The Battle Over Fish Lake

Jacquelyn Weddell

Indigenous Religious Traditions

Bruce Coriell

November 13, 2012

The Battle over Fish Lake

Fish Lake in British Columbia is one of the largest copper and gold depositories in Canada. The untapped copper and gold in this area will help meet the growing demand in the world. The Mining Company, Taseko Mines, wants to build an open pit mine called Prosperity Mine in this area. However, Fish Lake lies on sacred land to the Tsilhqot’in Nation.[1] (Indigenous people refer to the lake as Teztan Biny. For simplicity sake, the term Fish Lake will be used throughout this paper.) The result is battle of scarce resources between groups who view the land to be sacred for different purposes.

Taseko Mines views the mineral deposit at Fish Lake as a national treasure, and has actively pursued building an open pit mine called Prosperity Mine in this location. The first proposal for Prosperity Mine was denied in 2010 because of adverse environmental impacts on the fish, grizzly bears, and current use of land and resources by First Nations.[2] Taseko Mines redesigned the proposal in another attempt to build Prosperity Mine. The new executive summary of the proposal states,

“Many elements and features of the New Prosperity Project design are identical to the original plan… There have been no changes to the proposed open pit or milling operations and facilities; and there have been no changes proposed for the access road, power line or rail load-out facilities that are also components of the project. The most significant of which is the relocation of the tailings pond 2.5 km upstream of Fish Lake, will ensure the preservation of the lake, as well as the fish and fish habitat associated with the lake.”[3]

However, the Tsilhqot’in Nation does not believe the alterations to the proposal will mitigate the negative effects of the mine. Instead, they believe, despite the relocation of the tailing pond, the mine will greatly harm the Tsilhqot’in Nation. The Tsilhqot’in Nation depends on the surrounding area for economic revenue, and as a means to maintain their culture. The indigenous people of the Tsilhqot’in Nation view Fish Lake and the surrounding area as sacred. The mine would destroy a place of spiritual power and healing. Members of the Tsilhqot’in Nation use the island in Fish Lake to conduct ceremonies to receive visions or other spiritual events. Generations of graves reside in this area., Fish Lake is used as an educational place where elders teach children cultures and values. Additionally, a unique species of Rainbow Trout is found in this lake and is essential to their culture and way of life. The Prosperity Mine Review Panel Assessment determined the first “the loss of the [Fish Lake areas] for current use activities, ceremonies, teaching, and cultural and spiritual practices would be irreversible, of high magnitude and have a long-term effect on the Tsilhqot’in [Nation]”[4]. The healthy lake is the center of the surrounding ecosystem. Besides the Rainbow Trout as a valuable source of food for the Tsilhqot’in Nation, the Indigenous people also rely on hunting, harvesting and trapping in this area as a way of life. Toxic wasteland from the mine would greatly harm these animals and plants. The negative impacts of the mine would seriously harm the sacred land and the natives to the land.

The Indigenous people are not the only group that relies on the health of Fish Lake. Fish Lake resides in the Top of the World Provincial Park. Throughout the year many hikers, fishers, hunters, skiers, and horse riders come to Fish Lake to bask in nature’s beauty. It is known as one of the alpine gems. It is an extremely beautiful area that welcomes families and adventurers alike to enjoy the peaceful seclusion of the Rocky Mountains.[5] The mine threatens to harm these adventures through the building of access road to the mine, power lines, noise pollution, and water contamination.

There is also long-term threat that acid waste from the mine will contaminate the surrounding rivers and lakes. The interconnections of the river system enable the leakage to travel from Fish Lake to the Taseko River, and ultimately to the large Frasier River. [6]  This leads to widespread contamination of the watershed and all that rely on this system. The mine will threaten not only will the fish in Fish Lake, but fish and water throughout the Canadian river system.

[7] [8] (Maps of Prosperity Mine on Fish Lake, and the greater watershed)

However, others argue the need for the scarce minerals located near Fish Lake. Taseko Miner sees the land as sacred for what is beneath it. The deposit of ore and gold is one of the largest in the world. Access to the deposit will fill the gap between the increasing demand and the decreasing supply. Construction of the mine will provide 57,000 jobs over the 20 years of operation and add $11 billion GDP. [9] Thus, Taseko Mine sees the endeavor as helping greater society.

There is a difference of the definition of sacred between different cultures. The Tsilhqot’in Nation views the land of and surrounding Fish Lake as sacred because it has been the area of ceremonies and rituals. It is a land of education and a stable to their way of life. Sportsmen see the land as sacred because it serves as an escape from the hustle of society. It is a beautiful area to camp, fish, and be immersed in the surrounding beauty.

The battle remains one over the allocation of scarce resources. Fish Lake remains a vital resource for the Tsilhqot’in Nation and adventures, while the gold is a resource for the rest of the world. “The Tsilhqot’in people do not want a project of this size, with such environmental risk and in an area as important as Fish Lake. We welcome other opportunities to develop mining projects in less sensitive areas, but the Tsilhqot’in Nation is fully opposed to this project,” said Tsilhqot’in Nation Tribal Chair Chief Joe Alphonse.[10] Taseko Mine has shown willingness to compromise by altering the plan. The future depends on the ability of two different cultures to compromise about the sparse land and resources.




[1] Bruner, Thomas J. “The Fight for Fish Lake.” Raven’s Eye [British Columbia] Feb. 208: 19. Print.

[2] EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 2012 Taseko Mines Limited

[3] EXECUTIVE SUMMARY. 2012 Taseko Mines Limited

[4] Backgrounder Prosperity Mine Review Panel Assessment. 5 July 2010

[5] British Columbia Ministry of Environment. Top of the World Provincial Park

[6] Williams, David. “Fish Lake Is Not a Tailing Pond.” Watershed Sentenial 19.2 (2009): n. pag. Web. <http://>.

[7] Williams, David. “Fish Lake Is Not a Tailing Pond.” Watershed Sentenial 19.2 (2009): n. pag. Web. <http://>.

[8] Fraser River (British Columbia)

[9] EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 2012 Taseko Mines Limited


[10]  Creek, Alexis. “‘Stand Ground’ Against New Prosperity Mine at Taseko AGM.” Indian Country Today Media Network. N.p., 7 June 2012. Web.

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