First Nations group issue policy for mining on traditional territory

December 2, 2014

Four First Nations band in south central British Columbia unveiled a policy dictating the rules under which any mining company can operate on its traditional territory.

The document compiled by the Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw Leadership Council, made up of leaders of the Northern Shuswap Tribal Council, contains dozens of conditions and comes as the provincial government continues to review how to best deal with natural resource projects in light of the landmark Supreme Court of Canada decision on aboriginal land rights in June, The Vancouver Sun reported.

"This is not about ending all mining," said Chief Patrick Harry, of the Stswecem'c/Xgat'tem (Canoe and Dog Creek) First Nation, in a joint statement. "It is about ending the practice of anyone being allowed to stake a claim anywhere they want, exploring wherever they want, and developing projects regardless of our rights, concerns and objections."

The four First Nations are the Xat'sull (Soda Creek), T'exelc (Williams Lake), Tsq'escen' (Canim Lake) and Stswecem'c/Xgat'tem (Canoe and Dog Creek First Nation) First Nations.

The 5.6 million hectares of land covered by the policy are home to four operating hard rock mines, including Imperial Metals' Mount Polley Mine, site of a major tailings pond breach this summer, and Taseko's Gibraltar Mine. Taseko has earned the wrath of First Nations in the area by pushing the New Prosperity gold-copper project that has failed two separate federal environmental reviews since 2010.

Companies, including Gold Fields, Newmont, Bearing Resources and Great Western Resources, have explored in the region in recent years, and there are several thousand claims, the First Nations say.

David Haslam, a spokesman for the B.C. mines ministry said Victoria is reviewing the policy, but noted the province has negotiated more than 200 agreements, mostly on economic matters, over the past four years.

The policy announced Monday is believed to be the first of its kind in B.C., according to Amy Crook of the Fair Mining Collaborative. Crook was contracted by the Northern Shuswap Tribal Council leaders to help draft the document.

It declares in a preamble that current B.C. laws don't adequately protect the environment, and that First Nations haven't been adequately compensated for mine development.

Using language from the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, it says mining activity on First Nations' traditional territories can't take place without their "free, prior and informed consent."

It says proponents or the Crown must engage in "meaningful" consultations to obtain that consent, must provide adequate compensation for any harms or losses, and must engage in mining operations using the "Precautionary Principle and the Principle of Intergenerational Equity."


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