A demand by the Tahltan that a mining company abandon a project in northwestern B.C. resulted in both sides exchanging strong opinions Saturday evening, without a resolution.
“We listened to protestors,” Troy Nazarweicz, investor relations manager for Fortune Minerals said after the meeting.
Yet the meeting had Annita McPhee, president of the Tahltan Central Council feeling less than pleased with the outcome.
“There was no resolution,” McPhee said. “I’m disappointed.”
However, Fortune Minerals offered to alter their helicopter routes after a major concern was expressed in regard to the noise affecting hunting.
Fortune Minerals was back to normal operations Monday morning, while McPhee said there is still a possibility for a blockade of the camp to come.
Saturday’s meeting took place in the area of the Klappan claimed by the Tahltan and the location of a potential anthracite coal mine being developed by Fortune Minerals of London, Ontario.
Tahltan members prize the area for its hunting and other uses, and have been demanding for years now that Fortune leave the area. Their demand over the past several days has now taken the form of an eviction notice.
The company, which has been trying to raise capital for the project and which now has a South Korean partner, just recently renamed the project Arctos Anthracite in hopes of making a fresh start. Fortune has been focusing on entering the provincial environmental review process.
Early Saturday evening Tahltan leaders, including McPhee and Iskut chief councillor Marie Quock met with Fortune chief executive officer Robin Goad and a delegation of Fortune officials. Police officers came with the Fortune delegation but stayed in the background.
Approximately 50 Tahltan gathered around the seated Tahltan leaders and Fortune group.
“We are very concerned about this protest and threatened blockade. We are concerned about safety and we want to diffuse this situation,” Goad said at the meeting.
Goad also said the decision about the project’s future is up to the province, which will be reviewing plans through the BC Environmental Assessment Office.
“We want the Tahltan to respect the environmental review and not frustrate our work,” Goad said.
“Frustrate? You have helicopters slinging over our camp. That’s dangerous,” Quock countered, adding elders have used the valley in the Klappan and the camp as a food source for countless generations.
Should the project be approved, Fortune estimates it could bring in up to $10 billion in gross revenues, but the Tahltan at the location said not everything has a price tag.
“Our investors are our children and grandchildren,” McPhee said.
Fortune Minerals bought the Klappan project more than a decade ago with the expectation of finding customers for anthracite, the hardest form of coal and idea for home heating and steel making.
Just around the corner from where the company is now working is a Tahltan family area, known as Beauty Camp, and just behind that is an ancient burial ground. According to Quock, Beauty Camp has been there for generations and is the place where many children learn cultural practices of their people. Quock said it is at this location where children learn to hunt, learn about traditional medicines and traditional food sources.
“[It’s] our kitchen and our school,” Quock explained.
Fortune’s plans include taking out coal on a railline first proposed decades ago. The rail plan has Shannon McPhail of the Skeena Watersehd Conservation Coalition worried because it would pass through the Skeena River’s watershed.
Fortune Minerals was unable to confirm what some of the environmental risks might be until the study is complete, but they were adamant the mine would not affect the watersheds of the Nass or Skeena, noting the mine would be eight kms and 12 kms, respectively, from the rivers.
“The project will have zero impact on the Nass River,” Nazarweicz said. “The Arctos Anthracite mine site is only within the Stikine River watershed; however, the mine and the rail bed are very far from the Stikine River itself (approximately 30 km from the headwaters of the Stikine).”
However, according to Quock, the mine will negatively affect the area which she said will in turn affect communities downstream.
“What happens in our area will affect other nations,” Quock said.
-With files from Josh Massey