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Province and Northwest B.C. First Nation sign historic agreement on gold and silver mine

Agreement marks a milestone as the first time UNDRIP is applied to a resource development project
Chad Day (left), president of the Tahltan Central Government visits a mining project in Northwest B.C. (File photo)

The Tahltan Nation and British Columbia have announced a historic decision-making agreement to move forward with the construction of an open-pit gold and silver mine 85 kilometres northwest of Stewart by Skeena Resources.

The consent-based agreement marks the first application of Section 7 of B.C.’s Declaration Act, which establishes the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) as B.C.’s framework for reconciliation.

B.C. is the first province in Canada to move ahead with UNDRIP and the agreement means the company must work with the Tahltan Nation for permission before moving forward.

Premier John Horgan, Tahltan Central Government President Chad Norman Day and Indigenous relations and reconciliation minister Murray Rankin announced the agreement at the Grand Pacific Hotel in Victoria this morning (June 6).

Horgan said the agreement will mean less uncertainty and will remove restrictions to economic growth, leading to more investor confidence. He said the framework will show investors who they are dealing with, what the time frames are and “how quickly they can get to yes” should that be the outcome of negotiations.

“When investors look to British Columbia they will look to a jurisdiction that has shared decision making at its foundation so that we can develop the unique resources that we have here.”

Horgan thanked the Tahltan Nation for “opening up their hearts and their territory” which covers about 11 per cent of the province for “focused economic development.”

“We recognize the inherent right of the Tahltan to make decisions on their territory,” Horgan said. “The Tahltan recognize that they are part and parcel of British Columbia and Canada.”

Horgan confirmed there are “many more” agreements in the works that will represent the future for development in the province. “Where the opportunity exists we’re going to proceed with Section 7 agreements.”

Day said this step in the process builds on a shared prosperity agreement in the Tahltan Nation that followed the NDP government’s Declaration Act legislation. Whether the project is ultimately approved is a collective Tahltan Nation decision.

“All of our people will eventually have a ratification vote after a robust set of meetings, after we draft an agreement,” Day said. “The Tahltan people will ultimately decide whether this project goes through and the way that this is structured is that our consent is needed in order to operationalize and build this project.”

He said it’s important that Tahltan rights, decisions and values are “at the heart” of such projects on their territory.

“It’s something that the Tahltan Nation has never had before in an agreement.”

Rankin said the announcement marks a new way of doing business with First Nations.

“It is a tangible example of the province’s commitment to changing our relationship with Indigenous peoples,” he said. “Together, the Tahltan Central Government and the province are leading the way toward a new model for advancing free, prior and informed consent.”

Also present were Skeena Resources Vice President Justin Himmelright and B.C. Minister of Land, Water and Resource Stewardship Josie Osborne.

As proposed, the Eskay Creek Revitalization Project will produce up to three million tonnes of ore per year to a maximum of about 7,800 tonnes per day over a 13- to 16-year period.

The project is on the same site as the Eskay Creek underground mine, which has not been operational since 2008, and will use some of its existing facilities and infrastructure.

Himmelright said the mine at Eskay Creek was the highest grade producing gold mine in the world during its time.

Because the original mine was permitted “in an era when Indigenous consent was not the standard of the day” it never got formal consent from the Tahltan Nation.

Skeena Resources acquired this project in 2018 and Himmelright said the company has been working with the Tahltan Nation for a number of years to move forward.

“It’s a very important step for the project and a foundational building block for the revitalization and the reopening of the Eskay Creek project.”

READ MORE: B.C. to be first to implement UN Indigenous rights declaration

READ MORE: Eskay Creek gold mine acquired by Skeena Resources


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