An indigenous group in Canada blockaded the road to a nearly completed mine, defied an attempted injunction and severely disrupted work for over two weeks in October. The group from the Tahltan First Nation, known as Klabona Keepers, was led by elders who lit a sacred fire on the Red Chris Mine’s access road.
The blockade was a response to the catastrophic collapse of a tailings dam at Imperial Metal’s Mount Polley gold and copper mine in British Columbia. In one of Canada’s worst ever environmental disasters, 15 million cubic metres of waste water and toxic slurry rushed through the surrounding area, killing wildlife and contaminating waterways and land with arsenic and mercury.
Now Imperial Metals is trying to open a new mine nearby, and First Nations fear another devastating breach. ‘We were angry. We were assured that these tailings storage facilities were safe, again and again. After seeing the Mount Polley dam failure, we knew we didn’t want Red Chris Mine here’, explained Rhoda Quock. ‘We live off this land and this water, our survival depends on it. It is our identity, our cultural heritage. If we lose it, we lose everything.’
The blockade drew condemnation from Imperial Metals, but when the company tried to obtain a permanent injunction against the protest the court ruled against it. This, according to Quock, was a victory. ‘We managed to thwart the Imperial Metals lawyers in court, and complicate matters for the Red Chris Mine development. In British Columbia there is a real trend to rubber stamp these injunctions brought by corporations. This did not happen here.’
For now, the blockade has ended. But, says Quock, ‘we are building and rebuilding our strength and our governance. This mine will not begin operations.’