In January 2010, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) began its review of the mine, and Baptiste led the First Nation’s involvement in the investigation. She convened a diverse group of tribal chiefs, elders, and scientific experts to prepare comprehensive data about the Xeni Gwet’in and Tsilhqot’in environmental, cultural, and economic relationship with their land. The data was presented at CEAA hearings and helped inform the panel’s report.
Heeding the CEAA’s findings, the federal government soundly rejected the mine in November 2010. Its stock prices tumbled, but determined to proceed, TML submitted a revised proposal in 2011 and began moving heavy machinery into the Fish Lake area.
Baptiste responded immediately, initiating a one-woman road blockade that prevented construction crews from accessing the proposed mine site. She bravely defended her people’s land, turning long lines of trucks and machinery around.
In December 2011, the BC Supreme Court denied TML’s request to force the Tsilhqot’in to stop blocking the company’s access to the mine site. The court went a step further, issuing an injunction prohibiting TML from starting any work at the site, including road-building and forest clearing.
Meanwhile, TML’s revised proposal was met with scathing reports from the CEAA panel, and in early 2014, the federal government once again rejected the mine.
Baptiste and her fellow leaders on the Xeni Gwet’in council, in collaboration with leadership from the Yunesit’in and the broader Tsilhqot’in Nation, are now working to permanently protect Fish Lake and the surrounding area as Dasiqox Tribal Park. This designation firmly establishes their rights to continue managing their land sustainably and say no to destructive industrial practices that do not reflect their cultural and environmental ethos.
While Fish Lake is not included in the 430,000 acres of traditional territory whose legal title was awarded to the Tsilhqot’in in a recent Canadian Supreme Court ruling, the historic decision sets a powerful precedent for First Nations’ title to their land and is expected to bolster the case for the Xeni Gwet’in’s rights in their territory.