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March 01, 2008

Aboriginal Law: Kemess North Mine Refused by Government

In March 2008 the federal and British Columbia governments accepted a Joint Environmental Assessment Panel's recommendation, and turned down the Kemess North Copper-Gold Project in Northern British Columbia. The governments jointly announced that the project could not proceed in its present form.

This important decision could mean a higher standard of consultation with First Nations, and may affect mine waste and tailings treatment and disposal options. First Nations see this as affirmation of their right to be consulted and involved in resource exploration and exploitation.

The Panel's decision had resulted in a controversial campaign by the B.C. Mining industry to promote B.C. politicians to lobby the governments to reject the Panel's decision. This strategy was denounced by a resolution of the Assembly of First Nations in December of 2007.

According to the Panel, the project proposed dumping about 500 million tones of waste rock and tailings into Duncan (Amazay) Lake. This would virtually destroy the 269 hectare lake, found by the Panel to hold spiritual and cultural value for the Gitxsan and the Tse Keh Nay First Nations. The project would have required long term management for generations after the mine closed.

The Joint BC/Federal Panel considered a number of sustainability factors, but ultimately, it was persuaded by First Nations spiritual concerns for the lake. Both the Gitxsan and the Tse Keh Nay have stated that water is sacred to them and that the destruction of a natural lake goes against their values as Aboriginal people. The Panel noted that although the proponent was prepared to offer $1 million as a starting point for an impact benefit agreement the Panel was told repeatedly that there was no price that Aboriginal people would agree to place on the loss of Duncan (Amazay) Lake and its spiritual values, and that, in order to embrace this Project, they would have to make an unacceptable trade-off which cannot be readily costed in dollar terms.

Call W+SEL Environmental Law Specialist Juli Abouchar for legal advice and assistance in Aboriginal and First Nations consultation and Impact Benefit Agreements. Juli can be reached at 416-862-4836.