As Jade Fever, a popular Discovery Canada reality TV series that follows the Bunces, a family of jade miners working in the Cassiar Mountains in Tahltan territory, enters its seventh season, the Tahltan Central Government (TCG) is trying to have it taken off the air.
“If a show is sensationalizing and encouraging and promoting an activity you believe is illegal and unethical and causing all kinds of environmental degradation, that’s why we want the show off the air,” said TCG president Chad Day.
Bell Media, the owner of Discovery, responded with a statement via email.
“Bell Media takes the Tahltan Nation’s concerns seriously and we are investigating further.”
But the real crux of the matter for the Tahltan Nation is the industry itself.
“These jade and placer gold operations have unacceptable impacts on the Tahltan Nation,” Day stated. “Our community members and staff have camera footage and several eye-witness accounts of illegal poaching of our wildlife and other serious environmental infractions, such as taking equipment through salmon-bearing waters, by these operators.”
For years, the TCG has been fighting what they view as basically unregulated operations on their territory and are now willing to hold up other development if the province doesn’t act to shut down the industry.
“We, as Tahltans, will begin shutting down more activities and may stop supporting industrial projects until our title and rights and the environment are properly respected and protected,” Day said.
He declined to name individual projects, but said there are a number of them that are currently going through the impact-benefits process that could be affected.
“I personally won’t be signing off on any more impact-benefit agreements with industrial projects in our territory until our issues with jade mining, placer mining and wildlife are addressed,” he said.
In 2019, Day and other representatives of the TCG travelled by helicopter to serve eviction notices to miners, including the Bunce family. In 2020, B.C. put a moratorium on new permits in a “Placer Jade Permit Deferral Area” that covers the entirety of northern B.C.
Bruce Ralston, the minister of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation, provided a statement via email.
“In March 2021, the Province and the Tahltan Nation signed an agreement to collaboratively develop and implement recommendations to improve the regulation of jade placer, jade hard-rock, and gold-placer mining within their territory, and we will continue to work through this Government-to-Government process to address the Tahltan Nation’s concerns and establish a long-term partnership.”
It appears the minister has little appetite for shutting down existing operations, however, having previously told Global News that would require compensating the permit holders.
Day acknowledged the province has acted and has committed to exploring solutions to environmental issues posed by the placer jade sector, but said restrictions on new permits are just not enough.
The Tahltan want a “complete shutdown of the industry until negotiations with the TCG surrounding jade and placer mining projects are settled.”
The Tahltan have a reputation for being one of the most industry-friendly First Nations in the country, but Day feels the money and resources coming back to them for wildlife, health and safety and social programs is not commensurate with the amount of economic development they have created for B.C.
“The industry is not working for Tahltan and, quite frankly, it’s not working for the province either, they’re just not doing anything to address it,” he said.
While opposing the industry in its present form, Day said the Tahltan are not categorically opposed to jade and placer mining.
“It’s fair to say we are open to conversations with those industries, but there needs to be a complete overhaul,” he said. “When that overhaul happens, and when significant change happens, maybe we could support it, maybe we won’t. Maybe the industries won’t be feasible when you add additional regulations like further archaeology work, further reclamation work and so on and so forth.”
The Interior News is also awaiting responses from the B.C. government and the Bunce family.