'We dare Fortune to get us arrested' says First Nations group

Date of publication: 
22 September 2013

The Tahltan Elder-led First Nations group that is blockading Fortune Minerals project is “daring” officials to take action against their blockade.

“We dare Fortune to get us arrested! We have cameras here. We will make sure the world knows what’s going on,” said the group’s spokesperson, Rhoda Quock, in a news release.

The First Nations group says it has blockaded roads to the the camp, as well as access to Fortune drilling equipment for about a month.

The group is protesting a proposed open-pit coal mine in northwestern British Columbia, about 330 km northeast of the Pacific Ocean Port of Prince Rupert.

The Arctos Anthracite project is a joint venture between Vancouver-based Fortune Minerals (80%) and Posco Canada Ltd. (20%), a subsidiary of Korea’s POSCO that is one of the world’s largest steel producers.

The First Nation Group says the area is of “. . . profound ecological and cultural importance to the Tahltan people who have lived there for thousands of years.”

“This is not just about the land and environment, it is about our people, our people’s right to use and occupy the land as they have done since time immemorial,” said Chief Quock.

The First Nation group expects a meeting with B.C. Mining Minister Bill Bennett this weekend.

In mid-August Tahltan elders served the company ‘eviction notice’ and posted pictures showing them marching to the camp.


Coal mining protest in B.C. set to erupt

Margo Harper, The Globe and Mail – http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/coal-mining-protest...

20 September 2013

An increasingly tense standoff between a B.C. First Nation and a London, Ont.-based coal company in a remote mountain valley known as Sacred Headwaters is set to erupt as protesters flaunt their month-long presence on a drilling site and taunt the RCMP to arrest them.

For the Tahltan First Nation, which has worked both with and against industry, the stakes are high: It is determined to halt the development of an open-pit coal mine in a spot it views as the land of origin, the birthplace of all waters.

“We dare Fortune to get us arrested. We have cameras here. We will make sure the world knows what’s going on,” said Rhoda Quock, spokeswoman for the protest group Kablona Keepers, in a statement.

Fortune Minerals Ltd., which has invested $100-million to develop what it says may be the world’s biggest undeveloped deposit of high-quality, clean-burning coal, has no intention of giving up on the Arctos Anthracite project.

It sees the potential to create some 1,500 direct and secondary jobs – employment opportunities it says many Tahltan are interested in, despite their leaders’ opposition.

Tensions rose this week when B.C. Premier Christy Clark’s government appointed a mediator to resolve the dispute, but suggested in the statement – which it later said was prematurely released – that the mediation process would allow the Arctos project to proceed.

It was the second time the Tahltan felt betrayed by Ms. Clark: Prior to a hotly contested provincial election in May, Ms. Clark vowed to protect the Sacred Headwaters from oil and gas development. But while making that politically popular promise, Ms. Clark was seeking Ottawa’s permission for a “substitution,” a measure in federal omnibus legislation that lets the province forgo a federal environmental assessment in favour of a provincial assessment alone.

While B.C. had long sought to streamline the dual environmental assessment process, the Headwaters manoeuvre was seen as a blatant betrayal by the Tahltan, who had danced and drummed in the Legislative Rotunda celebrating Ms. Clark’s commitment to a two-year discussion about permanent protection of the Headwaters. It was a jubilant time for the Tahltan, who had just won an eight-year battle against Royal Dutch Shell PLC, which had planned to drill for coal-bed methane in the Sacred Headwaters.

As Shell withdrew, the province extended a four-year moratorium on oil and gas activity in the area (which has some of the richest mineral deposits in North America) and hinted at further restrictions on industry there, heading off a confrontation over environmental issues and native rights. The deal was followed by a signing ceremony in Victoria – a display of exuberance that has been replaced with cynicism.

“We wonder if they were trying to keep us quiet,” says Tahltan elder Millie Pauls. “There were a lot of politics heading into the provincial election. Now it seems they are trading off some of our land for their jobs agenda.”

Author Wade Davis, who has a 35-year history in the northwest as a park ranger and guide and owns a summer home on the only road to the proposed Fortune coal mine, is one of the Tahltan’s leading allies. His book The Sacred Headwaters argues that the area is a wilderness of global significance, rivalling Banff, Jasper or Yosemite.

“It seems inconceivable that the B.C. government could ask the second-largest company in the world to leave and then fast-track plans for a small coal company from London, Ont., to extract coal from those same Headwaters,” he said.

Tahltan elder August Brown, who was arrested in a 2005 blockade, is adamant in his opposition. “We’re tired of fighting but I know it’s my path. If they try to put a mine up there, there are enough of us to tear them apart.”

Nothing is more sacrosanct to the Tahltan than the Sacred Headwaters – a high, wide valley 400 kilometres just hours south of Alaska. There, the Stikine, Skeena and Nass salmon rivers that nourished aboriginal cultures of the Pacific Northwest originate in an area known to First Nations as Klabona, or Klappan. According to native myth, the Big Raven forged the world in that valley.

“The Klappan has always been a bottom line for us,” says Annita McPhee, president of the Tahltan Central Council. “It’s who we are. We come home in the summer. We depend on the fish. We trap and hunt. We depend on the moose. There are some things that money cannot buy. Our food sources are one of them. Water is another.”

Ms. McPhee insists that her people are not indiscriminately anti-development. She points to “productive relationships” with companies like BC Hydro, Alta Gas and Nova Gold. Earlier this year, the Tahltan were the first band in B.C. to negotiate a revenue-sharing deal for proceeds of the Forest Kerr hydroelectric project, estimated at $2.5-million a year.

But, Ms. McPhee says, Tahltan leaders have made it clear to the province and Fortune Minerals that an “ecologically and culturally destructive coal mine project” in the Sacred Headwaters is a non-starter.

B.C. mining ministry spokesman Matt Gordon defends the decision to seek a substitution to speed up the assessment process, saying the Shell deal did not cover mining activity in the Headwaters.

And Fortune chief operating officer Mike Romaniuk points out that mining is a completely different business. “Our project will have less impact and great collateral benefit to the province and other industry. … The Shell project was a hundred times larger in terms of disturbance to the landscape.”

Fortune, which has pursued its big coal dream since 2002, says it is encouraged by B.C.’s application to take over the environmental assessment. Company president Robin Goad says the Klappan deposit is perhaps “the largest undeveloped resource of anthracite in the world, the highest quality coal there is … and a rare source of a critical raw material for steel-making and metal processing.”

Demand is growing for the product in Asia, and last year Fortune Minerals acquired a major partner in the form of South Korean steel giant Posco.

Mining sector success is key to the economic development plan crafted by the B.C. Liberals, which estimates eight new mines for the province by 2015. The province has requested substitution of environmental assessments for five projects, four of which are metallurgical coal developments like Arctos Anthracite.

The author of a study comparing the provincial and federal environmental assessment provisions says the two processes are not equivalent. “The nub of my concern is that the provincial process lacks the thoroughness and public participation provisions of federal environmental assessments,” says Mark Haddock of the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre. “Ninety-nine per cent of projects have been historically approved under B.C.’s EA process. One gets the sense that the B.C. government does not like saying ‘no’ to industry.”


B.C. First Nation orders mine workers off site

Tahltan Elders protesting proposed Fortune Minerals coal mine in northwestern B.C.

The Canadian Press –

24 September 2013

One day after Mines Minister Bill Bennett held a weekend visit at a First Nations protest site in northwestern B.C., 40 Tahltan members ordered workers at a nearby Fortune Minerals exploration camp to leave the area, considered sacred by aboriginals.

Tahltan Central Council president Annita McPhee says elders have been at the remote camp on Mount Klappan for six weeks, asking the mining company to respect Tahltan land and rights and reconsider plans for a 40-square kilometre open pit coal mine.

She says protesters stepped up pressure against the proposed Arctos Anthracite project on Sunday after Bennett met with them Saturday night and said he would urge the company not to seek an injunction to remove — and possible arrest— them.

The province recently appointed a mediator to try to resolve the impasse, angering First Nations who said the appointment was worded to sound as if the mediator must ensure the mine goes ahead, but McPhee says Bennett apologized for that wording.


Sacred Headwaters dispute in northern B.C. gets breather as mining company departs briefly

By The Canadian Press – http://www.vancouversun.com/business/Sacred+Headwaters+dispute+northern+...

24 September 2013

A Canadian mining company is moving to diffuse a growing dispute with First Nations over a proposed open pit coal mine in northern B.C., by pulling out of the mine site for several months.

However, Fortune Minerals (TSX:FT) said it is not leaving Mount Klappan for good, and that the company remains committed to the mine in an area considered sacred by First Nations.

“While all of Fortune’s activities at the project site are focused on gathering necessary information that will be used in a B.C. environmental assessment process, ... the company has faced disruptive and damaging protests,” the firm said in a statement.

On Sunday, about 40 members of the Tahltan First Nation, including elders, moved into the Fortune’s camp site at Mount Klappan and asked the workers to leave.

Tahltan members had earlier issued what they called an “eviction notice, requiring the company to halt its exploration activities and leave the area,” said a news release issued by the Tahltan Central Council on Tuesday.

Fortune is proposing an open pit coal mine for the site that First Nations call the Sacred Headwaters, an area aboriginals say is of significant cultural value and feeds three major salmon-bearing rivers: the Skeena, the Stikine and the Nass rivers.

Over the weekend, B.C. Mines Minister Bill Bennett travelled to the remote site, located several hundred kilometres north of Terrace in northeast B.C.

Bennett told protesters he would urge Fortune Minerals not to seek an injunction against them.

He also apologized for the wording of a B.C. government news release issued last week which angered the Tahltan, who said it implied a newly-appointed mediator had no choice but to ensure the mine is built, even though aboriginals want protection of the area.

Fortune president and CEO Robin Goad said the company pulled out to give time and space needed for discussions, but Fortune is still fully committed to move forward on the project.

“It is our sincere hope that this show of good faith by Fortune will help bring resolution to issues as and near our Arctos project site, including any protests,” Goad said.

Annita McPhee, Tahltan Central Council president, said they have made it clear that they don’t want the mine in that area.

“We don’t want another 2005,” she said in a news release.

“Our people are getting angrier by the day and negotiations are not progressing as the same pace.”

In 2005, 15 people were arrested in a protest against the Shell Canada Ltd. (TSX:SHC) shale gas development in the same area.

The B.C. government announced a deal last December with Shell Canada that saw the company withdraw plans to explore and drill for coalbed methane gas in the 4,000-square-kilometre region.


Fortune Minerals moving to peacefully resolve Arctos coal disturbance


24 September 2013

Following blockades of its Arctos Anthracite project by British Columbia’s Tahltan First Nation, Vancouver-based Fortune Minerals Ltd. released a statement Monday saying that the company is moving to peacefully resolve the ‘disturbance’.

LONDON, ON, Sept. 23, 2013 /CNW/ – Fortune Minerals Limited (TSX: FT) (OTCQX: FTMDF) (“Fortune” or the “Company”) (www.fortuneminerals.com) is taking voluntary steps to assist the British Columbia (“BC”) and Tahltan Governments in peacefully resolving a disturbance that has been occurring at the Company’s Arctos Anthracite metallurgical coal project site in Northwestern BC. While all of Fortune’s activities at the project site are focused on gathering necessary information that will be used in a BC environmental assessment process, and are duly authorized by permits issued by the BC Government, the Company has faced disruptive and damaging protests. The Company remains 100% committed to developing the project and Fortune will voluntarily cease its summer field program activities and withdraw from the project site for several months to allow the Tahltan and BC Governments to continue their talks. “It is our sincere hope that this show of good faith by Fortune will help bring resolution to issues at and near our Arctos project site including any protests,” said Robin Goad, President and CEO of Fortune. “While the Company has made the decision to give the time and space needed for discussions, there is still a full commitment on the part of both Fortune and its partner to move forward with the environmental assessment and the project”. Fortune’s work to date at the Arctos project site has involved a limited amount of drilling to gather geochemical and geotechnical information that will be used in the environmental assessment process. That process considers environmental, social, heritage and economic values, including Traditional Knowledge, so that the merits and impacts of a proposed project can be considered, with a goal of making an informed decision on whether a proposed project should proceed. The process also provides interested parties with extensive opportunities to express their views in a legally appropriate way. Representatives of First Nations in the proximity of a project sit as integral members of a working group that provides input and advice throughout the entire environmental assessment process. Fortune takes this action in good faith and in recognition of the BC Government statement of September 17, 2013, (http://www2.news.gov.bc.ca/news_releases_2013-2017/2013ARR0044-001414.ht...), and on the clear understanding that the Arctos Anthracite Project will not be part of any protected areas. Development of the Arctos project is consistent with the 2000 Cassiar-Iskut-Stikine Land Resource Management Plan (“LRMP”). While the LRMP, which was developed by the BC Government with extensive local input, including Tahltan people, set aside 26% of 5.2 million hectares as “Protected Area”, it also identified “substantial resources of high grade metallurgical coal” at the Arctos Anthracite Project area as appropriate for mining. Current information on the proposed project and site can be found in the Media Backgrounder titled Arctos Anthracite Project. Click here to read (http://40rhel5streamview01.newswire.ca/media/2013/09/23/20130923-706938-...)