08/07/2013 04:20 EDT | Updated 10/07/2013 05:12 EDT

Mine company opposes First Nations' confidentiality request for ancestral graves

VANCOUVER - The company behind the New Prosperity mine is objecting to a proposal by an aboriginal band to hold a hearing in private with federal regulators about how the proposed site will affect ancestral graves.

Taseko Mines Ltd. said Wednesday the request for a private meeting submitted by the Xeni (honey) Gwet'in last week is inappropriate and should have been filed earlier.

The Xeni (honey) Gwet'in want a hearing about the graves to be confidential, saying they are concerned the burial sites near the proposed mine operations could be desecrated if their locations are made public. The First Nation wants only those who have signed a confidentiality agreement, including officials from the company, to be able to hear their concerns.

But Taseko Mines Ltd., said the request — filed with the federal review panel on Aug. 2 — was inappropriately submitted.

"There is no legitimate excuse to have failed to file the report in a timely fashion or, at a minimum, to have provided timely notice of the request to the panel, the proponent and the other interested parties," writes Taseko representative Karl Gustafson in a document filed with the federal review panel and posted online Tuesday.

"Taseko has made significant concessions during the course of the hearing to accommodate the interests of the panel and of all interested parties," Gustafson writes. "However, Taseko has organized its presentations and made arrangements with its consultants based on the hearing structure and procedures laid out by the panel and we submit it is unfair and prejudicial to ignore all that for no legitimate reason."

A report entitled "The Identification of Ancestral Tsilhqot’in Graves within the Vicinity of the Proposed New Prosperity Mine," is scheduled for presentation to the panel on Thursday, and the Gwet'in say the graves are at risk for "vandalism, desecration and disrespect" if people know where they are.

They ask that only Tsilhqot'in members be allowed to attend the presentation, along with Taseko representatives who have signed a confidentiality agreement.

The panel had not publicly responded to either request Wednesday.

The review panel is holding hearings on the road this week as it travels to First Nations communities around the proposed gold-copper mine, located 125 kilometres southwest of Williams Lake.

Critics fear the billion-dollar mine will destroy culturally significant Fish Lake and they doubt Taseko's claim that the plan has been revised and the lake will be spared.

Although the New Prosperity mine has previously failed to pass the federal environmental assessment process, the B.C. government approved it in 2010, finding that economic benefits outweigh environmental considerations.