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BC and Tahltan Sign ‘Historic’ Mining Agreement

Following years of conflict about industrial development, the nation will have equal say on a new mine expansion.

Amanda Follett Hosgood 2 Nov 2023The Tyee

Amanda Follett Hosgood is The Tyee’s northern B.C. reporter. She lives in Wet’suwet’en territory. Find her on Twitter @amandajfollett.

B.C. and the Tahltan Nation have entered into an agreement that will give both parties decision-making powers over the expansion of a copper-gold mine on the nation’s traditional territory.

The agreement, which was signed Wednesday, outlines a collaborative process that will see both the Tahltan and B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office embark on parallel reviews of proposed changes to the Red Chris Mine.

The mine, which is owned by Australia-based Newcrest Mining, is located 15 kilometres south of the Tahltan community of Iskut and employs about 200 Tahltan members, according to a report issued by the nation earlier this year. Tahltan traditional territory encompasses 95,933 of square kilometres in northwest B.C.

The agreement has been a long time coming, Tahltan Central Government president Chad Norman Day said at yesterday’s announcement.

“I’m super honoured to be here representing the Tahltan Nation,” said Day, who shared that his first summer job was at the mine. “It’s extremely important for the province and for the Tahltan Nation to come together in a good way and to create agreements of this sort that recognize Tahltan has inherent title and rights in our traditional territory.”

Day credited the BC NDP government for working with the nation to bring provincial decision-making in line with the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, which became law four years ago. This is B.C.’s second agreement under Section 7 of the act, which provides a path for agreements with Indigenous governing bodies on joint decision-making.

Last year, B.C. and the Tahltan entered into a similar agreement — the first of its kind in the province — to jointly review the Eskay Creek Mine, which is proposed for Tahltan territory.

In 2019, the two governments signed an agreement, called the Klappan Plan, meant to give the nation greater control over decision-making about industry in its territory.

The agreement followed years of conflict over industrial development on Tahltan territory, including Shell Canada’s plans to drill for coal-bed methane in an area known as the Sacred Headwaters.

B.C. Mines Minister Josie Osborne and Indigenous Relations Minister Murray Rankin both described Wednesday’s agreement as “historic.”

With the new agreement in place, B.C. Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman said Tahltan consent is “explicitly recognized as a prerequisite” for changes to Red Chris Mine’s environmental assessment certificate. A statement issued following the announcement said the nation and B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office will “collaboratively carry out their own assessment processes” on the proposed changes.

“The agreement on both the Eskay Creek Mine and the amendment process for Red Chris are really the first ones that will be such complete collaboration from the beginning to the end of the process,” Heyman said. That process will include both western science and Traditional Indigenous Knowledge, he added.

“In the end, both the Tahltan and the EAO will reach our own conclusions. I would expect that because we’ll be working so closely together, that those conclusions will be aligned,” he said.

In its statement, the province spoke to the importance of “clarity for major project interests,” a nod to industry’s need for regulatory certainty.

Government’s requirement to consult with Indigenous communities, something recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada, has been blamed for creating uncertainty for the natural resource industry.

Iskut Band Chief Marie Quock also spoke about certainty for the Tahltan Nation and its members.

“Many times we hear the word certainty. Certainty for projects to move ahead, certainty for the province. We’ve never really had certainty for our people,” Quock said at the agreement signing. “I feel that this agreement brings our people certainty — certainty that their lands will be protected, that mining will be done in the right way.”

That approach is new, Quock added.

“This is paving a new way for all other Indigenous people and for all of B.C.,” she said.

She added that the community is pleased with the agreement. “Because we now have a say where we didn’t before.”

Tahltan Band Chief Carmen McPhee added that the agreement would give the nation the “ability to say yes or no to the project’s expansion.”

“We have to keep in mind the changes to the land, because changes to the land is a change to our lifestyle,” she said.

Newcrest hopes to make “substantial changes” at the Red Chris Mine, Heyman said, including transitioning from an open-pit mine to underground mining using a process known as block caving.

Ben Wither, Newcrest’s vice-president of health, safety, environment and permitting in Western Canada, was present at the announcement and said the company is proud to be involved in the “landmark agreement.” He recognized Newcrest’s role as guests on Tahltan land.

“I think it’s important that we make sure that the approval process and evaluation includes that as part of the decision-making,” he said.

On Thursday morning, B.C. announced that it is beginning new discussions with the Tahltan on a similar agreement related to proposed changes to previously approved Galore Creek copper and gold mine.  [Tyee]

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