DEASE LAKE, BC, Sept. 23, 2013 /CNW/ - Pressure for Fortune Minerals to leave the Klappan area intensified over the weekend following a visit from Minister Bill Bennett on Saturday.
On Sunday, a group of 40 Tahltan members and elders entered Fortune Minerals' exploration camp on Mount Klappan. They asked workers to leave the area and for all work to stop immediately.
"After six weeks of asking Fortune to respect our land and rights, our people have told Fortune to leave," said Tahltan Central Council (TCC) president Annita McPhee. "The camp is peaceful and everyone is safe. It's important that our supporters and company workers continue to exercise caution, good judgment and discretion."
Fortune Minerals is a mining company proposing a large open pit coal mine that will impact more than 4,000 hectares of pristine wilderness and destroy Mount Klappan. Tahltan elders and community members have been camped at a traditional Tahltan hunting and cultural camp - known as Beauty Camp - right at the site of the proposed mine. The Tahltan members had earlier given Fortune an "eviction notice" requiring the company to halt its exploration activities and leave the area.
The latest news came after Minister of Energy and Mines Bill Bennett and senior government officials met with President McPhee and concerned Tahltan members at their camp in the Klappan on Saturday evening.
"Our people spoke clearly and passionately with Bill Bennett," said McPhee. "They were clear that they want this land protected and that no coal mine should be developed in the Klappan. They told him that they were willing to be arrested if that is what it took. I think he was very moved by the meeting."
Last week, the provincial Government was heavily criticized for appointing mediator Geoff Freer with the objective of "allowing the project to proceed" less than a week after the formation of a joint Province-Tahltan working group to plan for the Klappan's protection.
"We don't want another 2005," said McPhee. "Our people are getting angrier by the day, and negotiations are not progressing at the same pace. We need a new process agreed by both Tahltan and the Province in place and working urgently."
In 2005, protests against Fortune Minerals and Shell Canada's developments in the area went on for months. 15 people, mostly elders, were arrested and a drawn-out legal battle followed. Shell Canada eventually relinquished its contentious shale gas tenures in the Klappan in 2012.
The Fortune Minerals project is located in a critically important area that requires long-term management and protection to preserve cultural and ecological values for the Tahltan people, and all of BC. Mount Klappan, which is part of an area known as Sacred Headwaters, is a traditional hunting ground> It has significant cultural value and feeds three of the region's major salmon-bearing rivers - the Skeena, Stikine and Nass. The Tahltan people therefore oppose any coal-related development in the area.
The TCC is the Tahltan Nation governing body representing the collective aboriginal title and rights of all Tahltan peoples. TCC is not involved in organizing protest activity, but many of its members are part of the movement.
SOURCE: Tahltan Central Council
For further information:
For interviews or background information contact Annita McPhee, President, Tahltan Central Council: 604-754-9974.