Court Looms Over Coalbed Protest

Too much development, too fast for Tahltan.

By Rob Annandale

Protestors opposed to a proposed coalbed methane project in a remote and sacred corner of the province could be in a Vancouver courtroom later this week after lawyers for oil and gas giant Royal Dutch Shell filed an injunction seeking to have them forcibly removed from the site last Thursday.

The dispute is the latest skirmish in a lengthy battle over mining and gas drilling in northwest B.C. Local First Nations and environmental groups have repeatedly clashed with companies hoping to cash in on the area’s rich bounty of natural resources.

Last week a small group of First Nations elders and their families bearing “Get the Shell Out” placards prevented Shell workers and contractors from rebuilding a road needed to relaunch explorations in the Klappan Valley — a place known to the Tahltan First Nation as the Sacred Headwaters. Shell responded by serving the elders with papers to appear in court to settle the dispute on Aug. 31.

“We didn’t want it to be this way,” Shell Canada spokesperson Larry Lalonde told The Tyee from Calgary on Friday. “It’s unfortunate that a small group of people chose to blockade a legitimate business activity that will bring many benefits to the local community.”

But as the starting point of the salmon-rich Nass, Stikine and Skeena rivers, and a key source of hunting and trapping, the Klappan Valley holds enormous cultural and spiritual significance for the local Tahltan people, protest leaders say. And while the elders insist they are not opposed to any and all development within their massive territory, they believe it should be guided by two principles: only one development at a time, and no development in the Sacred Headwaters.

“That’s where we take our youth to teach them our culture, our way of life,” said Rhoda Quock, spokesperson for the Klabona Keepers — a group of elders formed to watch over the Sacred Headwaters — and one of three individuals the Shell’s summons mentioned by name. “And it’s the last place our elders want to go before they die.”

Quock said Friday that the summons changed nothing. Her group, she said, is more than prepared to take its fight to the courts.