British Columbia

Native protesters block northern B.C. highway

Native protesters have halted almost all industrial traffic to logging and mining sites near Fort St. James, B.C., and are demanding to speak with MLA Pat Bell or MP Nathen Cullen.

Demonstrators demand to speak with provincial, federal politicians

Native protesters have halted almost all industrial traffic to logging and mining sites near Fort St. James, B.C., and are demanding to speak with local politicians.

Since Wednesday, 14 protesters from the Nak'azdli Band have blocked Highway 27 at Necoslie Road over safety concerns with industrial traffic.

Highway 27 is the only highway through Fort St. James and the only route to logging sites and construction at the Mount Milligan mine.

Local vehicles are being allowed through, but RCMP Const. Leslie Smith said the situation has grown tense.

"Blocking down the entire highway is causing a lot of stress for that community," said Smith. "You know there have been heightened emotions from the drivers of these commercial trucks."

After late-night negotiations, the Nak'azdli protesters are now allowing two trucks through every hour. A three-hour detour around the blockade is in effect for other commercial vehicles.

RCMP negotiating with protesters

The RCMP is negotiating with the protesters and Smith said the group is demanding to speak to MLA Pat Bell or MP Nathen Cullen.

"The leader of the blockade is now making demands to speak to a member of Parliament so they can be heard. We do believe this is going to come to a peaceful outcome but we just ask the community to stay with us at this time," said Smith.

Thursday morning, Nak'azdli Chief Fred Sam said the protesters are "traditional stewards of the land," acting without the band's blessing. 

Sam said band members are trying to get the attention of the province in order to strike a deal on the sharing of resource revenue.

In a statement released Thursday afternoon, the Nak'azdli chief and council clarified the protesters' position, saying they understand their frustration. 

"Through discussions with the Nak'azdli members that have set up the information gateway, it has been stated by Tsoh Daih (Pete Erickson) 'The issue can be summed up in one word SAFETY this is an issue that all Fort St. James residents can relate with due to the increase in traffic,'" the council wrote.

Logging, mining operations halted

The blockade has shut down local logging and closed the route to a major construction site at the Mount Milligan mine, owned by Terrane Metals Corp.

The Mount Milligan mine site, about 150 kilometres northeast of Prince George, is under construction and will become an open pit gold and copper mine. (Terrane Metals)

Hugh MacDonald of Frost Lake Logging said his operations are at a standstill. 

"We can't move any wood right now because of the blockade. Our crews are down, all our contractors are down, several other big contractors aren't moving anything either," said MacDonald.

Jocelyn Fraser, of Thompson Creek Metals, said the blockade has stopped 10 trucks from delivering construction materials to the billion-dollar Mount Milligan mine site.  

The federal government approved development of the open-pit copper and gold mine in December 2010, despite the objections of the Nak'azdli Indian Band, which vowed to fight the project.

With files from the CBC's Betsy Trumpener