Dakelh Traditional Territory/Prince George, BC: A three-day BC First Nations Mining Summit in Prince George, which included a day of meetings between First Nations Chiefs and leaders with government and industry officials, has produced a comprehensive BC First Nations Mineral Exploration and Mining Action Plan.
“Our Summit was driven by the need to find a way to incorporate successive court rulings on aboriginal title and rights into BC mining laws, practices and activities in order to generate economic development that benefits everyone and respects the environment,” said Grand Chief Edward John, Political Executive, First Nations Summit. “And our Action Plan is designed to do this.”
“The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that there must be meaningful consultation and participation, respecting Aboriginal title and rights, with First Nations before any project can proceed,” said BC Regional Chief Shawn Atleo. “Respecting these decisions, the Mineral Exploration and Mining Action Plan provides and opportunity for First Nations, government, and the mining industry to work together rather than rely on the courts.”
Carrier Sekani Tribal Chief David Luggi said: “The key for First Nations – and the stated vision behind this plan – is to ensure that we play a lead role in, and benefit from, a growing, competitive, safe, environmentally responsible and sustainable mining industry. It must uphold our cultural principles as a priority. Our socio-economic objectives are constitutionally protected.”
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President, Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said: “Over the three days of the Summit, all parties that spoke agreed on the pressing and urgent need to find a way forward, and that the growing potential for greater conflict, if solutions are not found, has never been greater.”
Mineral exploration in BC this year totals $220 million – up 660% from 2001. In 2007, half of the proposed major mine projects nationwide were located in BC. More than 60% of Canadian exploration and mineral companies are based in BC. The mining sector directly employs 9300 people (on the average earning $94,000 a year) and another 8,000 are employed in related sectors.
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 create a source of conflict for mineral exploration and development. This must be addressed.
First Nations are not opposed to a sustainable mining future for BC but must be a part of it. They have been force to date to resort to legal action to ensure that their title, rights and interests are protected. 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, which will now be re-distributed for further feedback and approval from BC First Nations, offers a proactive road map for provincial, federal and First Nations governments to work together with industry to achieve recognition, sustainability, and collective economic benefit.
For more information, visit www.bcfnms.ca
Media contact: Kevin Ward, 604-836-0800
UBCIC is a NGO in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations.