RCMP respond to Tahltan mining protest in Sacred Headwaters
Aboriginal opposition heating up over copper and gold mining in northwest B.C.
A First Nations group protesting a copper and gold mining site in the heart of the Sacred Headwaters of northwest B.C. was responded to by RCMP officers with rifles on Friday afternoon, according to several eyewitness accounts.
Members of the “Klabona Keepers” have occupied a drill site in Tahltan territory, near Iskut B.C. for several days. The drill is operated by Firesteel Resources of Vancouver.
Tahltan band member Peter Jakesta helps run the protest camp, and said four RCMP members came in unannounced, took their radios, and told them to leave or risk being charged with theft.
“They had two snipers to enforce this, and take control of these people. The people who were protesting were completely unarmed,” said Jakesta, from Iskut Friday.
“Our lakes are already in danger from the Red Chris mine, and these guys want to endanger [the area] even worse,” he added.
The RCMP confirmed four members of its Dease Lake detachment went in, with one member carrying a rifle.
“A couple of protesters have rifles and a cross bow. We had one of our members [carry in a] rifle as well. Our rifle is essentially for bear protection, because the helicopter landing pad was destroyed,” said Sgt. Rob Vermeulen, RCMP spokesperson for B.C.
“Like with any dispute, we’re there as an impartial party, to protect the public including the protesters.”
The police response comes on the same day that members of the Klabona Keepers delivered in person a “cease and desist” letter to the Vancouver office of the mining company.
“I’m just shaking,” said Lorreta Nole, who delivered the letter.
“Most of those RCMP are not nice. They will shoot and ask questions later.”
Lorreta Nole of Klabona Keepers with "cease and desist" order for Firesteel Resources - Photo by Beyond Boarding
The police insist there "are no issues whatsoever" -- and they are there to keep the peace. Vermeulen could not confirm if RCMP were acting on a court order from the company or not.
Nole said other Klabona Keeper members claim the Tahltan have not been adequately consulted about this project, especially its environmental impacts. They fear the local lake that they depend on for trout and other fish, is already being pushed too hard with mining development.
Imperial Metals – which suffered the disastrous Mount Polley toxic tailings spill last month – is also developing the Red Chris mine in the Tahltan territory.
Firesteel Resources is hoping to develop beside that project. The company so far has not responded to requests for comment.
Klabona Keepers is led by women and Elders with Tahltan Nation. The group was successful in blockading Fortune Mineral’s coal mine project in the area, following a several week encampment last year.
The region was branded “Sacred Headwaters” by First Nations and environmentalists during a multi-year (and ultimately unsuccessful) attempt by Shell Oil to develop methane drilling in the area.