When the subject is native land claims, the discussion is prolonged and heated. One would hope that respect and common sense would prevail between the claimants and resource development companies. Not so. It has taken a Supreme Court of Canada ruling to clarify this issue as it pertains to logging and mining in British Columbia. The impact will be felt across the country.
The rulings handed down last week were made in two separate cases. At issue was whether governments and resource companies must consult and get approval of native groups when planning projects where native land claims are pending. One case involved Vancouver-based REDCORP VENTURES and its desire to build an access road necessary for the development of the Tulsequah Chief copper/gold mine (Redcorp won). The other involved U.S. forestry company Weyerhaeuser, which is licensed to log on the Queen Charlotte Islands (Weyerhaeuser lost).
In a nutshell, the Court ruled unanimously that Redcorp had adequately consulted with native groups and taken their views into consideration when it planned the road and applied to the British Columbia government for permission to build it. Therefore, the licence granted by the province will stand.
The Court denied the right of native groups to block development on disputed land.
For mining companies, the ruling is a positive one. With clarity comes the ability to make long-term investment plans with more certainty. The rules are perhaps not written in stone, but they will be less subject to change in the middle of a project. And if Redcorp’s consultations are indicative of the industry as a whole, the ruling implies we are doing a good job.
The need for consultation and negotiation with native groups will continue. It is time-consuming but necessary and fair. No one aboriginals, land owners or local communities should be shut out of the benefits of resource development.