Victory in Tsilhqot’in struggle to protect their lands and culture

Amnesty International is joining the Tsilhqot’in people and their many other allies and supporters in celebrating the Government of Canada’s decision to reject a proposed gold-copper mine on their traditional territory.

This is the second time that the federal government has rejected plans by Taseko Mines to open a mine near Teztan Biny or Fish Lake in central British Columbia.

The Tsilhqot’in people have consistently opposed plans to mine near Teztan Biny, calling the proposed New Prosperity Gold-Copper Mine the wrong mine at the wrong place.

In late October, a federally-appointed environmental assessment panel concluded that the proposed mine would have “severe” and “irreversible” impacts on the culture and traditional practices of the Tsilhqot’in people. The panel also found a wide range of serious environmental impacts on the lakes, rivers and wetlands of the area.

In a decision released on February 26, federal Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq said that the significant environmental impacts of the proposed mine could not be justified.

Responding to the decision, Chief Joe Alphonse, Tribal Chair for the Tsilhqot’in National Government, said in a public statement: “We commend the federal government for not bowing to industry lobbying and instead respecting the science and the independent process which came to the conclusion that this project would have devastating impacts on the environment and our Nation’s ability to practice our rights in a sacred spiritual site.”

The Tsilhqot’in people had previously established legal rights to continue cultural practices such as fishing and capture of wild horses throughout their traditional territory. Their ownership of the land and their right to manage it according to their own customs and values is the subject of a case now before the Supreme Court of Canada.

Amnesty International intervened in the latest environmental review to argue that any assessment of the project’s potential impacts on Indigenous peoples must be consistent with the high standard of protection for Indigenous rights under the Canadian Constitutional and international human rights law.

The panel report cites international human rights standards as one of the factors shaping its determination of the seriousness of the proposal’s protential impacts on the Tsilhqot’in people.

Thank you to everyone who wrote letters to the government in support of the panel report.

Canada’s official decision on the proposed New Prosperity Mine

Read Amnesty International’s submission to the New Prosperity Mine Review 

More information

PHOTO: Tsilhqot’in ceremony before the opening of the New Prosperity Environmental Impact Assessment