BC Mining: Agreement Reached with First Nation


The BC government says it has reached a first-of-its-kind “consent-based” agreement with a First Nation on land use, changing the way resource projects progress on its territory.

The agreement with Tahltan’s central government affects how decisions are made in the environmental assessment process for the Eskay Creek mining project, but the province said the common intention is to create a model for sustainable mining and environmental standards.

Premier John Horgan announced the agreement on Monday, saying it represents a “true partnership” between the Tahltan and the province that recognizes the nation’s rights and title.

“Overall it’s deep,” Horgan said. “When investors look to British Columbia, they will look to a territory, a jurisdiction, that has shared decision-making at its core so that we can develop the unique resources we have here to meet the needs of a changing environment.

The agreement is the first in Canada to be concluded in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, said Murray Rankin, Minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation. The declaration calls for the free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples when governments make decisions that affect them.

In November 2019, British Columbia passed the Declaration Act, making it the first jurisdiction in the country to officially implement it.

However, the NDP government has repeatedly stated that free, prior and informed consent does not mean a “veto” over proposed resource projects. This was reiterated on Monday.

“It’s not a veto, but what it is is the ability to get consent,” Rankin said.

The difference between a typical environmental assessment process and a consent-based process is that the Tahltan will have the opportunity to consent to the process in advance, Rankin said. The BC government will then proceed with the assessment and if successful, the project will proceed directly to licensing.

“Our hope is that because of the heavy Tahltan involvement along the way, with the environmental assessment aspect of things, getting permits should go a lot faster,” Rankin said.

The goal is also for B.C.’s environmental assessment to supersede any federal assessment, he said.

Tahltan President Chad Norman Day said it was “extremely important” that the nation’s rights and values ​​be at the heart of any project in its territory. Becoming the first indigenous group to sign such an agreement is an accomplishment, he said.

“I often tell people that whether the government is orange, red, blue or green, the Tahltan Nation will always be covered in lots of gold, silver, copper and lots of other minerals. So it’s important that we build those structures and do it right,” he said.

The Tahltan Territory covers approximately 11% of the province and contains the richest mineral potential in British Columbia, including the “Golden Triangle”, where private sector investment has been and continues to be significant, according to the Government of British Columbia.

The proposed mine at Eskay Creek is approximately 85 kilometers northwest of Stewart, British Columbia.

Skeena Resources Ltd. acquired the land in 2020 and proposed a new high-grade open pit gold and silver mine on the site. It was previously the location of an underground gold and silver mine from 1994 until its closure in 2008.

Justin Himmelright, senior vice president of external affairs and sustainability at Skeena Resources, said the original mine left a legacy of assets, including road access and tailings management facilities.

“The part that was missing from the Eskay Creek project is that because it was permitted at a time when Native consent was not the norm at the time, it never got the formal consent of the Tahltan nation,” he said.

Himmelright called this consent a “very, very important step” that will be fundamental to the success of the project.

The mine is expected to generate $730 million in provincial tax revenue and create 300 to 500 jobs, he said.

The BC government said the consent agreement sets out how Tahltan and the province will be accountable and transparent throughout the environmental assessment process, how they will work together, and includes a provision for the settlement of disputes.

Day said the Tahltan Nation already has a strong internal system for reaching consensus among its members.

“The Tahltan people will ultimately decide whether or not this project will come to fruition. The way it’s structured is that our consent is required to operationalize and build this project, so it’s something the Tahltan Nation has never had before in an agreement,” Day said.

“We have more tools in the toolkit than ever before. »

– By Amy Smart in Vancouver.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 6, 2022.

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