On January 3, 2019, the TSKLH Nation filed a petition in the Supreme Court of British Columbia challenging the Province’s decision to share mineral tax revenue from the Brucejack Gold Mine (“Brucejack”) project without consulting the TSKLH Nation. Brucejack, a high-grade underground gold mine owned and operated by Pretium Resources Inc. (“Pretium”), is located in the Province’s “Golden Triangle” and wholly within the TSKLH Nation’s traditional territory.
In 2018, the Province announced that it will share 15% of the mineral tax revenue generated by Brucejack with each of the Nisga’a and Tahltan Nations. Given the Province’s indication that it will only share up to 37.5% of mineral tax revenue with Aboriginal groups, this constitutes 80% of the mineral tax revenue available to First Nations from the Brucejack Mine.
The TSKLH Nation is the only First Nation claiming the entire Brucejack project area, and the mine site itself. The Nisga’a Nation has negotiated some Aboriginal rights over territory that includes some of the ancillary infrastructure, but Brucejack is located approximately 200 kilometers from the nearest Nisga’a village. The Tahltan Nation asserts a claim to Aboriginal rights and title to a very limited portion (only 10 kilometers) of Brucejack’s access road, and its asserted territory is otherwise located north of Brucejack.
The Province has acknowledged that the TSKLH Nation’s claim to Brucejack is stronger than any other First Nation, and consulted the TSKLH Nation at the high end of the consultation spectrum throughout the project’s environmental assessment phase. The Province’s obligation to consult the TSKLH Nation will persist through the life of the mine (estimated to be 18 years). Yet, when it comes to distributing the economic benefits derived from Brucejack, the Province has neither consulted the TSKLH Nation, nor has it been willing to enter revenue sharing discussions.
The TSKLH Nation’s petition also challenges the Province’s revenue sharing policy generally. The stated objectives of the policy are to strengthen government-to-government relationships with First Nations and to improve the socio-economic well-being of First Nation communities. In the case of Brucejack, the Province has applied the policy to appropriate economic benefits from TSKLH territory for distribution amongst other First Nations, setting those Nations on an upward political and socio-economic trajectory at the expense of the TSKLH Nation.
The Golden Triangle hosts many of British Columbia’s new mining opportunities, including projects led by Ascot Resources Inc. and Seabridge Gold Inc. Given their government-to-government relationships with the Province, the Nisga’a and Tahltan Nations will undoubtedly have an advantage over the TSKLH Nation throughout the Golden Triangle moving forward.
Indeed, recall that in early 2018, the Province, industry proponents, and the Nisga’a and Tahltan Nations formed the British Columbia Regional Mining Alliance (“BC RMA”) to promote economic development in the Golden Triangle. In the Spring of 2018, the BC RMA travelled to London to attend the Canadian Mining Symposium, and to presumably temper British Columbia’s growing reputation as a hostile regulatory environment by advertising First Nation support for economic development in the Golden Triangle.
While the Province has commended the TSKLH Nation’s proactive approach to building economic relationships in the Golden Triangle, it has shown no interest in building a government-to-government relationship with the TSKLH Nation.
Given the circumstances, the TSKLH Nation has no choice but to proceed to court to seek recourse for the economic disadvantages it continues to face. In addition to its petition, in May 2018, the TSKLH Nation commenced legal proceedings to advance its Aboriginal rights and title claim to TSKLH traditional territory. If the TSKLH Nation is successful with its rights and title claim, there will be significant repercussions for many of the economic projects operating within the Golden Triangle, including Brucejack.
For more information and/or to arrange an interview with Chief Simpson, please contact:
The TSKLH Nation are the matrilineal descendants of the Laxwiiyip Tsetsaut, a self-governing people who exclusively occupied and effectively controlled TSKLH territory at the time of European contact and assertion of Crown sovereignty. The TSKLH Nation’s territory includes parts of the Nass River, Bell-Irving River, Skeena River, Bear River, and Stikine River watersheds in northwestern British Columbia. The TSKLH Nation asserts the right to hunt, fish, trap and harvest food and medicinal plants throughout its territory.