With forestry and fishing in decline, BC First Nation sees mining opportunities
AME, the lead association for the mineral exploration and development industry in resource-rich British Columbia (BC), hosted more than 6,000 people from 44 countries at its AME Roundup conference in Vancouver last week.
British Columbia is home to 198 First Nations, and its mining industry is valued at over C$5 billion.
BC Regional Mining Alliance (BCRMA), an alliance between the Province of British Columbia, the Tahltan Central Government, the Nisga’a Lisims Government, AME, and industry members working in BC’s Golden triangle hosted a panel discussion recognizing the 20th anniversary of the Nisga’a Treaty, the first treaty in British Columbia to provide constitutional certainty in respect of Aboriginal people’s Section 35 right to self-government. It recognizes Nisga’a Lands and opened the door for joint economic initiatives in the development of the Nisga’a Nation’s natural resources.
The BCRMA of is an example of the Nisga’a Treaty vision, and its mandate is reconciliation. Some of the Nisga’a Nation’s lands are located in the lower end of the BC’s Golden Triangle, known for million-ounce deposits, and where the wold’s largest silver mine, Eskay Creek is located.
Corinne McKay, Secretary-Treasurer, Nisga’a Nation, said with forestry and fishing industries in decline, the Nisga’a recognizes that mining creates opportunities for First Nations.
“We see the opportunities. We are interested in sharing our vision for the environmental protection chapter that we adhere to and we are we interested in collaborating,” McKay said.
McKay said that with a seat at the negotiating table, dialogue turned into partnerships, and that relations with the mining industry are positive.
“We’re not having to protest, we’re not having to object, we’re not having to go to court, we’re just having respectful dialogue,” McKay said.
“We have the ability to use the provisions of our environmental protection chapter on Nisga’a lands, and we have rights on the greater Nass [Valley] area, so we see the advantage to work with industry and to convey any issues of concern with industry, and address any issues of concern in a proactive way, rather than a reactive way.”
“[People] are asking for an audience, and that’s something we appreciate. “We’re able to ask questions, we’re able to understand,” she said.
Peter Robb, Assistant Deputy Minister, Ministry of Energy, Mines & Petroleum Resources, said BCRMA’s background of building partnerships is based on UNDRIP legislation.
“We’re wanting to dispell some of the myths about investing in British Columbia and working with indigenous peoples through our declaration,” Robb said.
“Everybody knows about the great geology here…We’re a pretty big mining jurisdiction, we think of BC as a real mining hub.”
Robb pointed out that in BC’s the Northwest 54% of mining exploration takes place on traditional territories of the Nisga’a and the Tahltan.
“I think the mining industry and the excavation industry have figured out that to build a project you need to build partnerships early,” he said.
Robb said the BCRMA is a pilot that hopes to lay the framework for building relationships and partnerships with other First Nations.
“It helps build a labour force, and helps with some of the opposition facing the mining industry in British Columbia,” Robb said.
Robb emphasized that social license for industrial engagement is now a hard issue.
“It’s not going to go back to 20 years ago, when you wrote a pitch on a napkin and you get a permit. It’s never going to get easy like that again. The first time a local indigenous group sees a referral you sent to them in the mail- you are sunk. There’s no way to get back on track after that.”
Robb said the miners that are making progress and moving forward are the ones building partnerships, early.
“If you come in with fully baked ideas about what you want to do, permitting will be hard. But if you really think it through, and work with both government and local First Nations, it can be easier, and things can get done a lot faster.”
In November 2019 the provincial government passed the legislation in November 2019 to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, which the Truth and Reconciliation Commission confirms as the framework for reconciliation.
The B.C. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act aims to create a path forward that respects the human rights of Indigenous peoples while introducing better transparency.