Turning the Tide: How Gitxaała Nation Defied Big Mining

Gitxaala Nation has won an important victory in the BC Supreme Court — thanks to supporters like you. 

Together, we’ve worked long and hard to raise $440k, inspired by one Nation’s courageous stance against a pro-business mining regime in B.C. The Gitxaała Mineral Tenure Act challenge brought together nearly 2000 donors into a coalition of committed people who will not back down when it comes to protecting sovereign Nations’ rights in the face of Big Mining. 

This important case establishes that the government has not been drawing the line in the right place. Gitxaała has shown that the Duty to consult is triggered before a mineral claim is staked. Thanks to the Nation, BC and proponents will need to sit down with Nations at the very outset: when prospectors are rolling out maps, NOT much later, when there are investors, lobbyists and big money on the table. The current system— which allows for prospectors to step onto Indigenous land, dig holes, clear trees, and build roads without even bothering to inform the Nation upon whose land they are prospecting—  is, according to Justice Ross, is “simply wrong.”

The September 26th ruling means that the province will need to create a process to consult Nations when anyone — be it a corporation or individual ‘free miner’ — applies for a mineral tenure in their territory. B.C. will need to come up with a new framework, in compliance with Section 35 of the constitution, for consultation with Nations before claims are granted — as opposed to waiting until a project proposal is on the table to inform and involve Indigenous Nations. 

This new framework will apply not only in Gitxaała territory, and not just in the area where the Crown granted seven mineral claims on Banks Island – but everywhere in B.C. 

Today’s decision marks a paradigm shift that puts an end to rampant mining speculation in Indigenous territory, and is a step closer to the type of shared jurisdiction of lands and waters that Nations have been demanding for years. 

The case has also been a chance to make solid use of RAVEN’s Intervenor Fund to bring strong allies into the courtroom — funding Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs, Ts’kw’aylaxw First Nation, Nuxalk, Nak’azdli Whut’en, and a coalition of BC Assembly of First Nations,  First Nations Summit (FNS) and Union of BC Indian Chiefs (UBCIC) —  to lean in and support mining justice for Indigenous Nations.

Gitxaała leadership outside the BC Supreme Court in 2023, for its groundbreaking legal challenge of the Mineral Tenure Act, which allows exploration on First Nations’ territory without their consent. (photo by Karissa Chandrakate)

We could not have done this without the support of our amazing donors. The wheels of justice turn slowly, and wins like this are neither frequent nor inevitable. Now that we’ve taken Big Mining down a peg: RAVEN invites everyone to send a message to leadership letting them know how you feel about the stand they took, and this outcome. Send a message here.

Send a message of gratitude to Gitxaała

“The Court’s decision makes clear what we knew all along: BC owes a duty to consult Gitxaała and other Indigenous nations prior to granting mineral claims in our territories, and it is breaching that duty. The provincial government must now act quickly to eliminate its unjust practice of selling off our rights without our consultation or consent.”

— Gitxaała Chief Councillor Linda Innes

But: now that the celebratory wild apple cider is flowing, we do have to mix a little bitter into the sweet. Gitxaała’s win isn’t completely clear-cut: and, there’s still more work to do. 

This case was  one of the first cases where the court had to grapple with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and how it applies to the laws of BC.  Gitxaała had wanted BC to be held to the standard within their own Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, which goes further than Section 35’s  duty to consult,  incorporating the higher standard of free, prior and informed consent to mining claims staked. That was not part of the decision. There are options to appeal the ruling, and Gitxaała will be undertaking an assessment of whether to do so. Stay tuned to RAVEN for options to support this work. 

Justice Ross did not issue injunctions or quash existing claims. Instead, 18 months will pass before the Court’s declaration comes into effect that consultation is required before the grant of a mineral claim: that could trigger a new gold rush of claim staking in Indigenous territory as industry recognizes the higher standards that are coming their way. 

Says Innes, “While the Court suspended its declaration for 18 months, the case demonstrates that immediate overhaul of BC’s mineral tenure regime is required. We deeply regret that the Court did not set aside the mineral claims we challenged in this case, and leaves our territory open for continued mineral claims staking without consultation for the time being.”

To our community: thank you for providing incredible support and uplift for Gitxaała Nation as they stand against powerful mining interests. Indigenous Nations’ ability to protect significant cultural and spiritual sites like Banks Island is stronger today, because of all of our collective work. And to Gitxaała: we look forward to sharing messages that come flooding in over the next days, and weeks.

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