True cohesion between government, Indigenous groups and the sector is the priority.
IMAGE: Courtesy of Endurance Gold Corporation
Indigenous people have inhabited the area that constitutes British Columbia for over 10,000 years. Today, they account for roughly 200,000 of the province’s population. There are 198 First Nations, Inuit and Métis with over 30 languages and nearly 60 dialects, all of which form the fabric of B.C. With a history of abuse towards Indigenous people, which included removing children from their families and forcing them to attend residential schools, B.C. is now entering an era of reconciliation and building a community in which Indigenous people and the industry can flourish. “It is vital that every mining company not forget the importance of engaging with First Nations. Most of the time, it is the dialogue that is the most crucial part of the process,” says Bob Faris, president and CEO, Shamrock Resources.
Modern-day treaties were negotiated in B.C. following King George III’s Royal Proclamation of 1763, where it was acknowledged that Indigenous land in North America was to remain in possession of each Nation until ‘ceased’ or ‘purchased’ by the Crown. The proclamation now falls under section 25 of the Constitution Act of 1982. Nations with a treaty gain jurisdictional power and can create rules and regulations that affect the mining permitting process. However, “in these negotiations, the First Nations group is made to give up many of the rights and title over their homeland. Tahltan land is vast and rich in minerals and other natural resources, and thus, we are not willing to give up or negotiate our rights, titles and territory,” said Chad Day, president of the Tahltan Nation.
Only a select few of B.C.’s Indigenous groups have established treaties with the government. Day is trying to modify the online staking program that the government administers for companies wanting to enter their land. “Through this system, people from all over the world are allowed to stake claims in our territory. We receive notifications of the permits and can then provide feedback or concerns,” Day added. Their goal is to develop a land use plan with the government, where some areas are open for business, and others are not. The determining factors will be assessing whether mining negatively impacts species, water, and the environment, and preserving culturally significant areas.
The focus of industry players on reconciliation and collaboration has led to the creation of the BC Regional Mining Alliance (BCRMA), a partnership between the provincial government, the Tahltan Central Government, the Nisga’a Lisims Government, the Association for Mineral Exploration, Dolly Varden Silver Corp., Skeena Resources Ltd. and GT Gold Corp. The target is to develop a culture of support amongst all actors from permitting to mine closure.
The BCRMA represents industry players in the Golden Triangle, a region in Northwest B.C. that has a 150-year mining history. Rich in gold, silver, zinc, copper, lead and molybdenum, the area covers nearly 25% of the province. With strong road connectivity, three new run-of-river hy- droelectric facilities, and the completion of the Northwest Transmission line, which provides miners access to the power grid rather than relying on diesel, the industry is strongly positioned for development. “Projects that were generally diesel-powered now have a chance to plug into US$0.04-kWh electricity. The far North will get serious amounts of snow, but the flip side is that we have a very supportive government, and local communities understand mining. The Tahltan, and the Nisga’a, who are south of us, are dream partners in terms of their understanding of mining,” said Walter Coles, president and CEO, Skeena Resources.
Skeena Resources, which has strong relationships with First Nations communities, aims to become a partner to international investors looking to operate in the Golden Triangle. “The potential for mineral deposits in the area is spectacular, and it is easier for global companies to partner with somebody local than to develop a First Nations relationship and a geological, regulatory expertise entirely on their own,“ added Coles.
Following the success of AME Roundup’s 2018 Reconciliation Breakfast, where Chief Dr. Robert Joseph, co-founder of Reconciliation Canada and hereditary chief of the Gwawaenuk First Nation, highlighted how “it’s always, always been about relationships, whether they’re good, or developing, or they’re broken,” the Association for Mineral Exploration (AME) is ready to host another successful event in 2019, sponsored by Teck Resources Limited. “It is very important for the mining industry and government to adapt to modern times and act in partnership with First Nations within the territories they want to operate in. We are starting to become more assertive, and our capacity and revenues are growing significantly. It is paramount for companies to recognize and fully respect the unique jurisdictions, rights and titles of First Nations people in British Columbia,” added Day.
The intent is certainly to ensure that companies not only enter and take from the land, but share and give back to communities, who have a deep knowledge of the land. B.C. is working on its image, in order to convey that the province is open for business, and able to support mining companies wanting to move into production. It hopes to increase transparency and public confidence, while advancing reconciliation with Indigenous groups. “Perception plays a key role in attracting investment, so building on the successes of the BC Regional Mining Alliance will help address any concerns directly,” Edie Thome, President and CEO, AME.
The permitting process has certainly dissuaded some from entering B.C., but these efforts ensure that communities and miners benefit from the territory’s local knowledge and skilled workforce. Sustainability must undergird the industry. “We must also remember that this province is the largest employer of Indigenous peoples, and they play a paramount role in developing the mining industry in B.C.,” said Bryan Cox, president and CEO, Mining Association of B.C.
Starting to operate on a global platform, the Tahltan Nation has established relationships with communities outside of Canada that face similar challenges. Day recently met with the Ngäbe Indigenous people of Panama and Costa Rica, who hold tens of thousands of acres of land in the region. Day believes that exporting knowledge on how to mitigate mining’s negative environmental impact and strengthen relationships between industry and communities is paramount to the Nation. “In Latin America, for example, the central government has the power to overrule the opinion of Indigenous groups, and there are many issues between local and central governments with regards to how much of the money received by the latter is reinvested into the communities,” said Brian Abraham, global mining expert, Dentons.
One of B.C.’s many strengths is the required consent and collaboration from First Nation’s groups, but this can also deter activity. Many projects can have numerous Nations in their holding, which means that they must communicate with each and reach a unanimous decision to move forward. “There is no true alignment of objectives amongst them, and the strength and claim of each group must thus be considered. The B.C. government has an incentive where a percentage of the revenue (resource revenue sharing) from a successful mining project is shared with Indigenous groups in terms of tax revenue, but First Nations will then also request community benefit agreements or employment and training initiatives to be implemented,” added Abraham.
A prime example is the C$7.9 billion Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines project, which aimed to build parallel pipelines from Bruderheim, Alberta to Kitimat, B.C., carrying gas condensate and diluted bitumen for export to Asia via seaborne tanker. “33 Indigenous groups were re- quired to sign an approval, 29 did and four did not, so the project did not move forward. Companies need to make everyone happy here despite the global polarity of opinion,” said Peter Espig, president and CEO, Nicola Mining.
True cohesion between government, Indigenous groups and the mining sector is still in the works, but B.C. is committed to building collaboration that will enable all parties to benefit from the province’s mineral riches.