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First Nations wants remote mine axed

A First Nations group has launched a lawsuit in an attempt to stop a struggling but potentially lucrative mine in northwestern British Columbia, more than a decade after the band's first court challenge of the project.

The Taku River Tlingit First Nation has filed a notice in B.C. Supreme Court asking that the Tulsequah Chief mine project, owned by Chieftain Metals, be stopped.

The proposed zinc, copper, lead, silver and gold mine is perched in the Taku River watershed, a region rich in wildlife and salmon that straddles the border between northwestern B.C. and southeastern Alaska.

The claim alleges that neither the company nor the provincial government properly consulted the band, and it argues the province's Environmental Assessment Office was wrong to extend the mine's environmental assessment certificate in June 2012.

The lawsuit says the office issued the extension after concluding work at the mine had "substantially started." But the band insists none of the mine's main components have ever been constructed and it argues the extension was invalid.

The band says the proposed mine would significantly harm the community's way of life.

"The project is within the heartland of the Taku River Tlingits' traditional territory," the lawsuit says.

"The area that would be traversed and impacted by the proposed access road is endowed with significant populations of large mammals and is the part of the territory where there is the most concentrated pattern of Tlingit use and occupation, particularly for the harvesting of wildlife and fish, and also for cultural and spiritual activities."

The notice of claim was filed with the court on Dec. 17, but the band, which is being supported by the group Ecojustice, only publicly announced its application for judicial review on Wednesday.

The company could not be reached for comment.

The lawsuit follows nearly 20 years of controversy and legal battles that included a trip to the Supreme Court of Canada.

The project was first proposed to the province's Environmental Assessment Office in 1995 by its previous proponent, Redfern Resource Inc.

In 1998, after what the band's lawsuit describes as a "controversial environmental assessment process," the province approved the project. The Taku River Tlingit First Nation filed its first application for judicial review the following year.

The Taku River Tlingits lost that case in 2004 when the Supreme Court of Canada ruled the province had consulted the band.

What followed was several years of apparent delays in the progress of the mine, which were followed by extensions in the project's environmental approvals.

The previous extension was set to expire in December 2012, but six months before that, the Environmental Assessment Office issued another extension after concluding that work at the project had "substantially started," according to the band's lawsuit.

"Had the Taku River Tlingits been consulted before the (Environmental Assessment Office's) determination had been made, they would have provided information showing that some works and activities relied on by the respondent Chieftain ... have not been undertaken or do not form part of the project," says the notice of claim.

None of the allegations in the statement of claim have been proven in court.

The Canadian Press

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