The Tŝilhqot’in community of Xeni Gwet’in is assembling for a peaceful gathering and harvesting camp at Teẑtan Biny (Fish Lake) and Yanah Biny (Little Fish Lake), a place of profound cultural and spiritual significance for the Tŝilhqot’in people. This peaceful gathering and camp has the full support of the Tŝilhqot’in Nation.

Photo of Teztan Biny. Photo: Tsilhqot’in National Government

For over a decade the Tŝilhqot’in have been fighting the development of an open-pit mine in this area, which is separate and distinct from the lands the Supreme Court of Canada acknowledged Tŝilhqot’in title to in 2014. It is located in the proposed Dasiqox Tribal Park area and proven Aboriginal Rights area.

“We welcome everyone up to Teẑtan Biny and Yanah Biny that wishes to gather peacefully in this sacred area,” says Nits’ilʔin (Chief) Joe Alphonse, tribal chairman, Tŝilhqot’in National Government.

On August 23, 2018, the BC Supreme Court upheld a permit authorizing Taseko Mines Limited (TML) to undertake an extensive drilling program at Teẑtan Biny and the surrounding area. The Tŝilhqot’in Nation has appealed this decision and will be seeking an injunction to prohibit the drilling activity.

The drilling permit approves 76 kilometres of new or modified road and trail, 122 drill holes, 367 excavated test pits, and 20 kilometres of seismic lines throughout Teẑtan Biny, Yanah Biny, and Nabas. The Government of Canada rejected TML’s New Prosperity mine proposal in 2014, and the mine cannot legally be built as matters stand. Two independent federal panels have confirmed the area is of unique and special importance to the Tŝilhqot’in.

At the same time, Tŝilhqot’in members from all six communities of the Tŝilhqot’in Nation are gathering in unity at Teẑtan Biny and Yanah Biny to exercise their Aboriginal rights and engage in the cultural and ceremonial practices that have actively connected them to these lands and waters for centuries.

The Tŝilhqot’in Nation asserts that the drilling permit should never have been approved on the final day of power for the former BC Liberal government in July 2017, to support a mine proposal that the federal government has twice rejected.

“The provincial government should never have issued permits for a drilling program at Teẑtan Biny for a mine that cannot be built,” says Alphonse. “We feel the courts and the government haven’t taken into account the significance of the Aboriginal rights and title of our people.”

The Nation is moving forward with an appeal in the BC Court of Appeal, while also seeking an injunction to stop the drilling program, says Alphonse. “We cannot allow TML to destroy our home, or who we are—our way of life.”

“Teẑtan Biny, and the greater Nabas area, is significant to the Tŝilhqot’in,” says Nits’ilʔin (Chief) Russell Myers Ross, vice-Chair, Tŝilhqot’in National Government. “It is our home. Our families grew up here among our ancestors. Our eldest stories and trails come from this area. Burial and archaeology sites are scattered throughout the area. We continue to return to hunt and fish annually. It is a place of peace and tranquility.”

“Having gone through two comprehensive Canadian Environmental Assessments where Taseko Mines Ltd failed twice, it is outrageous that we are entertaining drilling exploration for a proposal that has been rejected,” says Myers Ross. “Federal and provincial laws and political action is failing Indigenous peoples and the movement towards reconciliation, consent, and the acceptance of our authority in our own lands has to change. As Tŝilhqot’in, we can only encourage our citizens to assemble and to exercise our culture in the face of injustice.”

Nits’ilʔin (Chief) Jimmy Lulua, Xeni Gwet’in First Nations Government, says the group held an emergency meeting of the Xeni Gwet’in elders, members, and youth to discuss this issue. At the end, each and every person who attended at the full band hall approved a peaceful gathering at Teẑtan Biny and Yanah Biny, to practice the Nation’s rights, to harvest food, and to hold ceremonies.

“This drilling program is an attack on our identity, who we are as Tŝilhqot’in people,” says Lulua. “We would never show this disrespect to others. We would never go to their homes and dig up their resting places or their sacred grounds. It is the highest disrespect to our people. We plan to come together in a good way, in a peaceful way, and gather strength from this special place and our way of life.”

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