Mount Polley Mine

The Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw Leadership Council’s four First Nations have jointly adopted a mining policy that will be applied to all existing, proposed and future projects involving or impacting on its lands, waters and rights.

The mining policies have been formulated following the breach at Imperial Metals-owned Mount Polley copper and gold mine tailings pond in August, which devastated the region.

The council consists of the Xat’sull, T’exelc, Tsq’escen’ and Stswecem’c / Xgat’tem First Nations, near the city of Williams Lake, British Columbia, Canada.

Fair Mining Collaborative has developed the comprehensive and detailed policy, as well as a companion tool kit to manage its implementation and enforcement.

The policy, which is a clear statement of leadership and authority by the Northern Secwepemc, encompasses everything from efforts to stake claims, through every stage of the mining process, to agreement compliance and benefits from operating mines, to mine clean-up.

"It gives [First Nations] the recourses to deal with governments and companies as equals from a position of knowledge and strength."

Xat’sull (Soda Creek) First Nation chief Bev Sellars said: "Since mining arrived in BC, First Nations have been ignored and imposed upon, and more recently, as the courts have reaffirmed our rights, some have argued that they do not know what First Nations want and there are no rules to play by.

Chief Ann Louie of the T’exelc (Williams Lake Indian Band), said: "The Mount Polley tailings pond disaster that has affected our communities has reinforced our decision to proceed with this very carefully developed policy, but the impetus for it was the cumulative effect of more than 150 years of bad mining practices and devastating impacts on First Nations in BC."

The policy is said to be carefully researched and clearly stating what will steps are required for mine work at any level to proceed.

The tools have been developed to ensure that the people have the knowledge of First Nations title and rights, and mining laws and regulations, to enforce it and ensure compliance with any agreements.

Stswecem’c / Xgat’tem (Canoe & Dog Creek First Nation) chief Patrick Harry said: "This is not about ending all mining.

"It is about ending the practice of anyone being allowed to stake a claim anywhere they want, exploring wherever they want and developing projects regardless of our rights, concerns and objections.

"It is about making sure the right projects are accepted and done the right way, and that their operation, maintenance and adherence to conditions are monitored."

Fair Mining Collaborative executive director Amy Crook said: "This policy gives First Nations a practical plan and the tools to back it up.

"It gives them the recourses to deal with governments and companies as equals from a position of knowledge and strength.”

Image: Mount Polley Mine in British Columbia. Photo: courtesy of esse Allen, using Landsat data from the US Geological Survey.