What meaningful engagement and collaboration looks like
The Tahltan Nation’s territory spans 95,933 sq. km of northwest B.C. or the equivalent of 11% of the province.
Tahltan territory includes 70% of B.C.’s Golden Triangle – a world-class mining jurisdiction with a thriving mineral exploration sector. Our territory is home to three of B.C.’s 19 operating mines or their shared footprint, and to about 25% of B.C.’s exploration activities by expenditure.
Mining has always been part of the Tahltan DNA. For thousands of years, Tahltans prospected and mined obsidian, copper, gold, jade, agate and other precious stones. They turned these resources into essential tools and an important trading resource. Obsidian artifacts have been found thousands of kilometres away, hinting at the immense trade network and its high value for tools and weaponry. In the late 1800s, Tahltans supported miners during the gold rush and we have since evolved into a sophisticated mining Nation.
As the president of the Tahltan Central Government, I am responsible for issues relating to the title and rights of the Tahltan Nation. Unequivocally, the Tahltan Nation expects that our distinct title and rights are respected, which includes among other things, meaningful engagement and collaboration.
The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action, and the Canadian courts reinforce this obligation: meaningful engagement and collaboration with Indigenous peoples is no longer an option for exploration and mining, it is a requirement.
What does meaningful engagement and collaboration with the Tahltan Nation look like? For the Tahltan Nation, it means that potential project proponents interested in doing business in our territory engage us by introducing their project from the outset, discussing how to include us in project planning, and exploring with us how our Nation will be involved.
More specifically, the Tahltan Central Government has developed an early engagement protocol whereby a communications agreement, opportunity sharing agreement, and exploration agreement must be signed for each project in our territory.
Each agreement applies to a different phase of engagement and collaboration during project development. Together, the agreements begin the process of building a positive and mutually beneficial relationship with the Tahltan Nation.
With that said, meaningful engagement and collaboration are not one way; indeed, it is incumbent upon First Nations to also meaningfully engage and collaborate for mutual benefit.
That is why the Tahltan and Nisga’a Nations, together with the province, the Association of Mineral Exploration (AME), and select exploration companies (Dolly Varden Silver, GT Gold, IDM Mining, and Skeena Resources) have formed the British Columbia Regional Mining Alliance (BCRMA).
Officially launched in May 2018, the BCRMA is a collaborative partnership that welcomes the opportunity to share its success stories from grassroots exploration, through operations, from the perspective of all partners. Industry partners selected to join the Alliance must focus on socially and environmentally responsible resource development rooted in local partnerships.
Together, the BCRMA is working to combat negative stereotypes and promote mining investment in the Golden Triangle, an area with vast resource potential. Just last year, the Alliance sent a delegation to the U.K., where we spread the message that we are open to discuss further business opportunities and investments into BCRMA companies. This year we are planning more international outreach and engagement.
Although in its infancy, the BCRMA is an example of what meaningful engagement and collaboration should be. It showcases that First Nations, the provincial government, and mining and exploration companies can and should be working in collaboration to attract investment and mutually benefit from successful mineral exploration activities which, in some cases, will lead to future mining projects.
Earlier this year, I met with B.C. Premier John Horgan who told me: “I am wholly supportive of the mining industry, I understand the potential, and want to see it unleashed as much as you do.” Only by working together can we unlock the vast resource potential of northwestern B.C. To succeed, the mining industry must adapt to modern times and work in partnership with the Indigenous peoples within whose territory they operate. Companies must recognize and respect the unique jurisdictions and title and rights of Indigenous peoples in B.C. and throughout the world.
As long as our title and rights are respected through meaningful engagement and collaboration, and we consent to the area where industrial activities take place, the Tahltan Nation is open to projects and partnerships with neighbouring Nations, the province, and industry.
CHAD NORMAN DAY is president of the Tahltan Central Government in British Columbia.