Opinion: The Saga Continues – Gitxaała vs. Big Mining
Just days after First Nations proved B.C.’s mine staking system was unconstitutional, Big Mining has stepped up to the plate. Are they bringing flowers? Champagne? Nope: it’s a lawsuit.
Last month, Gitxaała won a landmark court case that is forcing long overdue changes to the unjust free entry system.
Gitxaała — and Ehattesaht Nation, who joined them in the challenge — managed to prove that the duty to consult is triggered at the point of staking. No longer will anyone with a laptop and $25 be able to stake a claim on Indigenous land without notifying the Nation on whose lands they will be prospecting.
Now, thanks to Indigenous leaders, the B.C. government has 18 months to rework the free entry system so that Nations are part of the decision making process at the point that a mining claim is staked. In the meantime? A new Gold Rush could ensue. This is what industry is calling a ‘silver lining’ to Gitxaała’s case, because it leaves room for savvy miners to lay their hands on prospective mines ahead of the new regime.
At the same time, mining company Taranis Resources has launched a legal challenge to advance their “Thor” mine near Revelstoke. Based on their cringe-y choice of name for their project, we’re not surprised by the company’s cheezy behaviour.
Taking issue with the idea that “natural resource development must be done in collaboration and partnership with the rightful owners of the land” (according to Josie Osborne, BC’s mining minister), Taranis claims B.C. is bowing to Indigenous pressure.
That’s rich indeed, coming from an industry who spends millions of dollars per year to lobby MLAs and advance a pro-mining agenda. By comparison, Indigenous Nations have to spend years in court — and hundreds of thousands of dollars — to try to quash unwanted projects, hold industry to account for failing to clean up toxic tailings, and prove they have jurisdiction in territories they have stewarded since approximately forever.
In fact, Gitxaała are now going back to court, on their own dime, to force B.C. to uphold higher consultation standards — a requirement that Nations give their Free, Prior and Informed Consent — that they’ve committed to under their own Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA).
When not engaged in Viking cosplay, the Thor mine proponents also intend to challenge the implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act (DRIPA.) But the company is seeking to limit Indigenous rights, not extend them.
Taranis plans to argue that the Crown — aka Canada — is the rightful owner of land, even when, as in Tŝilhqot’in territory, Aboriginal Title has been specifically proven.
That’s. Just. Wrong. And, it’s a dishonour to everyone who has fought tooth and nail to enshrine a recognition of rights into law. It’s true that Tŝilhqot’in Nation continues to push back against unwanted mining projects in their territories, and have established the Dasiqox Nexwagwezˆ?wen Tribal Park to protect sacred lands for future generations, but those lands are outside of the Title area. Within it? Lands are actively being transferred to Indigenous management.
Sounds ‘rightful’ to us.
Crying foul because their project faces permitting delays, the company is going to court over the objections of the Knutaxa Nation — who, in enacting their own laws, have declared a moratorium on development in the mining area.
Calling Nations the ‘rightful owners’ of lands is a step in the right direction, though: B.C. needs to go further in recognizing Indigenous sovereignty is grounded not in ownership of, but relationship to, the land. Make no mistake, B.C. has been rolling out the red carpet for mining companies for generations. The changes that are being painstakingly and reluctantly implemented are as a result of dedicated, strategic work by Indigenous leadership. We should all be working to support the shift from extraction and exploitation, to sustainability and financial equity.
We can’t allow Big MIning to scupper these plans. In the race to define how DRIPA will be defined in B.C., it’s time to throw our weight behind Gitxaała and support their strategic appeal.