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Coal mine a non-starter, B.C. first nation says

By Scott Simpson, Vancouver Sun, November 11, 2011

A northeast British Columbia first nation chief confirmed Thursday that it rejects an $860-million, China-financed coal mine that was championed this week by Premier Christy Clark during her trade mission to Asia.

On Wednesday, the government announced a new funding deal among Chinese backers for the Gething coal project, a 40-year metallurgical coal mine that would support 400 full-time workers and thousands of spinoff jobs.

In a conference call with reporters, the premier said it was her understanding that discussions between mine proponents and aboriginals are progressing "slowly but surely."

West Moberly First Nation Chief Roland Willson said otherwise when contacted during a business trip in Quebec.

The first nation is not opposed to mining, Willson said, but in the case of the Gething project, situated near Hudson's Hope, the mine site would be on top of an area of strong cultural significance.

"It's in the heart of our area, literally on our back doorstep," Willson said. "We have sweats [sweat lodge ceremonies] out there, we hunt, we use it as a staging area for gathering foods, medicines, teaching our kids how to trap, how to hunt, carrying on what's supposed to be the promise of no forced interference in the way of life and a peaceful, meaningful right on the land.

"Christy Clark has no clue about what's been going on. For her to say that we can negotiate the issues out, we can't. There is either a coal mine and we go away, or we have our culture camp and they go away." Willson said the first nation indicated its opposition when the Gething project was first proposed in 2006, and has not wavered.

Meanwhile, he added, there have been accommodations with operators of other resource enterprises in traditional West Moberly territory - including Peace River Coal and Walter Energy/ Western Coal, Dokie Wind Farm, and logging companies.

Willson noted that the first nation has recommended to Gething proponents that they consider a mining operation on one of their nearby claims as an alternative. "So we are not saying no to everything, we are just saying no to a couple of these projects that have a serious impact on who we are.

"There is by no means any confusion coming from us that maybe there is a chance that there could possibly be a mine here. It's 'No.' We've said that from the first meetings we had with them five years ago - it's incompatible with our use of the land."

The B.C. ministry of energy and mines said in a statement that the proponents are seeking a Mines Act permit to undertake advanced exploration.

ssimpson@vancouversun.com
Twitter: @ScottSimpsun

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