First Nations - Land Rights and Environmentalism in British Columbia

Poster for a First Nations lecture on mining in Victoria, 26 February 2007. Photo: Klabona Keepers (Click to enlarge)


Lecture in Victoria

"The impacts of colonization and assimilation have taken its toll on the Tahltan language, culture and heritage. There is concern about the impacts of the social and economic pressures put on communities that are trying to heal from years of abuse and despair. Mines did not create all of these problems but they make the existing problems worse. Mines contribute to the erosion of the Tahltan traditional way of life and culture.

The pace of exploration and development does not give communities enough time to adapt to the sudden changes and to put programs in place to deal with the negative social impacts of mining development. Mining companies are not contributing to Band programs to mitigate the social problems. All of the impacts are compounded by historical and current effects of colonization, residential school syndrome, racism, and inadequate social, health, and education services currently available to the Tahltan" Impacts of Mining (Klabona Keepers).


The Klabona Keepers Elders Society is fighting to save the Sacred Headwaters, the shared birthplace of the Stikine, Skeena and Nass Rivers in Northwest British Columbia (BC). Rhoda Quock, chairperson of the Klabona Keepers, and Tahltan community liason Eileen Doody made the long journey from their home in Iskut, a community of 400, to Victoria, the capital city of BC, to lecture on how the mining boom in northern BC is threatening small First Nations communities and the land they depend upon (right).

The poster for the ground breaking First Nations event was a photo of the young daughter of Rhoda Quock (above). She is standing on the road to Klappan, the Sacred Headwaters. Behind the wheel of the truck is her father, who was then (2004) employed by Shell Canada. Not long afterwards, Rhoda Quock says: "We woke up and realized that if anything happens to Klappan we'll lose everything that we stand for." Obligated to prevent its desecration, on 16 July 2005 Rhoda's husband stopped a Fortune Minerals truck on the Klappan road, beginning a dispute that continues today under the guidance of the Klabona Keepers Elders Society.

Tahltan presentation, BC Legislature, 2007.
Photo: Carrie Slanina


Tahltan presentation, BC Legislature, 2007.
Photo: Carrie Slanina

As a result of his stand, Rhoda's husband lost his job with Shell Canada and her family - with four young children - has been left without economic support. On 26 February 2007, the designated BC Mining Day, Rhoda Quock and Eileen Doody lectured to politicians at the BC Legislature on the environmental threats faced by their northern community and the social consequences that large scale mining projects have on indigenous peoples (left). They are asking that the current frenzy of mining projects in Tahltan Territory be slowed to a sustainable rate, to ensure long term employment without ecological devastation.


Salmon cooking, Klappan blockade, Iskut, 2006.
Photo: K. B. Sparks


Smoking bear meat, Klappan blockade, 2006.
Photo: Klabona Keepers

"The Tahltan continue to use and occupy the land in much the same ways we did generations ago. We hunt, trap, fish and camp in the traditional camp sites our ancestors have used for thousands of years. We call the Mount Klappan area our Sacred Headwaters" Impacts of Mining (Klabona Keepers). During the Klappan blockade, bear meat and wild salmon was cooked by smoke in the traditional way over open fires (above and left).

Most people in the world will never have the opportunity to taste wild salmon. Farmed salmon are given chemicals to make their flesh pink as well as growth hormones and other drugs. The wild salmon that have evolved in the Stikine watershed represent a precious and rare example of biodiversity that will not survive the pollution caused by industrial mining: Acid Mine Drainage.


First Nations in Northwest BC are under heavy pressure due to the skyrocketing global commodities market which is driving rampant development: "The Sacred Headwaters is a highly traditional use area valued by many Nations that depend on it for their very survival. The Gitxsan, Wet'sewet'an, Tlingit, Haida, and Haisla, are concerned that negative impacts from mining, coal and oil and gas development will destroy the land, wildlife, and rivers that they have occupied and that have sustained them for thousands of years" Impacts of Mining (Klabona Keepers).

Tahltan boys, Klappan blockade, Iskut, 2006.
Photo: K. B. Sparks


Klappan blockade, Iskut, 2006.
Photo: Klabona Keepers

Three First Nations boys at the Klappan blockade at Iskut protested: "We want to live on our fish & moose, sheep and goat" (left). "No indigenous culture could survive the combined impacts of all the proposed projects. Our land, our Tahltan People, and the wildlife will be devastated ... Our culture will not survive this onslaught of development ... Our culture and traditional language is threatened with extinction ... . We exercise our right to protect our land, resources, culture, and language for future generations" Impacts of Mining (Klabona Keepers).


Easy access to Tahltan Territory came with the completion of Highway 37 in 1972. The Tahltan were one of the first Aboriginal groups in BC to participate in a land and resource management plan: Cassiar Iskut Stikine LRMT (right). Signed in 2000, it was intended to accommodate First Nations land uses and Aboriginal Rights in "Protected Areas." But the LRMT gave the mining industry access to most of the landbase: only two high alpine areas without significant mineral deposits were protected as parks. As a result, today the Stikine watershed in Tahltan Territory is being punctured like Swiss cheese in the frenzy to profit from mining.

Mining camp, "Golden Triangle," 1990.
Photo: Gary Fiegehen


Cassiar Iskut Stikine Land Management Plan.
Photo: BC Government (Click to enlarge)

Skyrocketing metal prices have caused a rebirth of an industrial mining zone that covers most of Tahltan Territory and the Stikine watershed. Click to see the so called: Golden Triangle. Mines and mining infrastructure worth billions of dollars of investment potential are dependent on the installation of a taxpayer financed high voltage transmission line along Highway 37 and a new industrial haul road from Highway 37 to the Port of Stewart: Bradfield Road (Transboundary Alliance).


Johnny Mountain Gold Mine, Lower Iskut River, 1990.
Photo: Gary Fiegehen


Some Mines in Tahltan Territory

 Erickson Gold Mine
 Eskay Creek Mine (Barrick Gold)
 Galore Creek (NovaGold)
 GJ/Kinaskan Mine
 Golden Bear Mine (Goldcorp)
 Groundhog (West Hawk)
 Isk (Whitegold)
 Johnny Mountain Gold Mine
 Mt Klappan (Fortune Minerals)
 Mt Klappan (Shell Canada)
 Red Chris Mine (bcMetals)
 Rok / Coyote (Firesteel)
 Snip Gold Mine (Cominco)
 Taurus Gold Mine
 Wheaton River Minerals



Tahltan youth fishing, Tatogga - Iskut, Tahltan Territory.
Photo: Stewart Cassiar Tourism Council


The Stewart Cassiar Tourism Council promotes the Iskut Tatogga Corridor as the gateway to "experience the wild" in the Stikine Country, Spatsizi Park, Mount Edziza Park, the Grand Canyon of the Stikine and the Upper Stikine River. A photo of Tahltan youth fishing for Greyling in the Upper Spatsizi River communicates the wild splendor of this region (left). The tourism industry in BC is worth more than the mining industry and its profits have a greater potential to be more fairly distributed over the long term among the First Nations communities in Northwest BC.

The unique tourism value of the Iskut Tatogga Corridor is under threat by the mining industry plan to install a high voltage transmission line along it, bisecting the heart of Tahltan Territory. Unbelievably, the potentially devasting consequences of the plan were all but ignored in the 2006 federal report on the Galore Creek Mine.


Iskut First Nation Chief Marie Quock demanded that the environmental assessment of NovaGold's huge open pit mine at Galore Creek include: "A thorough discussion of traditional Tahltan and Iskut use and occupation of their lands [as] a defining consideration and underlying premiss of the whole application process" Iskut Comments, 9 January 2006. This demand has not been honourably dealt with in relation to NovaGold's sudden doubling of the power voltage it requires via a new transmission line that will facilitate further industrial mining development in Tahltan Territory.

The impacts of this are crushing: "The Iskut and Tahltan communities are having difficulty coping with the problems associated with the existing mines. No indigenous culture could endure or survive the impacts if the proposed projects were to occur simultaneously. This would be cultural genocide. Our land, our Tahltan People and the wildlife would be devastated" Impacts of Mining (Klabona Keepers).


Tahltan protesters, Klappan blockade, 2006.
Photo: K. B. Sparks


First Nations rally, Terrace, February 2005.
Photo: Klabona Keepers


When the "Galore Comprehensive Report" was released in December 2006, many comments were not included. See: Cassiar Watch, BC Nature and Friends of the Stikine. The inadequate time period given to the highly complex environmental assessment process and the failure to address the cumulative impacts of the new powerline has led to charges of a government - industry coverup and an attempt to stifle public debate and squash indigenous Tahltan culture: Cassiar Watch.

A First Nations rally at the BC court in Terrace in February 2005 was attended by Tahltan women in full regalia (left). When the Klappan blockaders who were arrested in September 2005 appeared before the court on 28 October, indigenous supporters again gathered. Unexpectedly, Fortune Minerals Ltd. dropped its charges and the court refused to extend its injunction on the Klappan blockaders: Tahltan Win, Mining Company Loses 29 November 2005 (Klabona Keepers).


The controversial new powerline through Tahltan Territory is also designed to facilitate mining corporations in a rush to cash in on the lucrative Asian demand for metals. Red Chris Mine, a huge open pit gold and copper mine owned by bcMetals (now Imperial Metals), was given government approval in 2006. Like many other so called "properties" staked out by the transnational mining industry, Red Chris Mine is located on unceded First Nations land (right).

The Klappan highlands are indigenous hunting grounds that belong to the Tahltan Nation. Klappan is not owned by the mining corporations nor does it belong to the government. Todagin Plateau, located in the Klappan, is home to the largest population of Stone sheep (Ovis dalli stonei) on Earth. This magnificent wild sheep was not known to non aboriginal people until 1898, when an American hunter shot a trophy in the Klappan and named the species after himself.

Tahltan elder Lillian Moyer, Klappan blockade, 2006.
Photo: Klabona Keepers

For her principled determination to oppose the powerful government supported mining industry, Lillian Moyer is being victimized by BC's legal system. When bcMetals acquired a court injunction against the Klappan blockaders, she held her ground and as a result was charged on 9 September 2006. See: Great Grandmother Arrested (Klabona Keepers). The desperate attempt by bcMetals to keep its stockholders in the dark about the indigenous resistance to its Red Chris Mine backfired when charges against it were filed by a public information organization: MiningWatch Canada.


Mount Klappan, Tahltan Territory, June 2006.
Photo: Poecile

Tahltan elder Lillian Moyer is among those most widely admired for taking a strong stand against mining encroachment on Tahltan Territory. On the left she holds a protest sign at the blockade to remind people why she is against mining degradation in Klappan: "Todagin is the largest Stone sheep habitat for lambing in the world."

Stone sheep mother and her ewe.
Photo: Kath & Theo


Lillian Moyer is a Tahltan Band Councillor and the Director of Tahltan Elders Society in Telegraph Creek. While fighting to protect endangered wildlife habitat and simultaneously refusing to acknowledge the settler society's authority to remove her from her own land, she has twice been arrested and three times summoned to appear before the BC court in Terrace - most recently on 16 March 2007. First Nations demonstrators have repeatedly asserted their indigenous rights outside the law courts in Terrace (right). To quell further protest - at least until the mining season is over - the sentencing of the Tahltan elder was again put on remand.

Lillian Moyer gives us an admirable example of ecological leadership, yet she is being hauled before the BC court by corporate sleeze boys who wallow in their ill gained profits derived from trashing rare and endangered ecosystems and asphyxiating our atmosphere with excess carbon.


First Nations protest, law courts, Terrace.
Photo: Klabona Keepers


Carved panel by Dempsey Bob.
Photo: Dempsey Bob


Ironically, on 23 February 2007 the government announced that NovaGold had successfully completed the environmental assessment of its Galore Creek Mine, disingenuously praising the process as a "textbook example" of how to deal with First Nations and the issue of Aboriginal Title.

A supporter of the Klappan blockade is the renowned Tahltan artist Dempsey Bob (left). In 1992, he took part in the landmark First Nations exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada and stated: "I am inspired by the land, our people, our heritage, and the animals. This land talks to me and I am creative here, that is all that matters. We are part of the land" Land, Spirit, Power.


While the mining industry in BC profits by feeding the soaring consumption of coal and copper in Asia, elsewhere in the world the catastrophic results of climate change have forced a genuine commitment to sustainability as the key to the harvesting of natural resources. The idea is to empower people to sustainably use the resources of the ecosystems in which they live. The corporate fat cats of the multinational mining industry who are greedily exploiting BC do not live here. Those who do inhabit BC - since time immemorial - are the First Nations - whose collective voice is being muffled.

The efforts of the Klabona Keepers to bring public attention to the dire situation in Tahltan Territory is laudable. At risk is the Stikine watershed, one of the world's greatest treasures of wilderness biodiversity. Rhoda Quock and Eileen Doody were welcomed to Victoria by Georgiana Ball (right). Her father, George Ball, was an early white guide outfitter at Telegraph Creek. See subchapter: Album.


Georgiana, Rhoda & Eileen, 26 Feb. 2007.
Photo: William Edwards

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