British Columbia’s Tsilhqot’in First Nation publish new policy for mining, oil and gas

Exploration and extraction in our territory will not happen without our participation and agreement’ — Chief Joe Alphonse. Image from Tsilhqot’in National Government.

Nine years after the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed Tsilhqot’in rights and title on specific lands in and around Chilko Lake, the Tsilhqot’in First Nation have published a new policy for oil and gas and mineral extraction.

The Tsilhqot’in have fiercely opposed mining in their territory – notably the Taseko Mines (TSX:TKO) Prosperity copper mine. The federal government twice rejected the mine proposal, based in no small part on the concerns the Tsilhqot’in raised over the potential impacts on Fish Lake, which the Tsilhqot’in call Teztan Biny.

The proposed mine lies just outside the area that the Supreme Court recognized at Tsilhqot’in title lands, but within Tsilhqot’in rights area.

In 2010, the Stephen Harper government denied the Prosperity mine an environmental certificate. In 2014, the Harper government again denied a permit for a revised mine plan, called New Prosperity. That was the same year that the Supreme Court of Canada also made a landmark ruling that acknowledged Tsilhqot’in title to a core piece of territory in the Chilko Lake area, as well as Tsilhqot’in rights extending to a wider area.

To provide greater clarity on what is and isn’t allowed in terms of exploration and mining, the Tsilhqot’in have published a new policy for mining and oil and gas.

Tsilhqot'in territory map

Tsilhqot’in rights and title map shows Prosperity mine area (Fish Lake).

“The Tsilhqot’in Nation will consider culturally and ecologically conscious development of natural resources in the Tsilhqot’in traditional territory, provided the ecological and cultural values of the Tsilhqot’in are respected and there are significant long term social and economic benefits for Tsilhqot’in communities,” the new policy states.

The policy states the Tsilhqot’in will “consider partnership and ownership opportunities with mining and exploration companies.” It also states the Tsilhqot’in will increase capacity training to ensure Tsilhqot’in people benefit from jobs, training and contracts.

The policy sets certain conditions for exploration and mining, however, including:

  • ensuring nen (ancestral land) is “returned to a state acceptable to the Tsilhqot’in”;
  • exploration agreements and impacts benefit agreements will be required “prior to approval of any exploration or mining project”; and
  • require resource revenue for the Tsilhqot’in from mining

“The Tŝilhqot’in mining policy outlines what must happen for mining and exploration to be considered by the Nation,” Chief Joe Alphonse, tribal chairman of the Tŝilhqot’in National Government, said in a press release.

“Our work over recent years to develop a policy is reinforced by the recent victory by Gitxaała Nation and Ehattesaht First Nation to overturn B.C’s mineral staking system that was based on a complete denial of Indigenous rights B.C.”

He referred to a recent decision by the BC Supreme Court that directs the provincial government to change the way minerals claims are registered so that First Nations are notified and consulted.

“We know the importance of minerals to the global economy but nothing is more important to life and the environment that sustains it,” Alphonse said. “The pandemic has shown us that we can adapt quickly with the right leadership.

“As we adapt to reduce the impacts of the climate crisis there willbe increased pressure to access minerals. But let it be clear, exploration and extraction in our territory will not happen without our participation and agreement.”

“While we haven’t engaged with the Tsilhqot’in or have any firsthand knowledge of their policy goals, the TNG mining policy is not unusual,” said Michael Goehring, CEO of the Mining Association of BC.

“It appears to be largely consistent with the expectations and aspirations expressed by other indigenous nations in BC who want to protect the land and resources while also advancing responsible mineral development that maximizes benefits to Tsilhqot’in communities through their active engagement and participation in consent-based decision making processes.”

(This article first appeared in Business in Vancouver)