The Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) and Taseko Mines Ltd. signed a participation and co-operation agreement on February 24, 2022.
“We need to continue to be better culturally, we need to continue to be better spiritually, we need to continue to be better in holding up our traditions and our ceremony and we know that and we know there’s a price tag attached to that,” said WLFN Chief Willie Sellars before the signing. “It’s through agreements like this … that we’re able to do these things.”
He spoke of the funding of post-secondary education for their students and what reconciliation means to the community.
“We’re making these leaps and bounds in our region, a region that is very challenging politically,” continued Sellars.
He praised the work Taseko has been doing by signing these impact benefit agreements as “really contributing to the economic reconciliation discussion which is a big part of how we’re going to heal ourselves as communities and heal ourselves as regions.”
Sellars said WLFN has contributed $22 million in infrastructure improvements to the region in the past two years, including flood remediation works, the new WLFN administration building and housing construction.
He acknowledged former chiefs and leaders who had worked to get the community where it is now.
“It really does mean a lot when industry does step up and want to stand beside us.”
Taseko President and CEO Stuart McDonald also spoke briefly before the signing.
“We feel that relationship has grown over time,” said McDonald, referring to the original agreement Taseko signed with former WLFN Chief Anne Louie in 2013.
“We want to be good partners, we want to have people to grow up in the community, get educated and work in our business too,” he continued.
Taseko Mines Ltd. is the majority owner and operator of Gibraltar Mine, located northeast of Williams Lake, which reported an adjusted earnings of $108 million in 2020.
The mine was granted a permit amendment to increase its release of untreated tailings water into the Fraser River by 50 per cent in 2019.
The permit application was opposed by other First Nations and conservationists concerned about the impacts on the threatened salmon runs in the Fraser River, which saw record low returns in 2019 and 2020.
The Tsilhqot’in National Government’s website has a page detailing opposition to the mine’s amended permit and had appealed the approval of the permit amendment by the provincial government with the Environmental Appeal Board.
When asked if it was more challenging to come to an agreement and reassure the community in light of the Mount Polley mine tailings spill into Quesnel Lake and continued opposition to Gibraltar Mine’s release of untreated effluent into the Fraser River, Chief Sellars responded: “The way that we talk about it in regards to being environmental stewards of the land is that we need to have a seat at the table.”
“The dialogue has always been great and transparent and open with the mine site,” said Sellars, who added WLFN consults with experts and the province as necessary.