First Nations - Land Rights and Environmentalism in British Columbia


Iskut elder and stroke victim Jerry Quock being arrested by the RCMP on 15 September 2005 for protecting Klabona, the Sacred Headwaters. He is assisted by Loretta Dennis of the Tl'ogotine Wolf Clan. Nine Tahltan elders and six First Nations supporters were arrested for protesting mining projects by Fortune Minerals and Shell.   Photo: James Dennis 3rd



Lecture in Victoria

Tse Keh Nay


Shell Energy Canada, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, plans to develop a coalbed methane gas field at the headwaters of the Skeena, Nass, and Stikine rivers - in northwestern British Columbia (BC). The area is has indigenous signifcance as a Sacred Headwaters. See subchapter: Klabona. The Tahltan and Iskut people whose land the Shell mining project will degrade have charged the government and industry with failure to consult and accommodate their aboriginal interests over resource use and development.

Klappan Valley, Tahltan Territory.
Photo: Gary Fiegehen


Klabona blockade, 21 August 2007.
Photo: Klabona Keepers

A Tahltan blockade at Klabona (above) on 21 August 2007 was followed by demonstrations against Shell in the town of Smithers and at the Vancouver courthouse where Shell was asking for an injunction to arrest the indigenous activists. "Shell's project is likely to permanently harm our territory and the salmon, wildlife and cultural activities it supports ... The Sacred Headwaters is the place where our youth learn about our culture, where our elders want to go before they die. It is incredibly important to us" Klabona Keepers.

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Arrest of Tahltan elder, 15 September 2005.
Photo: Klabona Keepers


British Columbia: Nigeria North?
YouTube (Click to view)


The transnational oil and gas industry began operating in the Klappan coalbed and methane gas field in the 1980s with Gulf Oil (right). In 2001 the Klappan mine was bought by Fortune Minerals. First Nations communities in Northwest BC are all under pressure by the sudden increase in value of minerals, coal and gas. The Wet'suwet'en issued a strong rejection on 21 February 2007: "After careful consideration of the risks and benefits of coalbed methane, we have unanimously decided to oppose the tenure for the Telkwa coalbed methane project" Office of the Wet'suwet'en.

Wet'suwet'en protest, Calgary, 24 November 2006.
Photo: Taylor Bachrach


Gulf Oil's proposal for Klappan, 1980s.
Illustration: Gulf Oil

"Cease and Desist" mining was the message delivered by three Wet'suwet'en chiefs to the head office of the Norwest Corporation in Calgary, Alberta on 24 November 2006 (left). From the left: Chief Madeek (Jeff Brown), Chief Woos (Roy Morris) and Chief Kloum Khun (Alphonse Gagnon).

Cross tribal support between First Nations is growing in Northwest BC as more and more proposed resource development projects are bombarding the traditional territories of the indigenous peoples. To support their First Nations neighbours, Wet'suwet'en members witnessed the serving of an injunction on Tahltan protesters at the Klappan blockade near the community of Iskut on 9 September 2006.

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Wet'suwet'en Chiefs opposed to coalbed mining.
Photo: Office of the Wet'suwet'en


We, the hereditary chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en, care deeply about our territory. Our traditional use has been confirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada through the Delgamuukw - Gisday Wa court case. After careful consideration of the risks and benefits of coalbed methane, we have unanimously decided to oppose the tenure for the Telkwa coalbed methane project.

The Wet'suwet'en are supportive of economic development in our territory. We continue to work with the broader community toward development that delivers benefits while protecting the land.

But coalbed methane poses too great a risk to what we already have: clean water, wild salmon, and abundant wildlife. Together, we have decided against coalbed methane development in our territory. We call on the BC government and Norwest Corporation to honour this decision.

21 February 2007, Office of the Wet'suwet'en

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Klappan blockade, 9 September 2006.
Photo: Klabona Keepers


Many of the indigenous inhabitants of Tahltan Territory uphold the traditional values and way of life of their elders and ancestors. See chapter: Tahltan. Those Tahltan members who continue to live on the land warn that the game and fish are endangered. Klabona (Tl'ab'ne) is the Tahltan name for the headwaters of four salmon bearing rivers located in the Klappan highlands.

The mining industry's invasion of Klappan is the source of a land rights battle as a group of Tahltan activists assert their ancestral ownership and duty to protect the land. "In September of 2005, nine of our Elders and six supporters were arrested and taken away in handcuffs (left). They were charged with contempt of court for protecting their land. Fortune Minerals dropped the charges the morning of the court hearing in Terrace to avoid negative publicity."

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Coal piles bound for Asia at the Ridley Island Coal Terminal, Prince Rupert, BC. (Click to enlarge)
Photo: Ridley Island Coal Terminal (Text added)


On 13 March 2007 the prime minister of Canada announced his new "EcoTrust" funding for BC to reduce carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions. Unscrupulous provincial politicians were quick to grab EcoTrust funds to pay for the high voltage 260 MW powerline needed to fuel the multibillion dollar mining industry in Tahltan Territory, thereby facilitating massive carbon pollution both in BC and export regions such as Asia. This is a blatant embezzling of public money officially intended for environmental protection purposes. See: Green Money for Black Coal (Public Eye).

Caribou in the Klappan highlands, June 2006.
Photo: Poecile


Mount Klappan Coal Mine, aerial view.
Fortune Minerals property

The Mount Klappan Coal Mine (above) owned by Fortune Minerals is a main beneficiary of the planned Highway 37 electrification project. This underhanded taxpayer financed scheme to "publicize the costs and privatize the profits" of the powerline is part of the plan by Big Business to open up Tahltan Territory to mining and to take over public resources: BC Hydro Facts.

In 2006, Fortune Minerals almost acquired the federal Ridley Island Terminal in Prince Rupert at a firesale price. See: Sqwalk. Coal exports from this port to Asia are projected to increase 268 per cent in 2007. Hundreds of millions of tonnes of Klappan coal are destined for the unsatiable Asian market. The result will be runaway carbon emissions and the destruction of precious biodiversity including species vital to the Tahltan like the caribou (left).

      Tse Keh Nay  
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