Mine breach spawns First Nations mining policy

The Mount Polley Mine tailings breach in August has strengthened the resolve of First Nations in the Cariboo.

The Mount Polley Mine tailings breach in August has strengthened the resolve of First Nations in the Cariboo to develop a policy that outlines their expectations of the mining industry.

In announcing the policy this week, the Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw Leadership Council, comprised of four Shuswap communities near Williams Lake, said the policy will be applied to all existing, proposed and future projects that involve or impact lands, waters and rights.

“With this mining policy we can no longer be ignored or imposed upon, and the province and industry can no longer claim they do not know how to work with us,”  Xat’sull (Soda Creek) Chief Bev Sellars said in a press release.

Developed by the Fair Mining Collaborative, a project initiated by Xat’sull, the policy covers every stage of the mining process to agreement compliance and benefits from operating mines, to mine cleanup.

Fair Mining Collaborative executive director Amy Crook described the policy as a practical plan for First Nations and the tools to back it up.

“It gives them the recourses to deal with governments and companies as equals from a position of knowledge and strength,” Crook said.

Williams Lake Indian Band (WLIB) Chief Ann Louie said WLIB warned the Mount Polley dam was a disaster waiting to happen and were ignored.

In 2011, when Mount Polley Mine proposed a plan to discharge water into Hazeltine Creek from the tailings storage facility WLIB, with funds from Imperial Metals, hired environmental consultant Brian Olding to prepare a report.

“Brian advised at that time there were significant issues with the dam and they would have to deal with that problem or there would be potentially an issue with the stability and safety of the tailings facility,” said Kirk Dressler, economic development officer for the band.

Imperial Metals vice-president of corporate affairs Steve Robertson, however, said the integrity of the tailings impoundment was never raised during meetings with local with First Nations prior to the Aug. 4th tailings breach.

“We have two agreements with First Nations and they were the first brown fields participation agreements signed in the province with an operating mine,” Robertson added.

“We are going to continue to operate on a best faith basis.We are meeting with them next week and will continue to communicate with them as full and openly as possible,” Robertson said.