First Nation groups set mining policy in Canada

By Antonio Torrisi
Published: Wednesday, 31 December 2014

First Nations release new code for mining in British Columbia More transparent rules on mines management and reclamation Companies and government called to discuss new projects

Four First Nation groups have released a set of mining rules to apply to all existing and proposed mining projects in the Williams Lake area, in British Columbia (BC), Canada.

The new mining legislation was set by Xat’sull (Soda Creek), T’exelc (Williams Lake Indian Band), Tsq’escen (Canim Lake) and Stswecem’c/Xgat’tem (Canoe & Dog Creek) First Nation groups and covers an area of 5m ha (50,000km2) in the Cariboo and Chilcotin regions in BC.

According to the policy, the First Nation will lease permits for mining activities and will be notified by Canada’s and BC’s government about permits, applications and proposals, through written communication.

The First Nation also requires active participation in the final committee tasked with assessing mining projects in BC and in the granting of mining rights. It will also designate a natural resources manager for each mining activity.

BC hosts several industrial minerals projects including Taseko Mines and Commerce Resources’ niobium projects, International Montoro Resources’ Chucinka rare earths, Heemskirk Consolidated’s Moberly frac sand, Encanto Potash Corp.’s Muskowekman potash and Eagle Graphite Corp’s graphite projects. In addition, Prima Diamond’s Liard fluorspar project is also located in the northern part of the state.

Reasons for new rules

Bev Sellars, chief of the Soda Creek First Nation, said that the group has been continuously ignored by mining operators in BC, with some of the companies claiming not to know what First Nations want, due to the lack of "rules to play by". 

"Within this mining policy we can no longer be ignored or imposed upon, and the province and industry can no longer claim they do not know how to work with us," Sellars said in a press release.

The mining code and a companion tool kit to manage its implementation and enforcement was developed by the Fair Mining Collaborative (FMC) group and covers every aspect of mining operations, including stake claims through every stage of the mining process, agreement compliance, benefits from operating mines and post-operation reclamations.

Amy Crook, executive director of the FMC, said that the policy was thoroughly researched and built on the work of the BC First Nations Mining and Energy Council, and takes the best of the BC government regulations and the best practices of other jurisdictions in Canada and other countries.

The policy and subsequent action taken by the four First Nations groups follows an accident at Mount Polley mine in August, where a failure at the tailings dams of Imperial Metals’ gold and copper mine caused the spillage of about 10m cubic metres wastewater, including 4.5m cubic metres of metals-laden fine sand, into Polley Lake.  

Patrick Harry, chief of Canoe and Dog Creek First Nation said: "This is not about ending all mining (…) It is about making sure the right projects are accepted and done the right way and that their operation, maintenance and adherence to conditions are monitored."

"We invite government and industry to work with us on this, as we are offering a way forward that ends confrontation and stagnation," he added.

First Nation proposal

According to the new policies, companies that are planning exploration or exploitation projects will need to provide the First Nation with written information about the project, its socio-economic advantages, type of work, location and duration, as well as technical information on the operations and socio-environmental impacts, detailed within a planned monitoring and reclamation programme.

The First Nation will evaluate the cumulative impact of the mining activities in a specific area, including ecological aspects, impact on habitat, environment, water quality, social and municipal services, public health and safety and cultural and spiritual aspects. 

In the case of exploration agreements, the mining company will have to provide the First Nation with sufficient funding to participate in the negotiations, allowing for an independent environmental social and economic assessment of the project, and provide enough time for negotiations before starting exploration activities.

In addition, the code obliges the applicants to post sufficient security to cover all reclamation costs, including those which may occur due to major incidents. The First Nation seeks a professional certification of the reclamation costs estimate from the company. 

The new code also requires that a company which wants to reopen a closed mine must submit a new Mines Act permit application and a revised feasibility study and reclamation plan. The approval will be only given upon the re-application for all permits and the filing of a new environmental assessment review.

The First Nation said that, in the case of a lack of agreement with the proponent, it will retain all rights in equity and common law, withdrawing any support for the project and notifying the government of the failed negotiation.