Tsihqot'in National Government tribal chairman Joe Alphonse characterized the New Prosperity mine proposal as a clash of cultures and economic interests.
During weekend hearings at Tl'etinqox-tin First Nation, Alphonse told a federal environmental review panel that the plan by Taseko Mines to build an open pit extract gold and copper about 125 kilometres south of Williams Lake will provide benefits for "the white man's economy" but hurt the environment his people rely upon.
"I think you're looking at two different societies, two whole different value systems," Alphonse told a three-member Canadian Environmental Assessement Agency panel.
In the white man's world, Alphonse said, the goal for most people is to get as much money as possible. He cited the example of someone who holds a job that pays $50,000 a year, he said that person's main goal is to land a job with a $70,000 salary, then $90,000, then $150,000.
"It's never enough in your world," he said.
For First Nations people, Alphonse said the goal is to have enough moose and wild sockeye salmon in the fridge to eat. He said the way to determine if someone lived a rich life in his culture is by how many people were at their bedside when they died.
He's worried that if the mine is built, it will harm the salmon run that he said his people still depend on.
"This is the only healthy run left in British Columbia, left in North America, as far as I'm concerned," he said.
Taseko senior vice-president of operations John McManus told the panel that his employer is not the greedy, uncaring corporation it has been made out to be by some opponents at the hearing. He cited his 35 years of experience in making the environment a priority as a reason Taskeo can be trusted to do the right thing.
"I believe that this project is neither going to destroy the salmon or the Tsilhqot'in culture, nor do I believe that it's going to heal all of the wrongs of the past," he said.
McManus and Alphonse also sparred over a video that is shown to First Nations youth in the area. Alphonse said it's to educate them on the Aboriginal perspective to the mine to counteract what the biased information he believes they will be taught about it in school in Williams Lake. McManus said the video vilifies his company.
"I don't understand how telling your school children that be prepared because Taseko is going to kill us, hurt us, poison our rivers and destroy our culture prepares them for a bias that's projected in the school system in Williams Lake," McManus said.
Community hearings at area First Nations wrap up today and closing arguments will be heard on Friday. The panel will then have 70 days to make a recommendation to the federal cabinet.