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Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions

Children of the Taku
By Andrew Williams & Yvonne Jack


December 22, 2012
Saturday PM

As citizens of the Taku River Tlingit First Nation (TRTFN), we are proud that a November 18 Joint Clan Meeting unanimously passed a Mandate directing TRTFN leadership to "take all steps necessary to ensure that the Tulsequah Chief project, as currently proposed, is not developed on Taku River Tlingit Territory."

As founding members of the Children of the Taku Society (COTTS), we are determined to support leadership in carrying out that Mandate and to take appropriate, peaceful, grassroots community action to resist any effort by Chieftain Metals to reopen the Tulsequah Chief mine or to begin any related infrastructure.

Stories in the Yukon News, the Whitehorse Star and other media—originating directly or indirectly from Chieftain principals—may lead some readers to believe our opposition to the project is stubborn obstructionism opposed to any and all development on traditional Taku River Tlingit (TRT) land. That is not true.

COTT enthusiastically supports and wants to attract, development in the northern part of our territory, which is already served by infrastructure, and which is not as environmentally fragile, culturally vulnerable or economically valuable (through its salmon fishery) as the Taku River watershed.

We believe there is a compelling reason why the proponents have not been able to advance their project over the years. Their proposal is not robust enough to attract the investors it needs. If it were objectively viable, Chieftain and its predecessor, Redfern Resources, would have raised money easily. But the project is, at best, marginal. It is remote. The ore body will last only 12-to-15 years. The quality of the ore is not competitive with deposits in other, more accessible locations, except when cyclical world prices are high.

In order to make the proposal more attractive, Redfern/Chieftain (key principals are tied to both companies) have sought and apparently received generous concessions from the B.C. government. They are now arguing the project is more likely to go ahead if a road is built from the mine site to Atlin, B.C. so ore can be trucked to the port at Skagway. This comes from a company that has already reneged on a commitment to operate a water treatment plant to mitigate the effects of environmental damage from previous development.

A recent Canadian Press story, carried in several Canadian media (Supreme Court Ruling: Bankrupt Company Can't Be Forced To Clean Up Contaminated Sites), provides all the justification we need for our stand. If a province cannot enforce a claim for environmental compensation, what hope does a First Nation have?

Proponents of a Tulsequah project have already gone bankrupt once and created Chieftain out of the wreckage. What assurance is there that they will not do so again? In fact, what competently managed company would not go bankrupt at the end of operations, in order to avoid commitments to a provincial or First Nations government?

We are not opposed to all development on our lands for all time: we are opposed to this development, in this location, at this time, with these proponents, and with a Supreme Court ruling now saying that any environmental commitments by any company are not worth the paper they might be written on, when resource companies can—and surely will—declare bankruptcy to externalize any obligations.

Andrew Williams, Elder
Yvonne Jack
Representatives for Children of the Taku Society
Taku River Tlingit First Nation members
Atlin, B.C.


Received December 18, 2012 - Published December 17, 2012


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