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Band seeks mine agreement

?Esdilagh (Alexandria) Indian Band needs an economic benefit agreement with Taseko Mines Ltd.’s Gibraltar Mine, Tsilhqot’in National Government tribal chair Chief Joe Alphonse said.

“We are trying to put pressure on and would strongly recommend that the province of B.C. intervene and get this company to sign an agreement,” Alphonse told the Tribune.

First Nations communities are experiencing government cutbacks and have to tap into the resources on their traditional territories to ensure adequate funding for their government structures, Alphonse said.

“If we have to we are going to push to get Taseko out and another company in that will work with First Nations people,” Alphonse warned.

Taseko Mines, however, said it has agreements with the Williams Lake and Soda Creek Indian Bands, and in 2011, the ?Esdilagh band drafted a memorandum of understanding for the company’s consideration.

“They brought it to us for our consideration and our CEO signed it,” Taseko’s vice-president of corporate affairs Brian Battison told the Tribune. “Then Esdilagh subsequently did not sign it.”

During the last five years, Gibraltar has hired ?Esdilagh members, contracted services with the band, provided education and training opportunities, Battison said.

The agreement wasn’t anywhere near industry standards, which is why ?Esdilagh didn’t sign it, Alphonse said.

Battison argued it is jobs and business development that will make a difference for individual First Nations people, not necessarily an agreement.

“From a job comes a sense of purpose, self confidence and a sense of making your own way,” Battison said.

It’s not about jobs, it’s about meeting a standard that has been set across Canada, Alphonse responded.

Since becoming ?Esdilagh’s chief in 2008, Bernie Mack has been meeting regularly with Gibraltar and said Friday some progress had been made in developing a relationship between his band and the mine, although he described the relationship as “lukewarm.”

He said an Esdilagh Gibraltar Working Group, established for environmental and business development, meets regularly, even if both sides don’t agree.

During the mine’s recent expansion, the band received a truck load of trees for firewood and building camps for some housing structures, and last Friday the band began a tree planting contract with the Gibraltar.

“I acknowledge that we’ve made some progress, but it’s far from an impact benefit agreement which is both revenue sharing and contracts,” Mack said, adding Esdilagh is fairly remote, with limited capacity and limited dollars.

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