Squeezed out of mining review – Vancouver Sun

Squeezed out of mining review

By Marilyn Baptiste, Special to the Sun July 19, 2010

The story “Hazy rules leave big B.C. projects in limbo” by Don Cayo, and the editorial “Risks and rewards of two big projects” must be weighed carefully, are encouraging attempts to look at all sides of the issue involving mining in British Columbia and the approval process.

However, there are points that need to be included in any debate if we are to ensure the same mistakes do not keep being made. I will focus on several matters raised by Taseko Mines’ Prosperity proposal.

The first point to note is the province and the company withdrew from negations with First Nations to subject this proposal to a joint federal-provincial review process. They decided it would be to their advantage to have two processes.

Secondly, the Prosperity project demonstrates a problem with approach, as well as with process. If Taseko has been working on this for 17 years, why were only limited attempts to consult our first nations made in recent years?

The approach in this case, as with too many others involving unceded First Nations territories, saw the company use B.C.’s archaic free-entry access to stake claims, explore and develop the project at great expense. When talks with first nations began on the proposal now under review, we were presented with a done deal that we could only see limiting our role to one of rubber-stamping a decision already made.

This brings us to the provincial environmental review process. It allows only questions the province and participating company want addressed. It does not allow affected First Nations to identify other issues of concern. This undermines the process by making it appear more of rubber-stamping than of fully reviewing the issues.

In the case of the Prosperity review, it is clear to many that this was the case. Perhaps this explains why the B.C. report found no negative costs to the province when, in fact, the subsidy that British Columbians will have to pay to provide cheap electricity to the mine would be $35 million a year.

There is a need to find a better way forward, but ramming ahead with this project will set back relations, as shown by our letters of support to oppose this mine’s approval from AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo, the Union of BC Indian Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, the BC First Nations Summit, First Nations Women Advocating Responsible Mining and others. It could undermine the great work that a number of mining companies are undertaking in order to work with first nations to produce substantial projects on traditional lands.

It is difficult to engage in reasonable debate when Junior Mining Minister Randy Hawes dismisses as “hogwash” significant reports such as the recent study of B.C.’s mining regime on First Nations, conducted by Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, and insists government relations with first nations with respect to mining are fine when clearly they are not.

So the process needs to be improved — and the reality is that some companies are already taking initiatives to do this by working directly with first nations in the absence of a government resolution of our title and rights.

Marilyn Baptiste is Chief, Xeni Gwet’in First Nations Government, Tsilhqot’in Nation, Nemaiah Valley, B.C.

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