MAC: Mines and Communities

Canada: Summit calls for end to ‘free-entry’

Published by MAC on 2008-10-21
Source: Gordon Hoekstra, Prince George Citizen (2008-10-07)

‘It is fundamentally a wrong notion': Kaska Nation leader Dave Porter

Setting the tone at a three-day First Nation summit to hammer out an action plan to deal with their mining concerns, key leaders said Tuesday that First Nations' role has to be entrenched in legislation.

First Nations called for aboriginal rights and title to be recognized in a provincial act, and also said the "free-entry" into the mining sector with no input from First Nations on their traditional territory must end.

Mining Minister Gordon Hogg, one of the speakers on the summit's opening day, did not rule out moving towards legislative changes, but stressed that the province, industry and First Nations cannot depend on rules to resolve all their differences.

Kaska Nation leader Dave Porter said changes to the free-entry system that companies now enjoy -- where anyone with a miner number, internet connection and a credit card can stake land for mineral exploration -- has to be on the table.

"It is fundamentally a wrong notion that in our traditional territory somebody can fly in from Argentina, stake a claim and now have more rights that we do," Porter told the crowd of more than 300, which included industry, government and First Nations representatives.

"The underlying aboriginal rights and title then are subjected to this (mineral exploration) right that has simply occurred with a stroke of a pen," said Porter.

At the end of the three days, the First Nations intend to come up with an action plan that addresses key areas like restoring and sustaining a healthy environment, building capacity and sustainable economic opportunities, as well as fostering relationships.

A draft action plan circulated to the summit delegates included a call for a First Nations declaration to prevent natural water bodies being used as mine tailings and waste dumps.

There was also a call to establish a First Nations mining capacity/research fund and create a model for profit and equity sharing in mining and exploration projects. The draft also called for legislation that would require impact-benefit agreements between First Nations and companies before environmental assessments start.

B.C. Assembly of First Nations representatives Shawn Atleo said aboriginal leaders are not trying to complicate the bureaucracy or cause problems for companies simply to be difficult. "But we have every right and responsibility to take care of our territories and our people," he said in his presentation.

In northern B.C. there are dozens of proposed mining projects on the books. The closest to Prince George is Terrane Metal's $916-million gold and copper mine 155 kilometres northwest of the city.

First Nations argue that court decisions stipulate that provincial and federal government are obliged to consult and accommodate their interests. First Nations have also stressed that the environmental assessment process is inadequate to meet their interests.

First Nations Summit leader Ed John noted that aboriginal people have sometimes had a negative experience with mining on their territories, pointing to the mercury contamination of Pinchi Lake north of Fort St. James. The lake is part of the Tl'azt'en Nation's traditional territory where John is a hereditary chief. "We understand consequences and we're trying to avoid these kind of things down the road," said John who pointed to First Nations' first responsibility to protect the land.

Hogg stressed the need to build relationships in his address to the delegates.

Dave Parker, the chair of the B.C. Mining Association, said he believes there's an opportunity to build capacity in aboriginal youth to replace the maturing mining sector work force.

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