan area from development.
“I didn’t here a response back from the minister, but I have faith that there will be some good progress made at the negotiating table when we go,” said McPhee.
According to Quock the demonstrations continue to be peaceful, and she said that Tahltan members also staged the drum rally on Mount Klappan itself.
The Tahltan presented Fortune with an eviction notice earlier this month which Fortune did not acknowledge.
Fortune has held coal rights in the Klappan for more than a decade as it sought financing to develop its mining plan.
The latest Tahltan action is not the first by members of that first nation who are opposed to Fortune.
Fortune Minerals has had several meetings with the Tahltan, saying they have licences from the BC government permitting them to be working in the area.
Tahltan leaders argue that Fortune is getting in the way of their hunting and spiritual practices, which they say they have been been doing there on a nomadic basis since before living memory.
McPhee and Quock both said they want to see the whole Klappan area, which contains the headwaters of three major northwestern rivers—the Nass, Stikine and Skeena—protected by the provincial government decree, but that Fortune Minerals is trying to apply for an environmental assessment before that can happen.