Local 3570

Local 3570

Aboriginal Title and Rights

On the 33rd day of the Tahltan Elders' sit in at the band offices in Telegraph Creek, B.C., Tahltan Elders have come to a consensus using a traditional decision-making process. The statement is named “Dena nenn Sogga neh 'ine” meaning, “Keepers of the Land” in the Tahltan Language. We are putting the Federal, Provincial and Indian Act Governments on notice that “the scam is over”. The elders declare a moratorium on resource development within traditional Tahltan Territory.
- Tahltan Elders Press Release, February 25, 2005

The Seizure at Telegraph Creek
Tahltan elders decry 'sell out', oppose successful chief, call for slower development.
Tue., Feb. 22nd 2005
Monte Paulsen

(There are links on these articles)

A group of Tahltan First Nations elders - some of whom are in their 80s - have remained holed up in their Telegraph Creek band office for more than a month to protest the pace of development in their traditional territory and oppose the chief who is championing it.

"Our land, resources and rights are being sold out from under us," the group of 35 elders said in a joint statement, released shortly after they took over the two-storey administration building on January 17. "This day will go down in Tahltan history as the day the Elders took back their power."

The elders represent numerous families among the estimated 1,500 Tahltan who live on or near 11 reserves in northern British Columbia. They have two demands: First, they want the resignation of Chief Jerry Asp, who they accuse of abusing elected office to promote his own business interests. Second, they are calling on their tribal council to reconsider a recent agreement with the provincial government, a deal they fear would empower Gordon Campbell's Liberals to fast-track three massive mining projects, a gas field, a hydroelectric dam and possibly a controversial road to the Alaskan coast.

The protest comes during a time of relative prosperity for the Tahltan. Thanks to operating developments such as the Eskay Creek mine - where Tahltans hold one-third of the jobs - unemployment is running as low as six per cent.

"The elders do not oppose development," said Oscar Dennis, a spokesman. "The elders are saying, 'We don't need six projects at once.' They want controlled sustainability. They're saying, 'If we open these projects in sequence, it would guarantee a place for our children in this capitalist society for generations to come.'"

Co-opted consultation

The elders' action came in response to a general assembly on Jan. 8 and 9, at which several current development plans were described. The Tahltan Tribal Council chartered buses and bought airline tickets to bring Tahltans from as far away as Ottawa to the weekend meeting at Dease Lake, which included presentations on technical, environmental and cultural aspects of the proposed mining projects.

The elders were particularly alarmed by news of a "memorandum of understanding" their tribal council had signed with the provincial government two months earlier. Under the terms of the November 2004 memo, the council would receive $250,000 a year to negotiate with the province to provide "accommodation" for future mining, forestry and hydro projects. The Supreme Court of Canada requires that provinces both "consult" and "accommodate" First Nations before permitting resource extraction on Crown land subject to pending land claims.

"The intent is to provide certainty for resource development decisions by B.C. during the term of the Agreement," stated a presentation about the deal, which also listed several projects slated for "certainty."

These included: NovaGold Resources' Galore Creek gold and copper mine, bcMetals' Red Chris gold and silver mine, Fortune Minerals' Mount Klappan open-pit coal mine, Shell Canada's Mount Klappan coalbed methane gas project, and Coast Mountain Power's Forest Kerr hydroelectric dam.

The NovaGold mine was the subject of several presentations at the assembly. NovaGold is considering construction of an open pit mine on 104,735 acres west of the Stikine River. The Vancouver-based company reported promising results from its 2004 test drillings.

"It was a successful meeting. There was a lot of dialogue. A lot of issues were brought forth," said Carl Gagnier, General Manager of the Galore Creek project. "One thing we learned in the special assembly was that while the Tahltan have had mines in their traditional territories, they were not well informed on all of the issues that are involved with a large-scale mining operation."

The elders fear their tribal council will submit that dialogue as evidence of "consultation." They said they were forced to sign in and have their photos taken in order to attend the assembly. Likewise, they fear that the expensive assembly itself - at which NovaGold paid a reported $100,000 for travel and other expenses - will be regarded as "accommodation." The elders are aware that their neighbours to the north, the Taku River Tlingit First Nation, lost a federal court battle in which a similar meeting process was determined to be sufficient.

"That meeting was the last straw," said spokesman Dennis, who holds university degrees in anthropology and first nations studies. "They paid all these educated young people to fly in and present information. To an outsider it must have looked like they had this awesome meeting. But in fact it was a bunch of young people who did not grow up on the land."

From Telegraph to Internet

A group of elders met the following weekend. All were concerned that they'd been co-opted at the Dease Lake assembly. Some, whose local family hunting and trapping territories were directly affected, were also outraged that the tribal council had presumed to act on their behalf. They agreed to take action, and took over the Telegraph Creek administration building on January 17 - the same day on which the U.S. celebrated martyred Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.

The elders' first order of business was to call for the resignation of Chief Jerry Asp, who they accuse of overstepping authority when he signed agreements on behalf of the Iskut band and individual family territories. They also allege that Asp's longtime involvement with a mining services company places him in an untenable conflict of interest. (More about that in Part Two of this story, to be posted tomorrow.)

"He has done enough harm to our people," the elders said of Asp in their joint statement, "and puts us in danger of losing everything." They presented Asp with a letter demanding his resignation on Jan. 18 and told him: "Jerry Asp, You are no longer Chief of the Tahltan People."

Asp has refused to resign. He also refused to be interviewed for these articles.

The elders have now spent more than a month occupying the band office. Lucy Brown, who is 64 years old, has reportedly slept every night on the office floor. They spend their days sewing and strategizing. Families from the Telegraph Creek reserve - the Tahltan Nation's largest - bring them meals, and listen to them tell traditional stories.

The Tahltan have been travelling the Stikine for generations, paddling upriver to hunt and downriver to trade with the coastal Tlingit. Canadians and Americans of European descent began settling in the area in 1861, after gold was discovered. The town of Telegraph Creek came into being as a result of efforts to run an early communications line. Today the Tahltan elders are spreading news of their protest via e-mail.

They promise to continue their occupation until Asp resigns and the November "certainty" agreement is overturned. Asp has obtained a court order to have them forcibly removed, but had not yet employed that order when this article was posted.

"Asp and his family have learned the white man's way well and are now using this knowledge against their people," the elders said in their e-mailed statement. "They have mistakenly discounted us, saying we do not have any educated people. Our traditional knowledge goes back to time immemorial. Back to a time without papers, computers, and contemporary law."

Monte Paulsen is a contributing editor at Vancouver's Shared Vision magazine. Part 2 of Tyee's special report on the Tahltan controversy looks at Chief Jerry Asp's connections to the mining industry.

'We Can't Eat Oil, Gas and Minerals'
Revolt against pro-business Tahltan chief shines light on ambitious development plans in B.C.'s north.
Wed., Feb. 23, 2005
By Monte Paulsen

The Tahltan elders who took over their band's Telegraph Creek administration building more than a month ago have promised to stay put until their elected chief resigns.

"Jerry Asp has lost all credibility," said the elders-women and men between the ages of 55 and 84-in a February 17 statement. "He is far too cozy with industry and government, and poses a threat to our very existence."

The elders allege Asp acted beyond his authority when he and the Tahltan Tribal Council signed a $250,000-a-year deal with the province "to provide certainty for resource development" in their traditional territories. And they say Asp - who in addition to being Chief of the Telegraph Creek band, is also Chief Operating Officer of the Tahltan Nation Development Corporation - is caught in too powerful a conflict of interest to act in their best interest. The elders fear that deal would empower Gordon Campbell's Liberals to fast-track several mines, a gas field, a hydroelectric dam and possibly a controversial road to the Alaskan coast.

First Nations artist Dempsey Bob is one of several Tahltan and Tlingit who have joined the occupation since January 17. "We have to protect our animals and fish," he said. "We can't eat oil, gas and minerals."

Both Chief, and Chief Operating Officer

Jerry Asp was elected to head the Tahltan Nation's largest band in 2003 and 2004. He was among the first chiefs elected after the Supreme Court of Canada's Corbiere decision took effect. In order to force bands into compliance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Corbiere requires bands to allow all members to vote in Indian Act elections-not only those who live on reserve, as had been the practice.

There are an estimated 5,000 Tahltan living throughout Canada, but only about 1,500 live on the eleven reserves in northern B.C. Reserves near Telegraph Creek, Dease Lake and Iskut serve as community centers.

Oscar Dennis, a university educated Tahltan who is serving as a spokesman for the elders, said that fewer than 400 Tahltan voted in the last election. Dennis said the small number of participants is evidence of Asp's lack of widespread support within the Tahltan nation. "He got in to office through the support of his own family," Dennis said, "and others who work for his Tahltan Nation Development Corporation."

Asp founded the Tahltan Nation Development Corporation (TNDC) in 1985. The company's shareholders include the Tahltan and Iskut bands. Asp served as president and chief executive officer until 1993, and remains TNDC's chief operating officer. TNDC has cleared roads into remote mines, built mining operation sites and performed open-pit mining. According to its own promotional releases, the company is the largest Native-owned and operated heavy construction company in Western Canada.

At Barrick Gold Corporation's Eskay Creek mine, for example, TNDC has a life-of-mine contract to provide road construction, maintenance and snow-clearing services. A TNDC subsidiary also reportedly provides housekeeping and catering services to the fly-in mine, which is among the highest grade gold and silver mines in the world.

Likewise, TNDC also has a deal to provide construction and roadwork to Shell Canada, one of the other companies promised "certainty" under the controversial 2004 agreement. Last summer, Shell began drilling into coalfields that partly underlie the Spatsizi Plateau Wilderness Park. Shell plans to force methane gas from the coalfield by pumping massive volumes of water underground. Shell's ambitious Mount Klappan project represents an estimated 9 per cent of B.C.'s coalbed methane potential.

The Tahltan elders alleged these sorts of deals put Asp in a conflict of interest. Said Dennis: "All the decisions he's making on behalf of the Tahltan conveniently serve the interests of his company."

Asp declined to talk to The Tyee for this article. (He hung up the phone after saying only: "I'm not interested in talking to you."

Asp talks frequently to pro-mining groups, however. He is vice-president of Canadian Aboriginal Minerals Association-a group he helped create-and uses this platform to talk about the jobs he's created. For example, he talked to a 2004 Manitoba mining conference about the Eskay Creek mine, where more than 34 per cent of the 320 on-site workers are native. Asp reportedly said, "The Tahltans view this relationship as a win-win situation for both the mining company, Barrick Gold Corporation, and the Tahltans."

Asp also spoke to freelance journalist Shirley Collingridge, who has posted a profile of the Chief on her promotional web site. In
Vini Vidi Vici: Tahltan Chief Conquers Mining Industry, Collingridge wrote:

"Overall, says Asp, the mining experience has been a very positive experience for him. Besides successfully championing Aboriginal issues, Asp has 'traveled all over the world on somebody else's nickel. They are calling me every week to go somewhere.' In the past three years alone, Asp has been once to Australia, twice to the U.K., and three times to South America. … 'Canada is considered the foremost expert in Aboriginal mining relations today,' says Asp. 'That's why CAMA [the Canadian Aboriginal Minerals Association] is invited around the world.'"

To tunnel toward Alaska

Tahltan Nation Development Corporation has also worked for NovaGold Resources, which is considering construction of an open pit mine on 104,735 acres west of the Stikine River. NovaGold's Galore Creek project was the subject of several presentations at the Dease Lake assembly that triggered the elders' protest. Later this year, NovaGold plans to release a prefeasibility study for what the company describes as one of the largest undeveloped resources in North America.

Should TNDC obtain a road construction contract for the NovaGold mine-as it has for several similar projects-the non-union firm could wind up involved in its most ambitions construction project yet: tunneling under a glacier. NovaGold studied several options for an access road to the Galore Creek site, and presented an overview of its two preferred routes at the Dease Lake assembly. Both routes involve tunneling under ice, one for two kilometers and the other for as much as 14 kilometers through glacier-capped-limestone.

The gated road proposed by NovaGold would be a controlled-access corridor open only to mine vehicles bearing special use permits from the province. But due to the location of the Galore Creek mine, the road would inevitably lead from Hwy. 37 to the Alaska coast, along a highway route akin to one that Alaskan politicians have spent 20 years trying to develop.

U.S. efforts to link the landlocked Alaska "panhandle" with the continental highway system have escalated in recent years, as the state's Republican congressional delegation found a ready ear in the Bush White House. Prior to news of the NovaGold project, their favored route had been to extend the TNDC-built access road to the Eskay Creek mine to the Bradford Canal, meeting the fjord in the shadow of Tyee Mountain and continuing at sea level to a new deep water port and ferry terminal near Wrangell.

The Galore Creek road would present the Alaska delegation with an alternative route. And if TNDC or some other company were to complete the tunneling under the less-rigid permitting process of a limited-use road, the conversion of that route to a public road at a later date would face less environmental scrutiny-since most of any damage would have already been done.

Studies conducted on both sides of the border have concluded that such a road would reward Alaska's economy at the expense of British Columbia, as Canadian resources flow overseas through U.S. ports.

Galore Creek General Manager Carl Gagnier told The Tyee that NovaGold had no intention of its mining road become part of the so-called Bradfield Road. "No. We've never seriously looked at that," he said. "That's somebody's idea to develop something in Alaska."

NovaGold's two other major projects are in the Alaskan interior. Its massive Donlin Creek effort is a joint venture with Placer Dome, and its and Ambler Project is a joint venture with Rio Tinto. Galore Creek, in fact, is the southernmost project listed on NovaGold's web site. Given that permitting those Alaskan projects is crucial to the fast-growing company's success, it's reasonable to assume that NovaGold has some degree of contact with Alaskan political leaders who also back the Bradford road.

Elders promise to remain

Nancy McGee is one of the Tahltan elders participating in the Telegraph Creek protest. The proposed roads would traverse her family's traditional trapping territory. After NovaGold presented its road-building options at the Deese Lake assembly, she reportedly pointed a finger at the NovaGold spokesman and said, "You're gonna' shit on our land."

"In the past, a leader was watched from the time they were little," said elder Henry Quock, who likes to tell stories and tease others at the sit-in. "The elders chose a leader based solely on his ability to be honest."

The elders promise to continue their occupation until Asp resigns and the 2004 "certainty" agreement is overturned.

Asp has obtained a court order to have them forcibly removed, but had not yet executed that order as this article went to press.

"The use of courts and laws to repress those without the financial means to employ legal representation is well-known. However, for an Aboriginal person to do the same in shameful," the elders replied. "Asp is prepared to repress the dissenting voices in order to maintain a strangle hold on his people."

To read the first part of this two-part series, go here.

Monte Paulsen is a contributing editor at Vancouver's Shared Vision magazine.

Tahltan Elders Declare a Moratorium on Resource Development Within Their Territory
“Dena nenn Sogga neh ’ine”
Tahltan Elders Press Release February 25, 2005

On the 33rd day of the Tahltan Elders' sit in at the band offices in Telegraph Creek, B.C., Tahltan Elders have come to a consensus using a traditional decision-making process. The statement is named “Dena nenn Sogga neh 'ine” meaning, “Keepers of the Land” in the Tahltan Language. We are putting the Federal, Provincial and Indian Act Governments on notice that “the scam is over”. The elders declare a moratorium on resource development within traditional Tahltan Territory.

Over the past 33 days the elders have reflected upon “the old days” and the way Tahltan governance progressed. Eighty-six year old Roy Quock said that, “the Elders would sit together and talk about a problem, until they all agreed upon a way to deal with it.” This would mean that they had to reach full consensus. The process would be absent of attacks, accusations and aggressive behaviour. When a consensus decision is finally reached, it would be implemented immediately and all would move ahead in unity. The focus is always on what is best for the nation and the generations to come.

The decision to impose a moratorium took 33 days and without a lingering doubt, the Elders are fully prepared to move ahead in unity. Verna Callbreath a Crow Clan Elder says, “It's not just for us, it's for our children and grandchildren of tomorrow.”

Therefore, it is both our right and our responsibility, as Tahltan Elders, to reclaim our legitimate place within Tahltan law and custom. The actions of chiefs and councils, Tahltan Central Council, and others who purport to represent Tahltan interest, have forced us to occupy the Band offices in Telegraph Creek. These non-representative individuals and bodies have exceeded their authority and no longer have the confidence or trust of the Tahltan People and therefore can no longer represent us.

Kukdookaa Terri Brown, past President of the Native Women's Association of Canada (NWAC) and the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC), and Spokesperson and assistant to the Elders states, “The Elders have shown tremendous courage to young people and the nation as a whole.” “This experience has rekindled hope in my heart and I will forever honour and remember my elders.”

For more information contact Terri Brown at (613) 791-4492 or
terribrown@sympatico.ca or call Pat Edzerza (250) 235-3151

Elders' Statement:

Elders with e-mail -- government and industry take note
by Stephen Hume, The Vancouver Sun, February 5, 2005

Supreme Court of Canada Confirms that Aboriginal Policies Must Change
November 18, 2004

(Coast Salish Territory/Vancouver) "Today's Haida and Taku River Tlingit decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada are significant advances in our ongoing legal battle to protect our Aboriginal Title and Rights," says Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, "but the work is not yet done."

"In these decisions, the Supreme Court has rejected once and for all the Crown's argument that they do not have to consult First Nations about land and resource decisions until First Nations have proven their rights in court. These decisions put 'rubber on the road' in terms of the duties of consultation and accommodation of both governments, but the Crown has a long way to go" observed Chief Phillip. He noted that both the Haida and the Taku River Tlingit were compelled to seek legal remedies before the Supreme Court of Canada because of the arrogance and unilateral resource management approaches of the governments of BC and Canada.

"Business as usual is no longer tolerable," Chief Phillip continued: "The current policies of BC and Canada are a complete failure and must be revisited. The courts have consistently stated that governments must honourably engage in good-faith negotiations to address and accommodate our Aboriginal Title and Rights. This is not presently occurring.

Although the court held that the duty to consult cannot be delegated to resource companies, resource rights (such as tenures) granted without meaningful consultation and accommodation of Aboriginal Title and Rights may still be challenged in court, creating a legal and financial liability for resource companies affecting company investors and creditors. "The vulnerability of logging tenures, such as those that changed hands in recent corporate mergers in the timber industry come to mind," said Chief Phillip.

"If the duty to consult and accommodate is not taken very seriously, the Crown will find itself bogged down in a wave of title cases or more land-use confrontations on the land resulting in decades of legal battles." Chief Phillip concluded, "This uncertainty is not good for anyone. Long-term economic certainty will only be achieved through the full recognition and accommodation of Aboriginal Title interests, not by blindly continuing a policy of unilateralism with First Nations in the ineffectual attempt to 'open BC for business.'"

Chief Stewart Phillip     Office: (604) 684-0231
President, Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs
Chief Robert Shintah  Office: (604) 684-0231
Vice-President, Union of BC Indian Chiefs

Aboriginal Title and Rights


The Sovereignty of our Nations comes from the Great Spirit. It is not granted nor subject to the approval of any other Nation. As First Nations we have the sovereign right to jurisdiction rule within our traditional territories. Our lands are a sacred gift. The land is provided for the continued use, benefit and enjoyment of our people, and it is our ultimate obligation to the Great Spirit to care for and protect it.


Traditionally, First Nations practised uncontested, supreme and absolute power over our territories, our resources and our lives with the right to govern, to make and enforce laws, to decide citizenship, to wage war or to make peace and to manage our lands, resources and institutions. Aboriginal Title and Rights means we as Indian people hold Title and have the right to maintain our sacred connection to Mother Earth by governing our territories through our own forms of Indian Government. Our Nations have a natural and rightful place within the family of nations of the world. Our political, legal, social and economic systems developed in accordance with the laws of the Creator since time immemorial and continue to this day.

Our power to govern rests with the people and like our Aboriginal Title and Rights, it comes from within the people and cannot be taken away.

Our Aboriginal Title and Rights Position Paper represents the foundation upon which First Nations in British Columbia are prepared to negotiate a co-existing relationship with Canada. We present it, on behalf of our people, in the spirit of optimism, dignity, co-operation and strength. The goals of our people from our past through the present, to those yet unborn, provide the framework through which we will possess the tools necessary to maintain the strength of our Indian identity. The effective implementation of our position will resolve current political, economic, legal and social conflicts facing our people, and will mean that, for the first time, Indian people will share in the wealth of Canada. At the same time, Canadians will have the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of our heritage.


Since 1969, the Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs carried out extensive research and consultation with Indian people throughout British Columbia in relation to the totality of Aboriginal Title and Rights. We conclude that our people have no desire, under any circumstances, to see our Aboriginal Title and Rights extinguished. Our People Consistently state that our Aboriginal Title and Rights can not be bought, sold, traded, or extinguished by any Government under any circumstances