Larry Badke held a sign with the word “ECO-TARDS” on it, and says he felt “happy” Friends of Fish Lake cancelled its march around the 100 Mile House marsh in celebration of the United Nations’ World Water Day.
Badke, along with Jim Kolisnyk, organized a rally on March 22 for supporters of the proposed New Prosperity Gold-Copper Project, a billion-dollar mine proposed by Taseko Mines Ltd. in the British Columbia Interior, which was turned down by the federal government on environmental grounds for the second time in February.
A group of about 40 people stood in the parking lot between 3 and 3:30 p.m. near the 100 Mile Curling Club, where Friends of Fish Lake, whose members oppose the mine, were hosting a fundraising dinner, and called off plans to march beforehand because of the opposing rally.
Supporters of the mine project wore white hats that read, “Say Yes to New Prosperity” and buttons with “Committed to the Cariboo” on their chests. Children held signs with messages like “WE NEED JOBS!” and “SAVE OUR TOWN.”
A few RCMP officers stood nearby.
“We’re hoping to do another one or two of these as time goes on,” Badke says. “The Taseko situation has not ended.”
Kolisnyk spoke to the group for a few minutes.
“This is basically to say we’ve had enough. We’ve had enough of environmentalists. They have a say – everybody should – but we have to stop fighting against each other.
“We have to get along with the natives. There are a lot of native people that agree with this mine. Taseko supports natives, and they hire natives.”
Around that same time, Friends of Fish Lake supporters and First Nations guests from some of the six Tsilhqot’in communities, on whose traditional territory the controversial mine project is being proposed, started gathering inside the 100 Mile Curling Club.
Among the guests was Marilyn Baptiste, a Xeni Gwet’in counsellor and former chief. Her community is located about 200 kilometres west of Williams Lake, near Fish Lake, which an independent federal review panel found would be irreparably damaged by the open pit mine.
(A federal judicial review is currently underway as Taseko Mines Ltd. is challenging the findings of the review panel’s assessment. The mining company believes the panel “made a fundamental error when determining expected seepage rates from the tailing storage facility.”)
“Unfortunate” is what Baptiste calls the decision by Badke and Kolisnyk to hold a rally around the same time and same location where Friends of Fish Lake were set to gather.
“To try and suggest we’re taking the food out of the mouths of their children, we feel the same way,” Baptiste says. “When you’re destroying our lands, our way of life, you’re taking the food out of our mouths and future children’s mouths.”
She says the New Prosperity debate – “this aggression back and forth” – has “bred further racism,” as different comments made on popular social media websites in recent months might suggest.
“It’s not about cowboys and Indians. It’s not about First Nations versus non-First Nations. It’s about people who want to stand up and do what’s right and protect the water, Mother Earth and future generations.”
Part of the funds from the event went towards covering travel expenses incurred by Patricia Spencer, one of the group’s members who travelled to Ottawa to lobby against the project.
Spencer says the group cancelled the march to avoid confrontation.
“I’m saddened to see the way this mining issue has divided our community. We all live in the same community, and I certainly want to work together with everybody. I guess they needed to do what they did.”
Spencer adds the dinner, which featured local food, entertainment and was tied into World Water Day, was “great all around,” and she thanked Barb Hooper and Rob Diether for organizing it.
“We were happy to have representatives from the Tsilhqot’in First Nations there…. Bringing together aboriginal and non-aboriginal people, that was special to have that.”
The Say Yes to New Prosperity group took photos at its rally that Kolisnyk says are destined for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in hopes of influencing his government to approve the project.
“The people that are going up against us, they have no problem in gathering together and turning communities into ghost towns,” Kolisnyk told his supporters.
“We have to fight back. That’s what I’m going to be doing for the next four or five months. I’m going to continue doing it for this town, and I can’t do it without you people behind me.”
Badke provided a “definition” of “Eco-tard,” a word found on the Urban Dictionary website, where Internet users submit slang words and phrases.
“Someone so enamoured with ecology that they cannot understand common sense or reality.”