Possible blockade of mine road across reserve could be start of ‘catastrophic’ uprising across Canada, think-tank warns
OTTAWA — A threat by a B.C. First Nation to shut down a B.C. mine is a small sign of a potentially “catastrophic” uprising in Canada if Aboriginal Peoples don’t become full participants in natural resource extraction, a prominent think-tank warned Wednesday.
On Tuesday, the Wet’suwe’ten First Nation threatened to shut down the $455-million expansion of the Huckleberry Mines Ltd. copper/molybdenum operation, 123 kilometres southwest of Houston, in northern B.C.
Wet’suwet’en Chief Karen Ogen said Wednesday the mine’s access road and power transmission line crosses her band’s reserve near Owen Lake. She said the Wet’suwet’en would likely start by charging a toll on mine workers and contractors using the road. But if the band’s demand for jobs for its members are not met, she threatened more drastic action.
“If we have to the hydro lines will come down,” she vowed. The warning of possible violence across Canada comes from Douglas Bland, a professor emeritus at Queen’s University in Kingston. Bland, in one of two reports on resource development and First Nations published by the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, argued Canadians should take heed of the Idle No More movement that held protests across Canada against federal inaction on key issues.
“An idea that most Canadians would have seen as preposterous a year ago … is now very real,” he wrote. “The possibility of a catastrophic confrontation between Canada’s settler and aboriginal communities, spurred not by yesterday’s grievances but by the central features and consequences of our national policies, have the potential to make such an uprising feasible, if not … inevitable.”
Ogen said none of the 230 full-time and 30 contract positions at the Huckleberry mine nor any of the 70 jobs to be created by the expansion go to members of her community, despite numerous meetings with the company.
“The Wet’suwet’en chief and council were instructed by their members to take whatever action is necessary, including direct action and legal action, to stop further mine expansion,” a news release stated.
Huckleberry Mines Ltd. is 50-50 joint venture of Vancouver-based Imperial Metals Ltd. and a consortium of Japanese firms. Huckleberry vice-president Randall Thompson said if the access road were blocked, the mine would likely have to shut down.
Huckleberry vice-president Randall Thompson said 15 to 18 per cent of the mine’s workforce are aboriginal, but are primarily members of first nations communities nearer the mine. However, he said, one recent contract involved Wet’suwet’en members.
He said company talks broke down after the Wet’suwet’en demanded “first right of refusal” on all future contracts.
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