By Jack Caldwell

Some things just take a long time to come to fruition. Some say it has taken one hundred years to reach the historic announcements these past days that the BC Provincial government will share tax revenues on two new mines with the First Nations on whose traditional lands the mines are located. Here is the most informative of a large number of uninformative news reports on this happening:

The provincial government has signed two revenue-sharing agreements with two first nation communities in the last two days for specific mining projects within the areas the groups claim as traditional territory. On Wednesday in Victoria, the province unveiled an agreement to share mineral-tax revenues generated by Terrane Metals Corp.’s Mt. Milligan copper and gold mine being developed northwest of Prince George with the McLeod Lake Indian Band.That follows from a similar deal signed Tuesday regarding the sharing of mineral-tax revenue from New Gold Inc.’s New Afton gold mine being developed just outside of Kamloops with the Stk’emlupsemc community of the Secwepemc Nation. Randy Hawse, the government’s Minister of State for mining, characterized the arrangements as economic and community development agreements to support community development in keeping with the province’s New Relationship with first nations and meets the goals of its Transformative Change Accord.

The Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia (AMEBC) applauds these agreements in these words:

“The best indicator of success for mineral explorers is the construction and development of new mines,” said AME BC President and CEO Gavin C. Dirom. “While short on detail, these agreements increase certainty that First Nations will directly benefit from the tax revenues that government receives from these mines. Resource revenue sharing from forestry tax revenues has existed since 2003, and we are pleased that the government has developed the means to distribute future taxes from the New Afton and Mt. Milligan projects to local First Nations.”

The McLeod Lake Indian Band, or the Tse’Khene Nation (People of the Rocks) have a website at this link. When I checked there was no comment on this event. Same goes for the website of the Secwepemc Bands of the Shuswap Nation. Maybe they have not gotten around to updating yet, leaving it to the Vancouver and Toronto press to broadcast the news. Thus it is difficult to fully probe the meaning or importance of these agreements.

Although some time after, I found these statements reported:

In a news release, Randy Hawes, BC’s minister of state for mining, said, the agreement “sends a signal to the mining industry that B.C. is a stable and progressive place to invest. B.C. wants to work with other First Nations to develop mining projects that meet some of the highest environmental standards in the world for the benefit of all British Columbians.”

Chief Shane Gottsfriedson of the Tk’emlups First Nation said, “With this agreement we are building and strengthening our government-to-government relationships on venture that benefit us all.”

Chief Rick Deneault of the Skeetchestn First Nation said the New Afton agreement “will bring other economic opportunities and employment for our communities and stability for future generations.”

In a statement, the Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia Vice President Laureen Whyte said, “This is a game changer for our sector and the First Nations in whose traditional territories we operate. I hope that the First Nations in BC now will look at mineral exploration as an opportunity to help enable them to build stronger, healthier communities, and strengthen their cultural foundations.”

The legal theory behind the rights of the First Nations to receive tax revenues is complex. The simplest explanation I have heard goes thus: The First Nations entered into valid treaties with the British Crown. Thus two sovereign nations were making a valid treaty. Those treaties, or their derivatives, are still in effect. Thus the traditional lands of the First Nations on which mines may be developed, are still subject to treaty provisions.In this case taxation. Thus the BC government must share the tax revenue from the mines.

To me this is eminently reasonable and fair. More: it is the law, a proper enforcement of old treaties. I am sure the details would and have delighted lawyers for a long time, but as a potential investor in BC mining, it is good to know new mines are coming on stream and with these first two agreements in place, maybe many more will come on stream too, and we will see more and more mining in BC. That will be good for all, First Nations, Vancouver yuppies, mining consultants, investors, and the many others who benefit from mining done well.

And that is where we hope the Nations entering into these agreements will now focus their attention: make sure the mining is done with proper respect for the land. The technologies exist; you just need a bit of pressure on the miners to implement them. No more Giant Mine, no more Faro, and no more Britannia Beach. For if there is then the First Nations may have to cough up their share of excessive taxpayer money to clean up the mess left behind.

On a closing personal note: I will know all is lost if we hear the Nations talk of sustainable mining and/or corporate social responsibility. Let us hope we get only the truth: this is our land; we are deriving tax revenue there from; and we are making sure the mining is done well, for the benefit of all now and in the long-term.