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Indigenous mineral interests protected as province modernizes mineral tenure act

‘If you want to mine here, we have to … keep our lands and waters healthy’ – Ehattesaht Chief
Members of the Gitxaala Nation, including Chief Councillor Linda Innes, front right, march to B.C. Supreme Court in Vancouver, B.C., Monday, April 3, 2023. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)

Two B.C. First Nations have had their mineral interests protected, as the province moves to modernize the Mineral Tenure Act (MTA).

The Ehattesaht First Nation, located near Zeballos on Vancouver Island, and the Gitxaała Nation south of Prince Rupert are subject to new measures placing restrictions on mineral claim registrations and mining activities within their territories. The measures come thanks an agreement between the province and the Nations stemming from a Sept. 2023 Supreme Court ruling. Last fall, Justice Alan Ross found that the province has a constitutional duty to consult with First Nations before registering mineral tenures under the act, and that the registration of these claims has “negative impacts” on the rights and territories of the Ehattesaht First Nation and the Gitxaała Nation.

In September, Ross gave the province 18 months to reform the mineral tenure act and incorporate the duty to consult.

“Ehattesaht has always preferred sitting down and working through issues over going to court. In our view, these interim measures offer the province and industry the opportunity to sit down with us as we take on the hard work of finding both certainty and reconciliation for our territory,” said Chief Simon John, Ehattesaht Nation. “We have continually told the province and proponents that we are not against mining, but if you want to mine here, we have to find ways that keep our lands and waters healthy and that respect our rights and culture. We know what bad mining looks like and we can’t go back there again.”

Gitxaała and Ehattesaht had remaining concerns that the impacts on their rights found by the court would continue while MTA reform was underway and until a new regime was in place. The Nations filed appeals including requested orders to quash specific mineral claims and prevent new claim registrations until a consultation regime is in place. They have agreed not to proceed with those aspects of their appeals in light of protective measures enacted by the province.

“This resolution demonstrates that meeting in person, government to government, allows us to develop solutions together, and I want to recognize and express my gratitude to Ehattesaht and Gitxaała for coming to the table with us to move forward the important work of reforming the Mineral Tenure Act,” said Josie Osborne, Minister of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation. “These interim measures mean that instead of ongoing litigation that could have far more significant and longer-term impacts to the sector, we are instead able to focus on our work together to reform the act, providing greater certainty to First Nations, industry and British Columbians.”

The orders pause the limited current mining activities as well as the issuance of new permits in Gitxaała and Ehattesaht territories and prevent the registration of new mineral claims without agreement by the respective Nations.

The two Nations and the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation have also agreed to support amendments to the interim orders if Ehattesaht or Gitxaała reach agreement with companies seeking to explore or mine in their territories.

“Gitxaała is ready to work with the province and other First Nations to ensure B.C. meets its commitment to establish a mineral tenure law that aligns with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and respects Gitxaała laws,” said Gitxaała-elected Chief Councillor Linda Innes. “The orders enacted by the province are an important step to begin this work together.”

All parties involved will have the chance to address the ruling as part of the work being done to modernize the act. The consultation process, which will include co-operation with First Nations in British Columbia and engagement with industry, environmental non-governmental organizations, all other interested parties, and British Columbians begins this month.

RELATED: Court rules B.C. must fix mineral claims system after Ehattesaht challenge

Gitxaala First Nation in B.C. goes to court over automatic mineral rights

Marc Kitteringham

About the Author: Marc Kitteringham

I joined Black press in early 2020, writing about the environment, housing, local government and more.
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