Stand for Free, Prior and Informed Consent
Gitxaała Nation is taking B.C. and several “free miners”, including Global Mineral Resources Corporation, to court over mineral claims in their territory that were registered without notification, consultation or consent.
Right now, B.C. allows corporations to stake mining claims in Indigenous territory without even bothering to notify Indigenous Peoples. Gitxaała Nation is asking the court to uphold Free, Prior and Informed consent, and quash the mineral claims on Banks Island.
Take a stand for Free, Prior and Informed Consent and help keep the mining industry out of the salmon-rich waters of Banks Island.
about this campaign
A North Coast breadbasket
The mountains, wetlands, lakes, rivers and ocean waters of Banks Island, on British Columbia's north coast, are a rich nursery of marine and terrestrial life that has sustained the Gitxaała economy and culture for generations. Today, the community still relies heavily on Banks Island, including its abundant seafood.
Lax k’naga dzol, or what is now called Banks Island, is part of the Great Bear Rainforest. It is surrounded by the Great Bear Sea, a wild expanse of ocean where whales, wolves, bears, fish, seabirds and other marine life thrive.
Lax k’naga dzol is a critical part of Gitxaała territory which has been governed by a hereditary system maintained through Gitxaała’s unbroken connection to their land, waters and culture. This island has supported Gitxaała for countless millennia, providing food and shelter, and a place of security and culture to the Gitxaała people.
“Deja vu all over again”
In 2015, an illegal discharge of tailings from the Yellow Giant gold mine - a project that Gitxaała said from the beginning they did not want - devastated Banks Island’s salmon-rich creeks and near-shore areas. The company quickly went bankrupt and the mess was left to Gitxaała. As a result, the Gitxaała have called for an end to mining activities on Banks Island.
Yet the B.C. government continues to allow companies and individuals to stake mining claims on Banks Island through its Mineral Titles Online Registry with only a click of a mouse and a small fee. This gives mining companies an immediate right to access the land for mineral exploration - including certain types of drilling and digging pits and trenches - without any consultation with Gitxaała Nation.
A test case
The Gitxaała legal challenge will be the first time that an Indigenous Nation seeks a remedy under B.C.’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA) in a court case. The Gitxaała argue that B.C. has violated its DRIPA obligation to ensure mineral claim laws respect the right to free, prior and informed consent.
“BC can’t meet its commitment to implement UNDRIP while its mineral claim process is stuck in the gold rush era. If BC is serious about upholding UNDRIP then it needs to prioritize new mineral tenure laws that respect our Indigenous jurisdiction and meet BC’s own constitutional obligations.”
— Hereditary Chief Elmer Moody
Despite having only 2 weeks to prepare, Lisa Fong’s legal team, together with Gavin Smith of West Coast Environmental Law, presented so many pages in their 89-page submission of their closing arguments, they exceeded the…
Webinar Recap: Tripping over DRIPA – The Indigenous mining justice case that could change everything in B.C.
Last week we had the opportunity to hear from West Coast Environmental Law’s Jessica Clogg, and Gitxaala Legal Advisor James Herbert on a webinar. Clogg shared her optimism, expressing that “This case is winnable, because…
Gitxaała is one of the most ancient societies on the coast. In their language, Sm’algyax, the Gitxaała refer to themselves as Git Lax M'oon (“People of the Salt Water”). Their main community, the village of Lach Klan (Kitkatla) has been continuously inhabited since time immemorial.
Gitxaała hereditary house leaders from the four clans – Gisbutwada (Blackfish), Ganhada (Raven), Lax Sgyiik (Eagle) and Lax Gyibu (Wolf) - manage and protect their house territories and resources according to their ayaawx, or Gitxaała laws. Gitxaała harvesters use almost 100 different marine and terrestrial species to feed their community.
Gitxaała citizens, wherever they reside, celebrate their history, practice their traditions, respect their laws, and cherish their lands, waters and resources. (Source: Gitxaała Nation website).
What’s wrong with the Mineral Tenure Act?
Much of the Mineral Tenure Act is a relic from the Gold Rush era, including and especially the “free entry” system where prospectors acquire mineral rights by staking a claim. (Unlike the Gold Rush days, this is now done online with a credit card and the click of a mouse.) According to West Coast Environmental Law, the presence of mineral claims gives mining activity priority over virtually all other land uses in BC.
Here is how it works
- Anyone can register as a “free miner” and then automatically acquire mineral claims online for a nominal fee. There is no requirement for consultation with Indigenous Peoples prior to registering titles in the mineral registry.
- Once a claim is registered, holders of mineral claims enjoy immediate mineral property rights, immediate rights to convert their mineral claims into mineral leases (which the government has no discretion to deny), and immediate exploration rights.
- A mineral claim holder may immediately start certain mineral exploration activity without any further permits. This includes not only surveying the land but also pitting, trenching, drilling, or channel cutting using hand-held tools, to create pits and trenches of up to 1.2 metres in depth. Permits are only required for exploration activities that involve machinery.
- There is no requirement, at any point in this process, for any notification or consultation with Indigenous Nations on whose territory the claim has been registered, let alone for obtaining their Free, Prior and Informed Consent.
In summary, the BC government grants mineral claims that convey important ownership and exploration rights with no consultation or engagement of any kind with impacted Indigenous nations like Gitxaała. This is inconsistent with Gitxaała’s own inherent jurisdiction in its territory, Canada’s constitutional law requirements, UNDRIP, and the provincial government’s stated commitment to reconciliation.