Canadian Mining Journal

Feature

Tahltan Nation’s proactive stance with UNDRIP

B.C. First Nation's position on exploration and mining on its territory



The Tahltan Nation supports mineral exploration and mining projects in most portions of the territory, but such activities must be socially responsible, have robust environmental mitigations in place and contribute to the well-being of the Tahltan people through a series of commitments and benets that respect our collective title and rights.

The Tahltan Nation is proud of our longstanding history of being a mining people, but this was always predicated on preserving the integrity of our territory by safeguarding our borders and ensuring we were proper stewards of our homeland.

For millennia, Tahltans have fought for the control over every square kilometre of our territory. Why? The existence of those who came before us depended on the bounty that our territory yields – water, sh, wildlife, minerals and other natural resources that allow us to thrive.

Contact did not change our rightful claim to ownership over our land. The 1910 Declaration of the Tahltan Tribe afrms such claims: “We claim the sovereign right to all the country of our tribe – this country of ours which we have held intact from the encroachments of other tribes, from time immemorial, at the cost of our own blood. We have done this because our lives depended on our country. We have never treatied with them, nor given them any such title.” (We have only very lately learned the British Columbia government makes this claim and that it has long considered its property all the territories of the Indian tribes in B.C.)

The Tahltan Nation has never surrendered its land to anyone and we have never stopped our long and remarkable history of occupying, utilizing and protecting our land.

From preventing BC Hydro from damming the Stikine River in the 1970s, to shutting down Royal Dutch Shell’s coalbed methane project in our Sacred Headwaters in 2008, to banning Fortune Minerals from proceeding with an open-pit coal mine in 2013, Tahltans remain undaunted and united in protecting what is sacred to us. In the process, we have also protected some of the environmental marvels of B.C., Canada and the world.

This past August and after many years of hard negotiation, the Tahltan Nation signed the Klappan Plan with the provincial government which aims to preserve the Klappan Valley’s cultural and environmental assets, and creates a guide for potential resource development in the surrounding area. The Tahltan Central Government is also in advanced stages of developing a Tahltan Land Stewardship Plan which will create several different regions to be managed or, in the very least, thoroughly co-managed by the Tahltan Nation.

Of course, none of this means that the Tahltan people are against mining and exploration. Rather, we believe that land stewardship and ensuring the economic independence of our people, via exploration and mining opportunities, are not mutually exclusive. The Tahltan Nation supports mineral exploration and mining projects in most portions of the territory, but such activities must be socially responsible, have robust environmental mitigations in place and contribute to the well-being of the Tahltan people through a series of commitments and benets that respect our collective title and rights.

That is why the Tahltan Nation does not currently support the jade and placer mining industries in our territory, which have devastating environmental impacts, are inadequately regulated, and provide negligible benets to the Tahltan people, let alone the province or the people of British Columbia.

This past July, accompanied by multiple Tahltan governors from the local communities, I visited 10 different jade and placer sites where I told each company that their operations within our territory do not have the consent of our people and that they are infringing on our Tahltan laws, rights and title. I informed these companies that their ongoing activities are extremely disrespectful and illegal under Tahltan law and demanded that they cease all activities. Many decided to stop operating, and some of have permanently damaged their relationship with the Tahltan Nation by ignoring us. The companies that ignored our respectful requests will have no future in Tahltan territory once the industry shifts and the Tahltan people become increasingly involved in many important decisions and processes on the landscape.

The province is currently working with us to rectify the outstanding jade and placer issues. For the jade and placer companies that stay in tune with evolving Indigenous law in Canada, some are admittedly not surprised by the steps we have taken; they understand their industry has minimal environmental standards and gives back very little to B.C. and First Nations. In fact, once the province begins using millions of taxpayer dollars to properly clean up the environmental damage caused by the jade and placer miners, British Columbians will wish the Tahltan Nation had taken steps to drastically change or stop these industries much sooner.

Our position against jade and placer mining is not radical. In fact, it is very simple and reasonable. For a project to proceed, exploration and mining companies must respect the environment and the rights of Indigenous people. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), legislation of which the provincial government introduced in October, supports our stance. Though many stakeholders are wary of the economic climate that UNDRIP may create in B.C., the reality is that the Tahltan Nation has for years created processes and agreements, both internally and externally, that are consistent with UNDRIP.

Over time, I am condent that better relationships and the implementation of UNDRIP will benet all British Columbians more than they recognize, both from an environmental standpoint, and by saving signicant tax dollars by ensuring Indigenous peoples are able to build capacity and become healthier, both physically and economically, with each generation. I look forward to the ongoing growth of the Tahltan Nation and British Columbia, and will certainly do my best to assist other First Nations across the province and to show industry and the world how working alongside Indigenous peoples as true partners can help secure more certainty, economic benefits and pride for everyone involved.


CHAD NORMAN DAY is president of the Tahltan Central Government in British Columbia.


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