By Lloyd Dolha
A three-day BC First Nations Mining Summit in Prince George has produced a comprehensive BC First Nations Mineral Exploration and Mining Action Plan.
B.C. aboriginal leaders put together the plan to work with the provincial government and the mining industry on future mining projects.
Along with noted B.C. First Nations leaders, guest speakers included Minister of State for Mining Gordon Hogg, President of the Mining Association of B.C. Dave Parker, Executive Director of the Canadian Boreal Initiative Larry Innes, Vice-President of the Mining Association of Canada Rick Meyers, Deputy Grand Chief of the Innu Nation Peter Penashue, and former NWT Premier Stephen Kakfwi
First Nations Summit Grand Chief Edward John said aboriginal leaders wanted to find a way to incorporate court rulings on native title and rights into mining laws and activities in order to generate economic development that benefits everyone and respects the environment.
John told a gathering of about 300 people this week that mining of aboriginal territory has created mercury contamination of Pinchi Lake north of Fort St. James.
The lake is part of the Tl’azt’en Nation’s traditional territory where John is hereditary chief.
First Nations say until now, they’ve been forced to resort to legal action to ensure that their rights are protected.
Regional Chief Shawn Atleo said the plan will provide an opportunity for First Nations, government and the mining industry to work together rather than rely on the courts.
According to the First Nations Summit, mineral exploration in B.C. this year was worth $220 million, up 660% from 2001.
Dozens of proposed mining projects are on the books in northern B.C.
They include Terrane Metals’ $916-million gold and copper mine about 150 kilometres northwest of Prince George.
Kaska Nation leader Dave Porter told delegates a system that allows any company with a miner number, Internet connection and a credit card to stake land for a mineral exploration needs to be addressed.
“It is fundamentally a wrong notion that in our traditional territory somebody can fly in from Argentina, stake a claim and now have more rights than we do,” Porter said.
A draft action plan circulated to summit delegates that included a call for a First Nations declaration to prevent natural water bodies being used as mine tailings and waste pumps.
First Nations also want to establish a mining research fund that would benefit them, along with a model for profit and equity sharing in mining and exploration projects.
The draft also called for legislation that would require impact-benefit agreements between First nations and companies before environmental assessments start.
But the industry does not have a good record of past management of mines in BC. As of 2003, there were 1,887 closed or abandoned mines in BC, of which 1,171 are of environmental concern and present public health and safety issues. This record and the risk of it being repeated has been the source of conflict between First Nations and the mining industry.
The situation is exacerbated by BC’s free entry tenure system for mineral staking, in which prospectors acquire mineral rights by registering lands as mineral claims. There are now many thousands of these claims.
The BC First Nations Mineral Exploration and Mining Action Plan will not be publically released until it has gone through a process of community review by First Nations and ratified by First Nations in a special assembly.