Speaking from the experience of being the First Nation community located closest to Taseko’s Gibraltar Mine ?Esdilagh Chief Bernie Mack told the New Prosperity Mine federal review panel Wednesday he believed it is important for people to understand the true historical context of mining in the area.
“We remain marginalized from any benefits of this mine and suffer all consequences of its development,” he said. “After 40 years of existence this mine has provided our people with about three jobs and severely impacted our Aboriginal rights and displaced us from our lands.”
Proposed projects must respect the original owners of the land and companies must develop a good working relationship early, he added.
Everyone can learn from working at improving relationships that are of a mutual beneficial nature to all people. The most important consideration is conservation and protection of the land and waters, Mack said.
“As everyone knows, we can’t have a good economy without a healthy environment.”
Historically, First Nations travelled long distances and set up villages and camps in areas where there was good fishing, hunting and harvesting of berries, roots, medicines and other life nourishing foods, Mack explained.
“Our society and governance evolved like others through co-existence of interdependency on the abundance provided by our natural resources.”
He suggested if government and industry are willing to take proactive and brave steps forward and truly develop meaningful and productive relationship with First Nations, commerce and economy will bloom across Canada.
Responding Taseko’s senior vice president of operations John McManus said Taseko is presently working with three communities on participation and co-operation agreements at Gibraltar.
“But one of the things that Chief Bernie brought up this morning was the ability to learn from experience and we’ve really tried,” McManus said.
He admitted Taseko hasn’t reached the point where the company wanted to with those agreements.
“We came very close several times with both Xatsull and ?Esdilagh, and would like to complete those but this Panel process and the environmental assessment around New Prosperity is one of the large problems that we have in closing those agreements.”
Within the participation and cooperation agreements, there is funding for capacity within those agreements but there’s also an emphasis on how Taseko communicates with First Nations groups that the company is working with on what the situation is at Gibraltar, McManus said.
“We get input into the things that we do physically to repair the damages, if we look at impacts of the mine.”
Gibraltar was built in 1971 and a lot of things that are known now about impacts weren’t known then, he added.
When Taseko bought Gibraltar it accepted the liability of those things and has worked towards putting in programs which will resolve them.
Xeni Gwet’in (Nemiah) chief Roger William asked McManus if Taseko has a good framework or template to develop Impact and Benefit agreements with First Nations.
“I can tell you a lot of those IBAs which have been signed are not something that we would document,” McManus responded.
“There are some really bad ones out there and there have been some real examples of what looks like a good agreement, which turns out to have bad consequences.”
Taseko’s not only studying the law and what happens with the court of appeals, but is watching what happens with other mining companies and other situations in this country and abroad, he added.