All that glitters is not a gold mine – Vancouver Sun Op-Ed

By Marilyn Baptiste and Anne Marie Sam, Vancouver Sun February 16, 2010

The recent rush to promote mining as the saviour of the B.C. economy is an understandable, but dangerous and indefensible trend that serves neither British Columbians nor investors.
Yes, The Vancouver Sun’s Jan. 26 editorial did at least say there are problems, but its suggested solution was not to deal with the real root issues, but rather that we become more like Chile. It endorsed doing whatever the industry wants.

For the most part, however, coverage has been artificially positive. Simply stating there is a boom and ignoring all the facts does not make a boom. Nor does it increase the chances that there will be one in the foreseeable future.

There is a temptation to use the 2010 Vancouver Olympics spotlight to sell B.C. as an investment magnet, and if this involved delivering a full and balanced message to would-be investors, okay. To send highly misleading messages is quite another matter.

Consider the recent giddy coverage. First there was the Federal Environmental Assessment Review approval of Terrane Metal’s proposed Mount Milligan low-grade gold and copper project at Shus Nadloh on Nak’azdli first nation traditional lands. This followed provincial environmental assessment approval, and news coverage made it sound like nothing could stop the mine.

The articles ignored Nak’azdli’s news releases, its appeal against the provincial approval (due to be heard in March), and its application for a judicial review of the federal approval.
When main backer Goldcorp announced a day after Nak’azdli filed for a judicial review that it would not exercise its option to partner in Terrane’s mine, this story was down-played. Again, no mention was made of the legal challenges.

Interestingly, Goldcorp’s CEO stated in a keynote address to last week’s AME BC Roundup that one of three things his company looks for is “safe jurisdiction.” Legal uncertainty over the future of disputed proposed projects on first nations territorial lands does not offer safe jurisdiction. Nor does it help to manage costs, which was the second factor cited. (High-grade ores was the third.)

Then came coverage of the province’s environmental assessment review approval of Taseko Mines Ltd.’s proposed Prosperity Mine on Xeni Gwet’in traditional lands in the heart of Tsilhqot’in National Government territories. This mine would kill the pristine and culturally and ecologically important Fish Lake by turning it into a massive toxic tailing pond.  The implication was this mine was a done deal. It was noted the company hopes to start land clearing and road building in the spring.

The facts tell a different story. A separate federal environmental review has yet to be conducted and its hearings are weeks, if not months, away. The Xeni Gwet’in was not part of the provincial review, but is part of the federal one. Meanwhile the Tsilhquot’in has a court case underway to establish fishing rights and protect Fish Lake.

This is surely information with which investors should be provided.

The Sun recently ran a guest column by Gavin Dirom, president and CEO of the Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia, which again promoted both the above projects as proof that mining is on the way back after 13 years of no major new metals mines being opened in B.C. It did not mention first nations, or the need to work with them to end the uncertainty that plagues the industry in B.C. Nor did it get into environmental impacts, or mention that nearly 1,200 closed or abandoned mines continue to pollute our waters and lands.

Instead it promised a rosy picture of future great wealth and prosperity. The question is, for whom? The $500 billion that Dirom says has been generated by mining over the past 150 years have come from first nations lands and resources that were never ceded through any treaty. What first nations have got out of it is abandoned and polluting mines, and they are worried this could be all they will get out of any future mines in the long term.

First Nations Women Seeking Responsible Mining supports the BC First Nations Mining and Energy Council and other first nations leaders in the struggle to bring urgently needed reform to mining legislation in B.C.

Anne Marie Sam and Chief Marilyn Baptiste are members of BC’s First Nations Women Seeking Responsible Mining.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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