Nechako Lakes MLA and provincial Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, John Rustad, attended a Lake Babine Nation (LBN) council meeting in Burns Lake recently. The Dec. 19 meeting was for him an historic event – being the first time he had sat down to a chief and council meeting – one he said he hopes to repeat.
Rustad heard LBN Chief Wilf Adam, councillors, and staff speak to issues important to LBN, like the health of the Lake Babine salmon fishery and the quality of water in Babine Lake, as well as issues surrounding treaty negotiations that imply there are legitimate overlapping claims to LBN traditional territories (see Dec. 11, 2013 Lake Babine First Nation concerns), something which LBN denies.
Chief Adam also reaffirmed LBN council’s rejection of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline proposal, promising to bring the matter before the courts if the pipeline should eventually be approved.
The most pressing item discussed was the recent decision by the B.C. Supreme Court to return to the province its Oct. 1, 2012 decision to deny Pacific Booker Minerals (PBM) in its environmental assessment application for the Morrison mine project (See Dec. 18, 2013 Morrison mine decision rethink).
The proposed copper/gold mine would include a tailings pond that LBN, as well as the Skeena Fisheries Commission (SFC), consider too close to Morrison Lake.
Rustad heard that Morrison Lake is considered by LBN council members to be the last remaining unsullied salmon spawning ground in the Babine Lake watershed.
“We are dead-set against the project,” Chief Adam said. “We are still dealing with the two huge holes from other mining projects [the Bell and Granisle mines]. We are still dealing with the fallout to salmon and wildlife habitat.”
Although he is minister of aboriginal relations and reconciliation in Premier Christy Clark’s government, Rustad said he would not be directly involved in the decision making process.
“I am not a statutory decision maker [on the project],” Rustad said. “I do not have the ability to influence the statutory decision makers, but I wanted to tell you what the process is.”
The province, according to Rustad, has 30 days to decide if it is going to appeal the decision.
To date, the province has refused to comment on what its response will be to the court’s decision, other than to say it is carefully considering the ruling before proceeding.
Chief Adam maintains the province made the right decision in rejecting PBM’s environmental application.
“The province made the right decision,” Chief Adam said. “I was very disappointed when PBM took you to court. We implore the B.C. government to stand with their decision and appeal. I respectfully ask the province to stand with their original decision.”
Later, Chief Adam confirmed to Lakes District News that he is concerned the province might claim it has to approve the project because the courts are forcing their hand.
“If they do that, it’s going to change our relationship with the province drastically,” Chief Adam warned.