Ahousaht chiefs say they can make their own decisions about land
By Judith Lavoie, Times Colonist
May 20, 2010
Hereditary chiefs from Ahousaht First Nation are accusing environmental groups of interfering with traditional decision-making as concerns heat up over the possibility of a copper mine on Catface Mountain.
"The Ahousaht people are a sovereign nation with a connection to our Hahoulthee [traditional territories]. We are more than capable of making decisions that impact our people and our land," hereditary chief Keith Atleo, known as Kiista, said yesterday.
"We do not need uninformed outsiders making decisions or pronouncements without our consent."
Catface Mountain is in Ahousaht traditional territory, in the heart of Clayoquot Sound, a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
Ahousaht declared sovereignty over its traditional territories about two years ago, but unlike reserve land -- which comes under federal law -- traditional territory is subject to provincial environmental regulations, along with First Nations consultation.
Imperial Metals is doing exploratory drilling for copper on Catface, and although it has not yet applied for a mining permit, there are fears a mine could result in the top being blown off the mountain, water and ocean pollution from acid tailings and visual and noise disturbances near the tourist resort of Tofino.
"It might mean jobs for one or two generations, but then a 1,200-year toxic legacy," said Dan Lewis of Friends of Clayoquot Sound.
The group and members of the Wilderness Committee demonstrated yesterday outside the Vancouver offices of Imperial Metals during the company's annual meeting, which was also attended by Ahousaht hereditary chiefs.
"We wanted to make sure our First Nations partners were involved in the process," said Imperial spokesman Byng Giraud.
Some differences of opinion over Catface were voiced at the meeting, he said.
Lewis said Ahousaht needs help with economic development, but an open-pit copper mine is not the way to go. "We are not saying they can't do this on their territory, we are saying it's wrong to do it," he said.
However, Kiista said critics are not showing respect and much of their information is outdated. "These groups have been using photos and images of our nation without our consent. They are attacking our business partners without any discussion with us or any willingness to understand how our people make decisions on our land," he said.
"We have a traditional governance structure that has been working for thousands of years."
No final decision has been made on whether the band would support a full-blown mine and it will go to a community vote after Ahousaht, Imperial and the province have conducted a preliminary environmental assessment, Kiista said.
"It's kind of up in the air right now. People want more information and the direction we have given our council is to get more answers," he said.
But some Ahousaht members say the community is split and members are not being given enough information about environmental damage.
"I am 100 per cent opposed to mining on Catface Mountain as an Ahousaht member and a resident of this planet because of the environmental devastation," said Joe James Rampanen. "There is the damage it will leave behind as well as the spiritual significance that area holds. It is not just open for resource extraction."
People are forgetting their culture and heritage in the rush to make money from mining, Rampanen said, noting there is 65 per cent unemployment in Ahousaht. The bulk of the information offered residents has been about $300-a-day jobs for 50 years and a cheque from the mining company for every member, said Rampanen, who is trying to organize a forum with balanced information.
"People are not being told about the environmental damage. What is this going to do to our shellfish? What is it going to do to our salmon streams?"