By Roy L Hales
The mining sector may be struggling, but it is still big business in British Columbia. According to the Northern Miner,mining is “one of the hottest sectors of the Canadian stock market.” At the beginning of this year, there were 702 British Columbia based mineral exploration and mining companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange and TSXV exchanges. Some of the A BC Liberal party’s biggest campaign contributors are mining companies. Though KGHM Ajax Mines is not one of them, having forked out a mere $55,450,[1. KGHM AJAX MINING INC’s donations to the BC Liberal Party: 2013/03/01 – $2,000.00; 2013/12/31 – $10,000.00; 2014/03/28 – $1,000.00; 2014/03/28 – $2,000.00; 2014/04/14 – $400.00; 2014/07/04 – $250.00; 2014/07/04 – $250.00; 2014/10/10 – $10,000.00 ; 2015/03/06 – $2,000.00 ; 2015/04/10 – $5,000.00 ; 2015/06/19 – $2,000.00; 2015/11/20 – $20,000.00 ; KGHM INTERNATIONAL’s donations to the BC Liberal Party: 2015/02/13 – $550.00] a new mining start would definitely bolster Premier Christy Clark’s image within the industry. Only there is more at stake than money when it comes to a proposed 2,500-hectare open-pit copper and gold mine on the outskirts of the city of Kamloops. This is an area that local first nations consider sacred and after careful deliberation, the Stk’emlúpsemc te Secwépemc Nation says no to Ajax Mines.
The Stk’emlúpsemc te Secwépemc Nation Says No To Ajax Mines
Kukpi7 (Chief) Ron Ignace of the Skeetchestn Nation, which together with the Tkemlups makes up the SSN, explained that they found both the National Energy Board’s review processes inadequate.
“We found it terribly wanting and narrow in scope. It didn’t deal with our spiritual values, Secwepemc laws, aboriginal rights or traditional uses of the land. So we established our own project assessment process and we established the panel that consist of 26 heads of families as well as youth, elders and councils from both of our communities,” he said.
The Secwépemc have long considered the proposed mine site at Jacko Lake (called “Pípsell” in the Secwépemc language) a sacred place. They have to make an offering, to show their respects, before entering that area. The idea of transforming it into an open pit mine “is unthinkable.”
Kukpi7 Ignace used an analogy to to convey this idea to representatives. The Marian shrines are sacred places in their native Poland. Would they turn them into open pit mines?[2. Roy L Hales interview with Kukpi7 Ron Ignace of the Skeetchestn Nation]
In the press release explaining their decision, Kukpi7 (Chief) Fred Seymour of the Tk’emlups te Secwépemc said, “We say no to this project in order to say yes to the health of our community members and our neighbours in Kamloops and surrounding area. For our two communities united through SSN, it does not make sense to sacrifice for all time all that we have in Pípsell to obtain limited benefits which will last for only 25 years. Many impacts were not and cannot be monetized including the adverse impacts on our cultural heritage as well as impacts on the environment.”
“There are those that ask why are we making the decision today, as neither the federal or BC government has made a decision as yet. As stewards of Secwepemc we must also show leadership and caring for our territory and that is what we are doing here today, ” added Acting Kukpi7 Terry Deneault of the Skeetchestn.[3. video of the Stk’emlúpsemc te Secwépemc Nation’s March 4, 2017, announcement made by Pat Ebert of Pro Video Services]
Impacts on Aboriginal Interests
Though the proponent claims the Ajax Mine would have a negligible effect on First Nations, their environmental impact statement contains admissions like:
- ” … some of the Project components such as mine rock storage facilities and the Tailings Storage Facility (TSF) will remain as permanent elements of the landscape.” [4. Chapter 13. of the EIS, ABORIGINAL INTERESTS (RIGHTS AND TITLE, p 57]
- “Access to Jacko Lake (Pipsell) for recreationalists and Aboriginal Groups will be altered as a result of the Project, including permanent loss of the northeastern arm of the lake … [5. Ibid, Table 13.2-2. Summary of Findings from Key Valued Components]
- “There is the potential that during the Post-Closure phase some areas of the Project could not be restored to a condition that would be suitable for activities such as fishing, hunting or trapping or other uses; therefore the potential for losses in availability of resources could extend during the Post-Closure phase and become permanent.”[6. Ibid, p 57]
“The open pit mine is massive. It is kilometres deep, kilometres wide and it will never heal …. (The hole) will be there in perpetuity. You can never mitigate that…. The edge of the pit butts right up against Pípsell, the lake … and a hydraulogist has looked at that and said it is certain the lake will drain away and we would lose it … If we lose the lake we lose the essence of the area,” says Kukpi7 Ignace.[7. interview with Kukpi7 Ignace]
Responses to the Stk’emlúpsemc te Secwépemc Decision
They added, “The results of the SSN’s independent assessment of the project will be provided to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change to help inform federal EA decision-making.”[8. Email from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency]
A spokesperson from BC’s Ministry of the Environment gave a similar non-committal response, “The EAO and SSN co-developed and are implementing an Ajax Mine Environmental Assessment Collaboration Plan, to ensure the SSN’s information and interests are fully considered during the Province’s environmental assessment process.The Environmental Assessment Office will be reviewing the SSN’s report and considering it as part of the provincial environmental assessment process, which is still underway. After the provincial assessment process is finished, SSN’s report and recommendations will be included in the documents submitted to Provincial Ministers for decision.”[9. Email from spokesperson of BC’s Ministry of the Environment]
“We’re going to be calling on them to respect our decision. We hope that they will, particularly in light of some new developments that have occurred. Namely that Canada has unshackled the U.N. Declaration on the rights of Indigenous people. That has a profound support for our aboriginal title and rights to the area,” said Kukpi7 Ignace. Trudeau, himself, has stated that our rights that have been enshrined in the constitution of Canada are not an inconvenience, but a sacred duty that must be respected.”[10. interview with Kukpi7 Ignace]
On Non-Ceded Secwepemc Territory
The Secwepemc peoples have occupied that area for 10,000 years. Kukpi7 Ignace’s PHD dissertation, at Simon Fraser University, demonstrates the “converging lines of evidence between geological, archaeological and oral history sources” of Secwepemc antiquity. [11. Ronald Eric Ignace , OUR ORAL HISTORIES ARE OUR IRON POSTS: SECWEPEMC STORIES AND HISTORICAL CONSCIOUSNESS, Simon Fraser University, Spring 2008] According to Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc Councillor Jeanette Jules, every one of the leaders at the present on March 4 could trace their genealogies back to the (first) Secwepemc hereditary chiefs.
In 1910 the Chiefs of the Shuswap, Okanagan and Couteau Tribes wrote Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier that the first whites to enter their territory were “good people,” who they could trust, but:
” … Gradually as the whites of this country became more and more powerful, and we less and less powerful, they little by little changed their policy towards us, and commenced to put restrictions on us. Their government or chiefs have taken every advantage of our friendliness, weakness and ignorance to impose on us in every way. They treat us as subjects without any agreement to that effect, and force their laws on us without our consent and irrespective of whether they are good for us or not.
They say they have authority over us. They have broken down our old laws and customs (no matter how good) by which we regulated ourselves. They laugh at our chiefs and brush them aside. Minor affairs amongst ourselves, which do not affect them in the least, and which we can easily settle better than they can, they drag into their courts. They enforce their own laws one way for the rich white man, one way for the poor white, and yet another for the Indian. They have knocked down (the same as) the posts of all the Indian tribes. They say there are no lines, except what they make. They have taken possession of all the Indian country and claim it as their own…. “
“The British Columbia Government has laid claim to Secwepemc tribal territories and taken possession without treaty or payment,” said Kukli7 Ignace.[13. interview with Kuppi7 Ignace]
Resolving The Aboriginal Title Issue
Asked how to “fix” the aboriginal title issue, he referred to the 1910 memorial in which the chiefs wrote:
We have no grudge against the white race as a whole nor against the settlers, but we want to have an equal chance with them of making a living. We welcome them to this country. It is not in most cases their fault. They have taken up and improved and paid for their lands in good faith.
It is their government which is to blame by heaping up injustice on us. But it is also their duty to see their government does right by us, and gives us a square deal. We condemn the whole policy of the B.C. government towards the Indian tribes of this country as utterly unjust, shameful and blundering in every way. We denounce same as being the main cause of the unsatisfactory condition of Indian affairs in this country and of animosity and friction with the whites.
So long as what we consider justice is withheld from us, so long will dissatisfaction and unrest exist among us, and we will continue to struggle to better ourselves. For the accomplishment of this end we and other Indian tribes of this country are now uniting and we ask the help of yourself and government in this fight for our rights. We believe it is not the desire nor policy of your government that these conditions should exist.
We demand that our land question be settled, and ask that treaties be made between the government and each of our tribes, in the same manner as accomplished with the Indian tribes of the other provinces of Canada, and in the neighboring parts of the United States. We desire that every matter of importance to each tribe be a subject of treaty, so we may have a definite understanding with the government on all questions of moment between us and them.
“Come to the table without preconditions, and with an open mind, and we will sit down and come to an understanding,” says Kukpi7 Ignace.[14. interview with Kukpi7 Ignace]
(Though they share segments, more than 70% of the material in the podcast (above) does not appear in this article & is taken from the March 4th event and subsequent interview with Kukpi7 Ron Ignace.)
Top Photo Credit: Kukpi7 (Chief) Fred Seymour and Acting Kukpi7 Terry Deneault signing the decision- Tkemlups and Skeetchestn Chief and Council through the SSN Joint Council accepted the Panel recommendations in full – courtesy Stk’emlúpsemc te Secwépemc Nation