THE TAHLTAN and the provincial government have signed another in a series of agreements ultimately intended to set out what kind development, if any, should take place in the Klappan Valley, popularly known as the Sacred Headwaters.
The Sept. 11 announcement establishes the Klappan Strategic Initiative consisting of provincial and Tahltan officials who will report to other officials within four months followed by recommendations to senior leaders in March 2014.
The intent is to look “at options for the future of the Klappan and address the economic interests and values important to both the Tahltan and the province,” the announcement stated.
Regarded as an area important to the Tahltan for cultural, hunting and other reasons, the Klappan has been the focus of protests by Tahltan members and others opposed to development there.
“It’s a vital step towards protecting an area that is vital for all Tahltan and all British Columbians,” said Tahltan Central Council president Annita McPhee of the agreement.
“The province is committed to continue working with the Tahltan on this process, finding solutions that recognize and honour the places that are important to First Nations, respect the interests of third parties, and provide economic benefits to all British Columbians within a sound environmental framework.” said provincial environment minister Mary Polak.
Her ministry is one of four involved in the agreement with the Tahltan.
The agreement follows the establishment of a blockade by Tahltan members of a road into the area in protest of a camp established by Fortune Minerals, the company which has coal property in the Klappan and which is set to apply for environmental approval to develop a large open pit mine there.
Fortune employees are gathering environmental and other information that will form part of the company’s application for environmental approval.
Fortune set up its camp in July and the Tahltan followed with one of their own. A third camp, this one consisting of RCMP officers, rests in between the the first two camps.
The Tahltan and the province signed a shared decision making agreement this March setting out how each was to be involved in activity within traditional Tahltan territory.
It prompted the BC Liberals to include the future of the Klappan in its May provincial election campaign platform.
“A BC Liberal government will work with communities, First Nations and industry to examine the feasibility of developing a provincially designated protected area in the Klappan,” reads the campaign platform.
It was this election promise which sparked Tahltan protests when Fortune opened its Klappan camp in July.
Fortune, which now has a South Korean partner helping finance its Arctos Anthracite project, has pointed to the 2000 Cassiar-Iskut-Stikine Land Resource Management Plan (LRMP), when talking about its work.
“Although the Klappan area was recognized for its cultural values, the LRMP identified the ‘substantial resources of high grade metallurgical coal’ at the Arctos Anthracite Project for mining. This was recognized and agreed to by the Tahltan leadership at that time,” indicates a statement from Fortune.
The company says its projected development area is approximately 4,000 hectares in size compared to the more than 1 million hectares set aside through the LRMP.
Company official Troy Nazarewicz says Fortune is “lawfully operating in the area with valid permits issued by the BC Government in consultation with the Tahltan.”
“We have continuously provided information to the Tahltan Central Council and went through the government permitting process through which the Tahltan position was considered,” he said.
NOTE: The original version of this story did not include a full quote from environment minister Mary Polak. It has now been included.