Eye Witness Account of Fortune Minerals Eviction
ACTION ALERT: HOW YOU CAN HELP
Late last night members of the Tahltan nation evicted Fortune Minerals!
Fortune Minerals open-pit coal mine they call Arctos Anthracite, proposed for Mt. Klappan, rises above the iconic valleys of the legendary Spatsizi Wilderness Plateau in the heart of the Sacred Headwaters. Generations old Tahltan hunting camps dot the caribou rich flanks and the headwaters of the Nass, Skeena and Stikine are visible from the summit. The mine development would remove most of Mount Klappan. The following is a witness article from SWCC colleague, Dana Hibbard's leading up to the eviction.
By Dana Hibbard
After a long, bumpy drive along a rail grade with multiple washouts we arrived in Beauty Camp, the name given to an area where Tahltan families have camped and hunted for generations. As the sun sank lower in the sky and the first blush of pink coloured the clouds we were welcomed into the camp by Bertha Louie and her husband Wayne. Bertha dished up plates of fried moose meat and rice and invited us all to sit by her campfire. We were an eclectic mix of Tahltan families, residents of the Skeena Watershed, residents of BC and international travelers. Despite our diverse backgrounds we all shared a deep feeling of respect and awe for the vast terrain surrounding us. Some of the group had walked these hills as children and had returned with their own children, others were seeing it for the very first time. Satiated by Bertha’s cooking and warmed by the glow of the fire we retired for the night as lightning illuminated Mount Klappan and thunder rumbled from deep in the mountains.
After a night of heavy rain the sun appeared in the morning and we set to work setting up camp. A makeshift shower was constructed, wood was cut and supplies were unloaded and organized. Bertha set to work in her kitchen and soon appeared with a moose head that had been shot recently by Robert, one of the youth in the camp. Bertha instructed us in how to skin the hide from the head and everyone shared their favorite way to cook and enjoy moose head. Some mouths watered as they debated boiling versus frying the tongue while others claimed the nose meat is the most delicious. After wrapping it in tin foil Bertha placed the massive head on a grill above her fire where it was to cook under her watch throughout the day.
As we set about our camp chores helicopters buzzed right overhead multiple times. It was obvious they were flying out of their way to check out our camp as the direct route to Mount Klappan would not take them over our camps. After three flights overhead in quick succession a camera was set up on a tripod to film the helicopter travelling right above camp. We can only speculate that it was the camera that caused this, but once it was set up the helicopter kept its distance from camp.
Caden, nine years old could not contain his excitement to go moose hunting. He questioned everyone in the camp about whether they had shot a moose and enthusiastically declared that he was going to shoot his first moose in the Klappan. His parents smiled proudly at their young son’s keen interest in providing food for his family. Obviously reluctant to dampen his enthusiasm they gently informed him that no game had been seen in the Klappan and that with all the helicopter and airplane traffic from the Fortune Mineral Camp it was unlikely they would shoot a moose near Beauty Camp.
Throughout the afternoon and early evening more vehicles trickled into camp and the site was filled with tents, children at play and boisterous laughter. The road into the Klappan had recently been repaired and for many this was their first visit to the Headwaters in over a year. Baby Sophia gazed out at the land of her ancestors for the first time as she was passed from mother to grandfather to auntie around the campfire.
Once everyone had feasted on Bertha’s rich stew and tender moose head everyone gathered to sing songs in Tahltan and give an offering of tobacco to the ancestors. The sun began to set on another glorious day in the Klappan as four generations of Tahltan headed out of camp. As rays of evening sun burst from behind the clouds a long convoy of pickup trucks snaked along the base of Mount Klappan. Their destination: a mining and exploration camp operated by Fortune Minerals.
As the convoy pulled up onto the airstrip in front of Fortune’s camp the excitement and exhilaration of what was to come spilled over, infecting even the smallest children. Signs were unloaded from truck beds and the youth gathered together to carry their sign identifying them as the Children of the Sacred Headwaters. The group came together and waited for their request to meet with the Project Manager be carried out. A heavy set man in his mid fifties wearing work clothes and suspenders walked out from the camp towards the group. He kept his distance and observed the group while talking to other staff members one of whom had a lit cigarette in his mouth while standing beside barrels of fuel. The man in suspenders returned to camp. The group of Tahltan, impatient and energized began walking towards the camp. As they approached the camp three strands of electric fencing were strung across the entrance into the camp. A young mother fierce in her determination with her baby in her arms, removed the fencing and led her family and community members through. The man in suspenders came out from a tent and introduced himself as the project manager.
Her voice wavering at first but increasing in intensity, Rhoda Quock informed the manager that they were here to evict Fortune Minerals and was giving them 24 hours to leave Tahltan Territroy. Others began chiming in as they explained that their people had repeatedly told Fortune Minerals they were not welcome on their land and had been left with no other choice but to evict the camp. Many of the elders present had been arrested for blockading against Fortune Minerals in 2005. Lillian Campbell asked the project manager if he recognized her. He nodded that he did and she went on to describe the three years she had spent waiting after she had been arrested in 2005 for blockading Fortune Minerals to find out if she would be sent to jail. Other elders shared how they had been treated like criminals when they were arrested on the blockade. They told of the tears shed by their grandchildren as they watched their grandparents be taken away in handcuffs. One woman told of her husband being arrested in his wheelchair. The tenacity and determination of everyone in the group to protect their land was extremely moving.
With a clear voice, full of conviction Bertha Louie gestured beyond the tents making up Fortune’s camp and told the Project Manager that their ancestors were buried there and that Fortune Minerals was not welcome in this sacred place.
Small groups of Fortune Minerals’ camp employees stood off in the distance watching and listening to the assertions by the Tahltan that this coal mine would never go through. Other staff peered out from tents as the Tahltan explained that they had fought Shell tooth and nail and now that Shell had left the Sacred Headwaters they were sure as hell not going to allow Fortune Minerals to build a coal mine on top of Mount Klappan.
Once everyone who wished to speak had had an opportunity the group reminded the Project Manager that he had 24 hours to clear out and then turned to walk away from the camp. Walking proudly, with the children running ahead, the elders began to sing and drum. Once they returned to the airstrip they gathered in a circle and continued to sing and drum. Eventually everyone loaded up in their vehicles and the convoy set off for Beauty Camp. The evening light cast an enchanted glow on Mount Kappan and the surrounding ridges. The warmth and strength of this light was matched by the surge of emotions I felt. As truck doors opened and everyone spilled out of their vehicles I was swept up in the emotions of the group; their relief to have made their position clear and their understanding that this was only the beginning.