Clayoquot Sound - Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation traditional territory in the foreground - Photo - Wayne Barnes

As I write this blog, Neil Young's song, Heart of Gold keeps looping in my head. However what I have to write about couldn't be further from Neil's search for a heart of gold. Rather the quest I blog about here is for a mine of gold, one that threatens the ecology and entirely disrespects the rights and aspirations of the region's Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation.

Clayoquot Sound is now one step closer to having a gold mine amidst its beautiful ecologically intact valleys and majestic old-growth trees. Although not an altogether surprising move (given current BC Government priorities and other past developments that I write on, below), I was shocked nevertheless to learn that the government in the last dog days of summer has issued a mineral exploration permit to Selkirk Metals Corp (owned by Imperial Metals Corp) for its Fandora Gold Mine project. The area they seek to ‘explore’ for the possible development of a gold mine is in the traditional territory of Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, and less than 20 kilometres from Tofino.   

Aside from the very polluting nature of gold mining and what such development would do to the region, more importantly from my perspective is that the decision flies in the face of solid Tla-o-qui-aht opposition.  The Province claims it has consulted with the Nation, and, while acknowledging that the Tla-o-qui-aht are against the proposal, they felt they did their due diligence and thus approved the permit.

What about the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People that Canada (and by extension all the provinces) signed on to? Within this groundbreaking global declaration is the central principal of FPIC – Free and Prior Informed Consent. In its Fandora Mine decision, the BC Government only went as far as consultation (as they define it) and appeared to have ignored the key notion of ‘prior consent’.  As James Anaya, UN Special Rapporteur stated in his recent report on the rights of indigenous people and extractive industries, the principles of consultation and consent are central in upholding the rights of Indigenous people especially when it comes to decisions over extractive industries:  

“…principles of consultation and consent function as instrumental to rights of participation and self-determination, and as safeguards for all those rights of indigenous peoples that may be  affected by external actors, including rights that indigenous peoples have under domestic law or treaties to which they have subscribed, or rights recognized and protected by authoritative international sources like the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and various widely ratified multilateral treaties. These rights include, in addition to rights of participation and self-determination, rights to property, culture, religion and non-discrimination in relation to lands, territories and natural resources, including sacred places and objects; rights to health and physical well-being in relation to a clean and healthy environment; and the right of indigenous peoples to set and pursue their own priorities for development, including with regard to natural resources.” (pg 9, 1-28)

So in light of this, I find it at least naive if not hypocritical and shameful of the BC Government to go ahead and give its blessing to Selkirk/Imperial to explore for gold despite steadfast Tla-o-qui-aht opposition. The Tla-a-o-qui-aht have for months been asking for a meeting with the Minister of Energy and Mines tpo no avail. 

Environmental allies and ourselves have been working for close to a year with the Nation behind the scenes to try and stop the proposal from going forward. We met on several occasions with provincial officials on the issue, and what repeatedly came through as an undercurrent from them was that since the area is already ‘disturbed’, why not allow for further development?

While indeed the Fandora site is ‘disturbed’ in that there is an older mine (which ceased operation many years ago) and that the site is not in one of the unprotected intact valleys (because it was logged years ago), the fact is that the Tla-o-qui-aht Nation has a vision for their land, and that doesn’t include a gold mine, or a mine of any sort. As Saya Masso, their resource manager has noted, they want the previously disturbed land to be given time to ecologically recover from past industrial activity. And we agree wholeheartedly with that wise approach.

The land use vision of the Tla-o-qui-aht is one of conservation, whereby it is acknowledged that the kinds of economic activity they wish to undertake must be fully compatible and limited by their territory’s ability to function ecologically so that it can continue to supply fresh water and healthy food to the people. Their elegant vision is expressed through the idea of a ‘Tribal Park’, for which they have designated their entire territory (an exciting concept that I will blog about at a future date).

Salmon in stream, Clayoquot Sound - Photo: Jacqueline Windh

At Greenpeace we fully support their vision and stand with them, as we have in the past in protecting the remaining old-growth valleys in their territory. It is why we are part of the recent Press Release which announced to the world the Tla-o-qui-aht’s public opposition and that of other supportive environmental organizations.  

The situation is disconcerting to say the least. I still can’t understand the short-sightedness of the government in approving the exploratory mine permit. When one travels through this UNESCO Biosphere Reserve (which does allow for industrial activity like mining, unfortunately) one is overwhelmed by the sheer delicate and unique beauty of the region. The area includes world-renowned Pacific Rim National Park, many protected and unprotected ecologically and culturally significant areas (home to three First Nations), Tofino itself and numerous economic enterprises that rely on a healthy environment to survive and prosper. A gold mine, or a mine of any sort, doesn’t belong in the region.

Old Growth Cedar - Sydney Valley, Clayoquot Sound - Photo: Jacqueline Windh

This is Clayoquot Sound. It behooves the BC Government to track this one closely in terms of the expected growing resistance, and carefully think about the implications should it ultimately approve a gold mine (if the exploratory phase proves successful and Selkirk/Imperial goes the next step). The irony is not lost on me that 20 years ago this summer the provincial government of the time also made an ill-fated decision (back then it was about logging dwindling old-growth forests) that led to the largest mass arrest for civil disobedience in Canadian history through the blockades. It put Clayoquot on the international map and the region remains iconic, laden with ecological and cultural meaning. People are very passionate about Clayoquot Sound and its protection– especially those who have been here the longest and who thus have a moral and legal right to healthy land and water.  We support the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation, resolute in helping them manifest their vision for healthy lands and waters, and a vibrant future for all who are blessed to live in the region and the future generations to come.

You can take action by signing a petition supporting the conservation and sustainablle economic aspirations of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation here


 Eduardo over Clayoquot SoundEduardo Sousa is senior forests campaigner (Clayoquot Sound, Great  Bear Rainforest) for Greenpeace