Frank PEEBLES / Prince George Citizen
The Tahltan First Nation now appear to be close to supporting the Red Chris Mine in northwestern B.C.
A previous article in The Citizen stated the northwest First Nation was against the copper/gold project led by Imperial Metals, but the two sides clarified that their differences have been amicably resolved.
The Tahltan eventually came around on the Imperial Metals project after the company addressed some specific concerns raised by the First Nation.
The mine is very close to going ahead in no small part due to the close working relationships made with the Tahltan people, said Imperial Metals vice-president of corporate affairs Steve Robertson.
"The Tahltan are very engaged in, and critical to the development of that project," said Robertson. "Red Chris received permits to allow construction of the mine in May of 2012 and is slated for completion this summer. First Nations employment at the Red Chris project during the construction period has fluctuated, but has often been well over 20 per cent with the vast majority of those declared First Nations on the project being of Tahltan heritage."
The community-owned Tahltan Nation Development Corporation has been one of the most important contractors for Red Chris construction, Robertson added. The corporation had the lead role in the mass excavation at the plant site and also in construction of the tailings dam. The two sides also communicate regularly on environment, permitting, employment and business opportunities.
"Our relationship has strengthened to the point where we see our association with the Tahltan people more as one of partnership than anything else," he said. "The president of Tahltan Central Council [Annita McPhee] noted this past summer, at a speaking engagement at University of Toronto, that her community was enjoying 100 per cent employment. Much of that employment opportunity was related to either the construction at the Red Chris mine site or the transmission line that we are building to bring grid power to both the mine site and the local community, which at present relies on diesel-generated power."
McPhee was unavailable for comment, but a written statement made on her behalf said that "the Tahltan are not opposed to Red Chris. In fact they are working toward an agreement on that mine and we hope to have an announcement within the next couple of weeks."
Robertson said the relationship has been a pleasure for his company.
"We have been working shoulder to shoulder with the Tahltan as we progress through the permitting process. They weren't sitting there as naysayers, they had valuable input. They were opposed to one of our first designs but came up with a new idea, brought it forward, the government got on board, so we were actually the last ones to get on board but it was a vastly superior plan."
Imperial Metals is also the owner of long-existing Huckleberry Mine near Houston.
Robertson said the relationships between First Nations and mining companies is evolving.
"Aboriginal consultation was not something miners were particularly good at," he said. "But it is the new way of mining in B.C. and it is fundamentally necessary. It used to be a check-box on a government form, but now it is an everyday part of your company's life. And to be honest, it is infinitely more rewarding. The benefits of what it all means goes so much farther beyond what the benefits of a mine used to be."