By MEL ROTHENBURGER
More than 30 First Nations, environmental and citizens groups today (April 1, 2017) declared their solidarity in opposing the Ajax mine project.
They came together at the Irving K. Barber Centre at TRU for a morning-long ceremony, one after another taking to the microphone to state their opposition to the mine, then signing a declaration as about 250 people listened, watched and cheered, often rising in standing ovation to what they heard and saw.
Some speakers verged on tears, so strong were their concerns about the mine and their commitment to stopping it.
‘It’s not about the money, it’s about protecting our land and our water… It’s about a new way, an inclusive, participatory way.’
It was event like no other, this coalition of allies that crosses socio-economic, cultural and ethnic boundaries in a single cause.
And it took First Nations to do it. For years, various opponent groups within the community have been doing their best to generate a consensus against Ajax but the recent declaration of the Stk’emlúpsemc te Secwépemc Nation (SSN) opposing the mine set the stage for today’s “Allies Meeting,” described by several speakers as “the first chapter in our new story.”
That story is more than a rejection of one mine — it’s a hope that there will be a new era of working together to protect the land.
They came at the issue from different directions, with several emphasizing First Nations rights, and others focusing on environmental and even neighbourhood concerns.
“It’s not about the money, it’s about protecting our land and our water,” said Neskonlith Chief Judy Wilson, representing the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs. She said it was about “a new way, an inclusive, participatory way.”
Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc Coun. Viola Thomas said First Nations “need to stand up and exercise our own laws and give it expression,” and added a call to action, saying “It’s an opportunity for each of you not only to sign the declaration…. But to become actively engaged.”
Ugo Lapointe of MiningWatch Canada echoed the need to stand together. “We need to step up.”
And step up they did — groups ranging from the B.C. Assembly of First Nations to the Aberdeen Neighbourhood Association, Rivers Without Borders, Forest Protection Allies and West Coast Environmental Law.
Quite a few are already familiar names locally, including Kamloops Code Blue, Physicians for a Healthy Environment, the Kamloops Area Preservation Association and Kamloops Moms for Clean Air. Even the B.C. Green Party signed, and local NDP candidates sent a letter of support.
While I counted close to 20 groups who signed the declaration, there were quite a few others who couldn’t attend but sent messages of support, such as the David Suzuki Foundation, Sierra Club, Clayoquot Action and Wilderness Committee.
Missing were business groups, but it’s not surprising as a number of them, including the Kamloops Chamber of Commerce, are on record as being in support of the mine.
With KGHM Ajax determined to push ahead with the mine, this issue is far from over but, clearly, the momentum has shifted against it.