A blockade by members of the Nak’azdli Band of the Mt. Milligan Mine site ended without violence, but the issue may not be resolved.
The blockade was taken down when a court order was served by Terrane Metals Corp employees escorted by RCMP on Thursday, Nov. 18.
Three people from the blockade refused to leave and were subsequently arrested.
Terrane Metals is set to begin negotiations with members of the band, but no dates have been set.
One of the three protesters arrested, Charlie Sam, 70 years old, says he was frustrated by the lack of consultation with the keyoh holders at the mine site.
Keyoh holders are hereditary stewards of an area called a keyoh, according to Nak’azdli Chief Fred Sam, and hold trap-line rights.
The area of the mine site straddles two keyohs, both held by members of the Sam family.
“My great grandfather gave it to my grandfather over 100 years ago,” says Charlie Sam.
He also says the keyoh holders in the area of the mine site had no direct consultation with the mining company prior to the blockade.
Wes Carson, Terrane Metals Corp. mine manager, admits there is work to do in getting their messages across.
“A lot of it is just communication I think, and that’s really what’s coming out of this at the end of the day,” says Carson.
He also says the company has been talking to Nak’azdli for years, but it is difficult to know how to negotiate the delicate politics of the area.
“Things are very sensitive up here right now,” says Carson.
“I want to make sure that we’re getting the message out and that it’s not going to further confuse things.”
Part of the communication breakdown might also be a lack of understanding within the Nak’azdli Band as to what the protesters are attempting to accomplish.
While members of the blockade are relatives of Nak’azdli Chief Fred Sam, he is careful not to speak for them, and says the blockade was not sanctioned by the band but admits he can understand where they are coming from.
“The level of frustration is quite high dealing with government and also different companies.”
Chief Sam hopes to get together with the protesters to get a better idea of their goals and objectives and build a strategy as a team.
Charlie Sam said one of his concerns is about the pollution the mine will cause in the area, and the impact it could have on his family’s keyoh.
“We’re trying to stand on our principle. Something’s gotta be done, you can’t just go into somebody’s territory and just start mining it,” says Charlie Sam.
While Charlie Sam also expressed concerns about rumours people were still working while the blockade was up, Carson says there were only some workers left behind to ensure the camps did not freeze, but they were directed not to work.
Further complicating the issue is a possible Economic Development Agreement put forward by the provincial government, which would involve sharing the taxation revenue from the mine.
“We’re trying to capture as much input from the members as possible on this offer,” says Chief Sam.
All sides appear open to discussing the issues.