The president of Taseko Mines has asked the Ministry of the Environment not to give aboriginal interests special consideration at an upcoming federal environmental review panel for the company's Prosperity Mine project.
In a letter dated Nov. 23, Russell Hallbauer makes several suggestions on how to ensure the panel appears fair and balanced as it considers Taseko's gold and copper mine proposal near Williams Lake, B.C.
Those suggestions include:
- Not appointing an aboriginal member to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency review panel.
- Not starting hearings with drumming or aboriginal prayer ceremonies, something Taseko says is inappropriate.
- Not considering spirituality of a place as an aboriginal right.
The second environmental review process for Taseko's Prosperity Mine began receiving public comment in January.
The original project was deemed environmentally unacceptable by former environment minister Jim Prentice in November 2010.
The company resubmitted its plan, with changes, and was granted a second environmental review.
Many of the concerns outlined in Hallbauer's letter address how the first environmental review panel was conducted.
"We are concerned that some of the steps that the panel took or allowed others to take had the effect of giving priority status to the interests and perspectives [of] aboriginal people who were appearing before the panel," writes Hallbauer.
"In our view, these actions go well beyond conducting a culturally inclusive process, and stray into areas where a reasonable perception of bias begins to exist."
Calls to the company by CBC have not yet been returned.
Letter 'simply inflammatory'
The letter was obtained by a Freedom of Information request and sent to Independent Cariboo North MLA Bob Simpson.
Simpson says the letter is highly inflammatory and does nothing for aboriginal relations.
"In a situation like this, the Prosperty project is already highly politicized and the relationship between Taseko and First Nations is already damaged. I'm afraid this letter just damages that — possibly beyond repair," said Simpson.
The Tsilhqot'in National Government has strongly opposed Taseko's gold and copper mine project, saying the development will kill Fish Lake, preventing access to a place of spiritual importance.
Simpson says the company is dismissing those concerns by making a distinction between "spiritual" and "cultural" that doesn't exist for aboriginal peoples.
"There's no differentiation for First Nations between culture and heritage and their spirituality. Their relationship with the land base is spiritual. So if the federal government does listen to Taseko's private lobbying, then I think that the panel process will be challenged right from the start."