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First Nations and gov’t partner on Mount Polley Mine breach

Chief Bev Sellars (left), Soda Creek Indian Band, Chief Ann Louie (right), from the Williams Lake Indian Band and Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Minister John Rustad (centre) sign an agreement to work in partnership to address all aspects of Mount Polley mine breach. - Photo submitted
Chief Bev Sellars (left), Soda Creek Indian Band, Chief Ann Louie (right), from the Williams Lake Indian Band and Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Minister John Rustad (centre) sign an agreement to work in partnership to address all aspects of Mount Polley mine breach.
— image credit: Photo submitted

The Williams Lake Indian Band and the Soda Creek Indian Band (Xat’sull First Nation) signed a letter of understanding with the Government of B.C. to work in partnership to address all aspects of the breach of the tailings storage facility that occurred at the Mount Polley Mine on Aug. 4.

The agreement has five components that will be conducted in accordance with First Nations traditions and scientific knowledge and recognizes the health and safety of the public and workers, including members of the First Nations, are paramount:

1.) A principals table consisting of the First Nations and the Ministers of Environment, Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation, and Energy and Mines will oversee a government-to-government response.

2.) A senior officials committee from the three ministries and designates for the First Nations will be responsible for overseeing all of the response activities such as assessing impacts, clean up, remediation planning and decisions related to future requirements to respond to all aspects of the Mount Polley incident.

3.) $200,000 to each First Nation ($400,000 in total) to cover the costs already incurred and future costs related to the tailings pond breach.

4.) The recognition of the important economic contribution of mining to B.C. and the commencement of a dialogue about existing laws, regulations and policies in relation to the mining sector in B.C.

5.) Agreement that the entities responsible pay for all costs and damages incurred in relation to the Mount Polley Mine incident in accordance with applicable legislation.

Williams Lake Indian Band Chief Ann Louie said the letter of understanding is only the beginning of a process for mining reforms in B.C.

“The provincial government bears the responsibility to effectively collaborate with First Nations on a government-to-government basis on meaningful reforms to build confidence with all our communities that mineral exploration and mining is a safe industry,” Louie said. “At this point that confidence still needs to be earned.”

The provincial government and First Nations have been clear since the breach occurred that finding out exactly what happened, ensuring this never happens again and moving quickly on remediation plans to protect and preserve the environment are top priorities.

Soda Creek Indian Band Chief Bev Sellars said up until now there has not been the level of co-operation and collaboration required between the two sides.

“Not only does this agreement commit our respective governments to joint oversight and decision-making in regards to all aspects of response to the Mount Polley Mine disaster, it also allows First Nations and the provincial government to begin a necessary conversation about the adequacy of existing laws, regulations and policy in regards to the overall mining sector,” Sellars said.

Minister of Environment Mary Polak said the agreement is a good step in the right direction.

“I’m confident we will work constructively with the local First Nations to build their trust and to create a forum to establish an ongoing relationship,” Polak said.

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