The Taku River Tlingit First Nation has filed suit in the Supreme Court of British Columbia to stop the Tulsequah Chief Mine.
For years, the old mine at the headwaters of Southeast Alaska’s most prolific salmon stream has been an issue for Native groups, commercial fishermen and others on both sides of the border.
Now the Tlingit First Nation says British Columbia authorities failed to consult with them, and believe that voids the mine’s environmental permit.
In 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada ordered the British Columbia government to consult with the Taku River Tlingit First Nation on decisions surrounding the Tulsequah Chief Mine.
The Taku River watershed in northwestern B.C. and Southeast Alaska is the Tlingit’s traditional territory.
“The consultation is an ongoing obligation.”
Randy Christensen is a lawyer for Ecojustice Canada, the donor-funded environmental law firm handling the case.
He says the obligation is clearly spelled out in the 2004 decision.
“At the end of the day the Supreme Court of Canada declared that our client was owed a duty of consultation and accommodation on this project.”
At the time, Redfern Resources owned the mine. The company went bankrupt in 2009 and Chieftain Metals picked up the property and environmental permits.
In the current lawsuit, the Taku River Tlingit allege they were never consulted about a government decision that the Tulsequah was “substantially started.”
Under the B.C. environmental process, once a mine is approved, the owners have a limited amount of time to get mobilized. In this case, 10 years.
Substantially started does not mean mining. Though Chieftain Metals says it’s ready to mine the Tulsequah, in reality the company is still looking for financing. But in June 2012, the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office declared the mine was substantially started.
Christensen says the First Nation wants the B.C. Supreme Court to declare that Chieftain Metal’s environmental permit has expired.
“Without an environment assessment certificate, they can’t proceed with any on-the-ground construction of this project, so what we’re seeking from the court would be an order that the environmental certificate has expired. That would halt activities on the ground,” Christensen says.
Such a declaration would void all Tulsequah permits.
“My primary feeling is one of relief,” says Chantelle Hart, a member of Children of the Taku. The society is not party to the lawsuit, but members are all Tlingit born in the Taku River watershed.
I’m glad the lawsuit is now out because at least it’s another firm very clear stance that shows that Taku River people are not going to allow Chieftain into the territory.
Hart says Chieftain Metals has ignored her people.
The transboundary group Rivers Without Borders says the same goes for the B.C. Ministry of Environment. Chris Zimmer is Alaska spokesman for the international group.
The clear implication here is if this lawsuit is successful, the mine is dead in the water and will have to go back to environmental assessment, because it can’t proceed without that certificate.
Chieftain Metals did not return calls for this story. In its year-end financial report to the Ontario Securities Commission the company acknowledged the lawsuit, stating the “Corporation believes the petition is without merit.”
Chieftain Metals’ stock closed Monday at 28 cents a share on the Toronto Stock Exchange.