When the Eskay Creek gold mine was first permitted in the 1990s, there was no requirement to secure the consent of the local First Nations – the Tahltan.
Should the mine’s restart be approved, it will be under a new consent agreement with the Tahltan First Nation as part of the BC Environmental Assessment Act review process.
The Tahltan and B.C. government today announced what Premier John Horgan called “a truly extraordinary” agreement – the first consent agreement under the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ACT (DRIPA).
The consent agreement is enabled under Section 7 of the Environmental Assessment Act, which will provide for joint decision-making between the provincial government and the Tahltan.
Premier John Horgan said the agreement is the first of more to come, and should be a signal to industry of greater certainty with respect to operating in unceded First Nation territory. He said it is "a true partnership between the Tahltan and the government of British Columbia...in shared decision-making.
“British Columbia is open for business in a sustainable way, in a collaborative way that starts and begins with the inherent rights of indigenous peoples to have a say in determining what happens on their territory,” Horgan said. "The Eskay Creek project is going to be the first of its kind to go through and environmental assessment and a Section 7 agreement, reducing uncertainty, allowing the investment community know who they're dealing with.
"When investors look to British Columbia, they will look to a territory, a jurisdiction that has shared decision-making at its foundation."
“I take my hat off to the NDP, to the premier and his colleagues, for making history with the DRIPA legislation,” said Chad Norman Day, president of the Tahltan Central Government.
“I’m deeply honoured that we’re the first indigenous group in British Columbia to sign an agreement like this.
"It's extremely important that, moving forward, Tahltan rights, Tahltan decisions, Tahltan values are at the heart of all these projects."
Skeena Resources (TSX:SKE) plans to restart the Eskay Creek gold mine, which operated 1994 to 2008. As part of the environmental review process, the Tahltan will have more of a regulatory role in the environmental assessment process.
Justin Himmelright, vice president of external affairs for Skeena Resources, said the mine site has road and power access and tailings management.
“The project has all these great assets which were a legacy of the previous project,” he said. “The part that has been missing from the Eskay Creek project is that because it was permitted in an era when indigenous consent was not the standard of the day, it has never achieved formal consent from the Tahltan nation.
“So it’s a very, very important step for the project.”
Tahltan traditional territory in northwest B.C. covers about 11% of B.C.'s total landmass, and is rich in minerals. The Tahltan generally support mining in the region, and have numerous agreements with mining and exploration companies.
More broadly, the province plans to work towards more joint decision making with First Nations on land stewardship. To that end, the Horgan government created a new ministry -- Land, Water and Resource Stewardship.
The new minister, Josie Osborne, said the consent agreement with the Tahltan is just one example of greater co-management and joint decision-making that the government is working towards.
“This path forward or roadmap will not look the same for every First Nation,” she said. “But no matter where we live in British Columbia, expanding and strengthening partnerships and making shared decisions on the land base will create greater predictability and create further opportunity fopr everyone – First Nations, industry and community.”
The consent agreement with the Tahltan is being endorsed by the Mining Association of BC (MABC), which sees it as a way of achieving greater certainty on resource decisions.
“The agreement between the Tahltan Central Government and the provincial government is an important step forward in advancing reconciliation and supporting the development of Skeena Resource’s Eskay Creek Revitalization Project," said MABC CEO Michael Goehring.
“Timely, predictable environmental assessment and permitting processes that support responsible mining are critical for attracting investment and advancing development projects through to mining operations.”