Marilyn Baptiste, a B.C. activist who helped lead the fight against a proposed open pit copper and gold mine, has won one of the world’s largest international awards for grassroots environmental activism.
Baptiste, a councillor with the Xeni Gwet’in First Nation, is one of six recipients who will be in San Francisco on Monday to each accept the $175,000 Goldman Environmental Prize.
The activist was chosen for her effort in leading her community in twice defeating the proposed New Prosperity Mine near Williams Lake, in B.C.’s Cariboo region.
“So many times, people always said that, ‘You’ll never win against something like this, it’s huge,'” Baptiste said in an interview with CBC.
“I did realize that. I said that to myself that this is pretty huge, you know, but you know what? This is our territory and we have never given up our land and our title. Never.”
The Goldman Environmental Foundation has credited Baptiste for preparing First Nations submissions for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency in 2010.
The submissions argued the New Prosperity Mine would threaten Teztan Biny, or Fish Lake, which holds spiritual and economic significance for the Xeni Gwet’in and other Tsilhqot’in Nations.
First Nations activists fighting the New Prosperity Mine proposal said the development would kill Fish Lake, preventing access to a place of spiritual importance. (CBC)
After the environmental review, the federal government rejected the mine proposal in 2010.
When Taseko Mines submitted a revised proposal in 2011, Baptiste began a one-woman road blockade that stopped construction crews from accessing the proposed mine site. The federal government rejected the mine again in early 2014.
Later that year, the Supreme Court of Canada granted the Tsilqot’in Nation title to more than 1,700 square kilometres of land encompassing the Nemiah Valley, where Baptiste lives.
“Marilyn worked tirelessly with community and other Tsilhqot’in Chiefs to protect Tsilhqot’in lands from the Prosperity/New Prosperity projects and this prestigious award is a great encouragement to all of us,” said Xeni Gwet’in Chief Roger William, who was the named plaintiff in the historic Supreme Court of Canada decision last summer on Aboriginal Title, declaring the right of the Tsilhqot’in to full ownership, benefit and control of our land, culture and way of life.
“This is a great honor to have one of our community members and leaders acknowledged for their work. We are proud of Marilyn and we celebrate with her success,” said Chief William. Tsilhqot’in Tribal Chair Chief Joe Alphonse said: “This reminder is very timely and helpful
Other winners of the Goldman Environmental Prize are Phyllis Omido from Kenya, Myint Zaw from Burma (Myanmar), Howard Wood from Scotland, Jean Wiener from Haiti and Berta Caceres from Honduras.