Tahltan Central Council president Annita McPhee called signing two clean energy hydro-electric projects in northwest B.C. historic, and said it signals that the Tahltan people are willing to embrace development — but only on their terms.
"In our territory, we support sustainable development, and these run-of-river projects will provide benefits to the Tahltan people and the province of B.C. for over 60 years or more," said McPhee during a ceremony at the B.C. legislature. "There's a lot of development we support in our territory, but there are some places we want to protect for ourselves."
Tahltan territory includes the remote alpine birthplace of three iconic, salmon-rich rivers, the Stikine, Nass and Skeena. The 4,000 square kilometre area, located about 400 kilometres north of Smithers, is known to the Tahltan as the Klappan. Conservation groups refer to the area as the Sacred Headwaters.
"We love that place so much," McPhee said. "We want to continue to protect that for us, our grandchildren and the generations to come."
The deals signed by the Tahltan will bring the First Nation almost $300,000 annually in revenues from the province once the two run-of-river projects using water from the Iskut River enter full production, estimated at November 2015.
The revenue is a portion of land and water rentals to be paid to the provincial government by AltaGas of Calgary for its 66 megawatt McLymont Creek project and its 16 megawatt Volcano Creek project. The projects will provide renewable energy that will be sold to BC Hydro for distribution to the provincial power grid.
Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Minister John Rustad said the government will also invest $555,000 to support the operation and activities of the Tahltan Socio-Cultural Working Group, a government-to-government body that aims to address social and cultural challenges involved with economic development in remote communities.
McPhee said the run-of-river initiatives are examples of economic and cultural progress for First Nations outside of treaty making.
"It is not always going to be smooth, but I know that with days like this we can really feel the momentum building and I can stand here and be proud as a leader," she said.
Tahltan Band Council Chief Rick McLean said the projects have been in the development stages for more than a decade.
"We have had a vision and vision entailed prosperity and self-sustainability and self-sufficiency," he said. "This is a step to that."
McPhee said in an interview following the ceremony at the legislature that the Tahltan are still locked in a struggle with Fortune Minerals Ltd. (TSX:FT) over the company's proposed coal mine exploration in the Klappan.
"We have concerns about the coal mine project ... or any other development proposed in the Sacred Headwaters," she said. "We're going to fight until it's protected. We want to protect the Klappan and we are going to do that until it's fully protected."
Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett said as long as Fortune complies with the permits they were granted to explore in the area, the company has the right to do so.
"It's a agree to disagree thing with the Tahltan," he said.
In December 2012, the government reached a deal with Shell Canada Ltd., that resulted in Shell withdrawing its plans to explore and drill for coalbed methane gas in the Klappan.
In 2005, some members of the Tahltan were arrested during protests in the area.
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