By Gord Loverin
THE other day I was changing the Brita water filter we have attached to my family’s kitchen faucet. My three-year old daughter was watching me and asked how it makes the water taste better?
I’m blessed with a very bright and inquisitive red-haired child. So I took the filter apart and showed her that it was charcoal. I explained it was dug from the ground and that it cleaned and purified the water we drank from the faucet. She looked at me and said, “That’s so cool Daddy!”
Being Tahltan and Tlingit, I also told her that we have one of the largest anthracite coal deposits in the world in our traditional territory. The same stuff used to make water filtration systems. The Klappan-Groundhog Formation is up to 1,100 meters thick and contains more than 30 coal seams, which range in thickness up to 11 meters. If given the go ahead the area could support coal mining activity in excess of 100 years.
I also remember as a child my mother and father drove our family to the Klappan River and to Mount Klappan. I never saw any evidence of permanent campsites, either for hunting or fishing. I know because we wandered everywhere as we explored the terrain along the railway grade.
It was 1975 and I was 12 years old at the time. We made regular trips into the area during the summers. Mount Klappan and the three rivers that start in the area were never called the “Sacred Headwaters.” The term was created in 2004 for slick marketing purposes by environmental groups or non-government organizations (NGO’s) who oppose any coalmine in the area.
In January of this year I was retained as a consultant by Fortune Minerals to better communicate the project to the Tahltan community members and to gauge and record their thoughts about the project. During the Cordilleran Roundup conference in Vancouver, the Tahltan leadership met with Fortune executives and consultants to discuss the project.
The company provided an update regarding its 2013 summer work program. Fortune Minerals also expressed its interest in establishing a formal communications agreement with our leaders along with a desire to communicate directly with Tahltan community members.
It was during this meeting in January that Fortune’s President, Robin Goad, again apologized for the arrest of Elders during a blockade of road access to Mount Klappan in 2005. It was also stated that Fortune Minerals would be apologizing directly to the affected Elders in a ceremony sometime within the near future.
So I was not especially disheartened when I saw the full-page ad in The Terrace Standard newspaper the week of the Minerals North conference in that city. I was in the room and heard the apology and I was glad that it had been offered unconditionally. A slick advertisement cannot change when the apology was offered or block the right of Tahltan community members to know more about the project.
What does dishearten me as a Tahltan and a Tlingit are environmental groups who inject themselves between the right of First Nation community members to hear and evaluate for themselves the merits of a development project. Through creation of protection campaigns they create misinformation and half-truths that spread like wildfire in aboriginal communities.
Mining companies on the other hand are legally bound to tell the truth about their projects because they are often using other people’s money to build a producing mine. They also use scientific information that needs to stand up to rigorous scrutiny during environmental assessments.
The Tahltan have created its own environmental assessment process that has a track record of assessing and mitigating development projects, a first of its kind in BC. THREAT is stacked with scientists and local community experts. I have faith in letting it work with Fortune Minerals to assess and report its findings to the Tahltan membership directly. From there we get to cast an informed vote in a project referendum. Respect, decorum and gaining a positive social license form the heart of this process, not biased advertising.
If the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition and other NGOs can let that process unfold, it would satisfy the opportunities of this project for my people like a cool glass of water…filtered, of course, by coal.
Gord Loverin is a communications consultant working for Fortune Minerals.