Defending the Sacred Headwaters: Klabona Keepers Struggle Against Red Chris Mine

by PJ Lilley

This article is reprinted with permission from the Red Sparks Union 

In early August a massive tailings pond at Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley copper and gold mine burst. The Secwepemc, the Xatsull and Esketemc Nations in the Cariboo region of BC immediately mobilized as the toxic waste spilled through their territories. Further north, in the Klappan region, members of the Tahltan nation went into action. It is here that Imperial Metals’ Red Chris mine – with an even larger similarly-flawed tailings pond – is under construction in a pristine area known as Tl’abāne, the Sacred Headwaters of the salmon-rich Stikine, Nass and Skeena Rivers. Sacred fires have been lit, resistance camps built, and various direct actions taken against both mining operations.

The Klabona Keepers, an organization of Tahltan elders and families, hold the Tl’abāne central to their food sustenance, traditions, and inter­generational teachings. Their 2005 blockades nixed a Shell fracking plan in the Klappan area. But the mining and oil/gas capitalists keep coming with government approval of LNG projects and an open-pit coal mine in the area.

The Mount Polley disaster was no “accident.” There is growing evidence that lax government inspection and years of corporate greed allowed massive waste dumping and environmental cost-cutting while workers’ warnings of cracks in the dam walls were ignored. When the tailings pond breached, people in the region mobilized to preserve traditional ways of living on these lands.

The Yuct Ne Senxiymetkwe Camp was established as a monitoring checkpoint at the entrance to the Mount Polley mine with the strong support of the Secwepemc people, the elder’s councils, the Ts’ka7 Warriors, as well as environmental activists and local residents. Clearly, the company’s clean-up efforts have made little progress. Even BC’s Environment Minister acknowledges the company has done less than two percent of the clean-up.

Heavy metals continue to leach into Quesnel Lake raising concerns about more damage with the spring break-up.

Within days of the August disaster, the Klabona Keepers set up a blockade at Red Chris Mine, hoping to prevent a similar catastrophe. When the Tahltan Central Council (TCC) and Imperial Metals came to an agreement for an independent review, the blockade was temporarily dismantled but was re-established at the end of September. Imperial Metals got an injunction and began pressing for arrests.

Though they have been arrested before, the Klabona Keepers took down the blockade to avoid that trauma of further prison time, and have been fighting the injunction ever since. This legal battle has been difficult as they’re up against corporate lawyers in a colonial court in far-away Terrace. The company has also managed to stir up division amongst the Tahltan nation. Two hundred members of the nation have been employed in the construction of the mine, and Imperial Metals is pressing for permits to begin operations by January, promising more jobs. The TCC has intervened against the Klabona Keepers in the injunction proceedings.

Meanwhile, the BC government has hampered an investigation of the disaster, failing to release records. Notably, billionaire and Imperial Metals shareholder

Murray Edwards was a fundraiser for Clarke’s re-election campaign. Both the Liberals and NDP say they won’t block Imperial Metal’s application to re-open Mount Polley, claiming the mine’s operations will pay for the clean-up!

The Klabona Keepers don’t trust the company or the government – and for good reason. “Imperial Metals has showed to us a lot of lies” says one of the grandmothers fighting for the land that has sustained her people for many generations and is their main source of food and cultural sustenance.

The Klabona Keepers are asking for solidarity, time and donations so that they can defend the land for their grandchildren. Their call has been answered by many, notably Elsipogtog Mi’kmaq Warriors (fighting fracking), Unist’ot’en Camp (standing against several pipeline projects) and Madii Lii camp (resisting LNG expansion.) Meanwhile, on Burnaby Mountain, five women were recently arrested opposing the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline and “in solidarity with the Klabona Keepers.”

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