A Supreme Court of Canada case set to be heard over logging on lands claimed by the Tsilhqot'in First Nation south of Prince George and west of Williams Lake could have major implications for a proposed mine in the area.
The Tsilhqot'in have also adamantly opposed the New Prosperity gold and copper mine at Teztan Biny (Fish Lake), about 300 kilometres south of Prince George. The Taseko Mines Ltd. project would be located almost directly west of 100 Mile House in between Chilko Lake and Big Creek Provincial Park.
Taseko is still interested in opening its mine and continues to seek approval from the federal government . The company has submitted multiple designs for the project that would protect Fish Lake from destruction, which was one of the biggest Tsilhqot'in concerns.
The provincial government previously approved the mine, citing a balanced evaluation between environmental impacts (Taseko had promised to build a lake stocked with fish to replace the loss of Teztan) and social benefits. The mine would generate thousands of employment hours per year and pump millions into the regional economy.
"We have nothing to do with the court case and we see limited impact on the New Prosperity project itself," said Brian Battison, Taseko's vice president of corporate affairs. "It is an important case. These kinds of important questions go before the highest court in the land, that's where they go for clarification, and we abide by the laws of the land. Two courts have examined the question of if Aboriginal title exists specifically where our project is located, and said that it did not."
Regardless, said Battison, they would like to be the company that mines the gold at that site.
Taseko has a track record of co-operation and mutual success with First Nations at the Gibraltar Mine site north of Williams Lake on the eastern side of the same region. Gibraltar is the second largest open pit copper-molybdenum mine in Canada and has been in operation since 1972 under different ownership. Taseko bought the operation during a period of prolonged closure and got it going again, with the involvement of four First Nations in the affected area.
"We are trying to build another Gibraltar in this region, and one that would have an even greater economic footprint," said Battison of the New Prosperity proposal. "There are number of First Nations whose traditional territories we work in. We consult with First Nations regularly, successfully, as well as the broader community as a whole."
Taseko has been working in B.C. for about 40 years on various mining projects.