The 286,000-hectare area — more than 700 times the size of Stanley Park — is in remote northwestern B.C. and is the birthplace of the salmon-bearing Skeena, Nass and Stikine rivers.
The area is of great cultural, social, spiritual and environmental significance to the Tahltan, whose protests of industrial development going back more than a decade included blockades that led to the arrest of elders and matriarchs. It is also considered a seasonally important “breadbasket” for fish and animals to the Tahltan.
Other First Nations in northwestern B.C. rely on the salmon from the rivers.
The area will be protected from industrial development — including mining, forestry and energy — but will allow other types of tenures such as recreation and guide outfitting.
“It is certainly significant after a decade of action being taken on the land,” Tahltan Central Government president Chad Day said Thursday.
“This entire exercise is just another example of how the Tahltan people can protect anything we want in our traditional territory when we come together in unity.”
Day said, ultimately, the Tahltan would like to see the sacred headwaters protected permanently.
The first victory for the Tahltan came in 2012, when Shell Canada agreed to give up its coal bed methane tenures in the area, and the B.C. government implemented a ban on oil and gas exploration.
In 2015, the B.C. government bought coal licences in the area from Fortune Minerals Ltd. and POSCO Canada Ltd. for $18.3 million. The companies have an option to buy back the licences only if they reach agreement with the Tahltan after a 10-year period.
The agreed-to plan for the sacred headwaters was announced quietly by the B.C. government in an information bulletin at the end of March and drew little attention, possibly because of the impending provincial election on May 9.
The plan covers a larger 756,000-hectare area, called the Klappan, which will allow for some development outside the sacred headwaters.
The Tahltan are not opposed to industrial development and have signed agreements that provide revenues, jobs and contracts from more than $2.5-billion in major projects in their traditional territory that include the Northwest Transmission Line, Imperial Metals’ Red Chris gold and copper mine and AltaGas’ Forest Kerr hydroelectric project.
The B.C. Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation declined to comment under provincial election guidelines to ensure the public service upholds its duty to be impartial and neutral.
The ministry pointed to the plan itself, which says it is not a legally binding document, but some components of the plan will be implemented as legal designations or objectives.
In the information bulletin, the B.C. government said there will be a four-month public feedback period later this year on implementation of the plan.
Day said the next step is implementing the management regime, a board that will include Tahltan and provincial representatives.
Source: Vancouver Sun