Posted in Williams Lake News
Tsilhqot'in Nation calls for new approach to government-First Nations partnerships for mines: Tsilhqot'in Nation withdraws from negotiations for Gibraltar Mine.
The Tsilhqot'in National Government (TNG), along with ?Esdilagh First Nation, have chosen not to sign an Economic Community Development Agreement (ECDA) with the province of British Columbia for the Gibraltar Mine, located less than one kilometre from ?Esdilagh reserve lands, until the Province fundamentally changes its approach to engagement and benefit-sharing with First Nations on major projects. In the wake of the Tsilhqot'in title decision and the recent Mount Polley Mine disaster, the Provincial status quo for revenue sharing agreements with First Nations is not acceptable.
The Tsilhqot'in Nation calls on the Province to immediately engage at the highest levels in good faith to re-think the current template ECDA agreements that the Province presents as "take it or leave it" deals to First Nations. The Tsilhqot'in Nation takes issue with:
•a total absence of transparency around the amount of mineral tax revenue that will flow from the agreement;
•non-existent role for First Nations to monitor and participate in setting environmental standards and the enforcement of those standards;
•the extensive releases that First Nations are required to sign which diminish their right to pursue compensation as a result of any damages done to the land (ie. disasters like the Mount Polley Mine catastrophe), and;
•the extremely low amounts of revenue sharing often resulting from the terms of the ECDAs and companies minimizing mineral tax. (ie. The unfortunate $4500 that the Williams Lake Indian Band received in a total annual payment from their ECDA for Mount Polley Mine.)
"This comes down to respect. Negotiating with take-it-or-leave-it offers is inconsistent with the direction from the Supreme Court in our title ruling, and offering an agreement without telling us the funding levels is a slap in the face," said Chief Joe Alphonse, Tribal Chair for the Tsilhqot'in National Government. "First Nations deal with crippling levels of poverty on our reserves. We are not critical at all of other First Nations that have signed ECDAs —we understand the urgent need for economic benefits, even on the insulting terms set down by the Province. But the status quo has been shattered. We are not asking for handouts, we are calling for real partnerships. We are calling on the Province to sit down with us and work out a new, positive approach to engagement, environmental protection, security levels and benefit-sharing for the Gibraltar Mine."
Chief Bernie Mack of ?Esdilagh First Nation stated: "In light of the recent Mount Polley Mine disaster and the announcement of an independent review of the Province's tailings ponds, we call on the Province to engage us to participate in the review of the Gibraltar Mine. We can no longer sit on the sidelines. Given that the Gibraltar Mine was recently approved for a doubling of its capacity and tailings pond, without any environmental assessment and, much like the Mount Polley Mine, we have grave concerns about the safety of our community downstream, and the Fraser River which is only a few kilometres away. Having a meaningful review of these implications is an important step to re-starting an ECDA negotiation. In a post Title environment, the province and Canada need to increase environmental diligence – and this can be done through a mining reform which we as a Nation have been calling on for years. Economic reform, recognizing First Nations beneficial interests to land development, must also occur."