Mine faces protest

Burns Lake area Wet’suwet’en First Nation cannot abide lack of reciprocity.

On May 1, 2013, the Wet’suwet’en First Nation issued a stop-work order against Huckleberry Mines Ltd. and their open-pit copper/molybdenum mine. The Wet’suwet’en First Nation (formerly Broman Lake Indian Band) is located just west of Burns Lake

The Huckleberry Mine, located 123 kms southwest of Houston B.C., is on traditional Wet’suwet’en territories.  Hydro-power lines to service the project, as well as industrial use roads, run through a Wet’suwet’en reserve.

“We have a clear mandate from our membership to stop this project until our concerns are addressed,” Ogen said. “We have been in negotiations for more than a year and Huckleberry Mines does not wish to conclude agreements that fairly and reasonably address Wet’suwet’en asserted aboriginal rights, title, community interests and concerns.”

Primary among those concerns are employment, training and economic benefits.

While 70 new jobs were created in the recent mine expansion, Ogen said that based on records kept by their education and training officer, not one of those jobs is from their band membership.

Currently, not one member of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation works at Huckleberry Mines.

Chief Ogen recognizes that the company works with other First Nations in the area, but she points out that their relationship with the Wet’suwet’en is unique.

“We have a road that runs through our reserve – Felix George Indian Reserve #7 – and we have powerlines running through as well,” she said. “We’re asking for fair and reasonable compensation for that, but they’re not willing to budge any further for us.”

The original agreement made in 1997 did not include the current expansion of the mine.

According to Ogen, the mine expansion was approved  without a formal renegotiation of the terms of the 1997 agreement.

At the time, the Wet’suwet’en did not protest the mine expansion on the good faith assumption that Huckleberry Mines Ltd. would be prepared to renegotiate the old terms in light of the proposed expansion.

That never happened.

“They didn’t consult with us in regard to the expansion,” Ogen said.

Chief Ogen describes the situation as one where a previous agreement has come to an end without a new one to replace it.

Shortly after the release of the stop work order, Ogen made comments circulating in various media concerning the possibility that the Wet’suwet’en would dismantle power lines running through their reserve if a new agreement couldn’t be reached with Huckleberry Mines Ltd.

“If you have an agreement for power lines and roads to go through your backyard, and that agreement ends, you’re going to ask them to pick up their stuff and go,” Ogen said.

“They are, in fact, trespassing.”

This is not the first time that the Wet’suwet’en First Nation has threatened to disrupt the mine’s operations if their concerns were not dealt with.

On Dec. 26, 2012, the Lakes District News reported on a temporary road-block set up on the Felix George Indian Reserve which industrial mine traffic passes through on its way to the Huckleberry Mine.

The action at the time was not intended to seriously disrupt mining activity. The blockade only detained vehicles momentarily to draw attention to the Wet’suwet’en’s dissatisfaction with the 1997 agreement regarding right-of-way through their reserve and traditional territories.

Shortly afterwards, representatives of the company sat down to discuss the situation, but Ogen described the result of that meeting as fruitless.

“We’re not being heard,” she said. “We’re not being listened to.”

“We’re done talking.”

For now, Ogen is referring calls from the ownership of Huckleberry Mines Ltd. to her band’s lawyers who are handling further negotiations.

Huckleberry Mines Ltd. was not available for comment at press time.