By Lloyd Dolha
A new Internet-based system for acquiring title to mineral and placer claims in British Columbia has raised the hackles of at least one northern First Nation in the province.
“This unprecedented allocation of mineral exploration rights to third parties involving our traditional territory causes us great concern,” said Chief Leonard Thomas, of the Nak’azdli First Nation.
Announced by the Ministry of Energy and Mines in January, Mineral Titles Online is a Web-based mineral tenure administration system that is accompanied by an Internet-based map selection process for acquiring mining claims 24 hours a day, seven days a week from any computer with Internet access.
MTO went fully operational online on January 12, and is the latest step in the provincial government’s strategy to further streamline administration in the mining claims process in an effort to boost mining investment in the province.
Within a week of its launch, the tenure web site received more than two and a half million hits and registered 3,110 claims.
The launch of MTO was preceded by amendments to the Mineral Tenure Act and regulations that eliminated more than 300 regulatory requirements.
As a result of provincial efforts to streamline the regulatory process and rising commodity prices, exploration spending in mining has taken off in the last few years.
In 2001, exploration spending in BC was $29 million. By 2003, it more than doubled to $63 million. Forecasts now suggest that in 2004 mineral exploration could run as high as $120 million.
The unprecedented staking of claims on traditional territories subject to aboriginal claims has First Nations doubting the provincial government’s duty to consult and accommodate First Nations concerns as recently highlighted by the Supreme Court of Canada in the Haida and Taku River Tlingit decisions.
“It’s pretty clear to me that the provincial government is neither respecting the spirit or direction of the Supreme Court of Canada in its recent Haida and Taku rulings,” said Chief Thomas.
“The court stated that the honour of the Crown commits the government to consult with us whenever it has knowledge of an activity that could impact our aboriginal title and rights. Essentially, the government has burdened our traditional territory with numerous third party claims without carrying through on its duty to consult and possibly accommodate us.”
The Nak’azdli traditional territory has been over-run by online claims, with one claim alone reported to be 1,200 square kilometres in size, just north of the First Nations’ village near Fort St. James.
Chief Thomas said that the provincial government is creating undue strain on their time and resources by constantly forcing the First Nation to monitor their territory against provincial infringements, taking valuable energy from other priorities.
“Because this online scheme operates on a provincial scale, I think all BC First Nations will want to respond to it,” said Chief Thomas. “As it is, I think the program is legally suspect and should not go unchallenged.”
Pat Bell, minister of state for mining said mineral title staking system is not infringing on the level of aboriginal consultation or has any impact on the level of aboriginal consultation.
Bell explained that the appropriate time for consultation is when activities are about to take place on the land and doesn’t take place until a notice of work is given to the ministry.