A Vancouver-based copper-gold exploration company has been publicly chastised by Williams Lake First Nation (WLFN) for what they say is a lack of engagement.
WLFN is one of at least two First Nations with territorial claims within the potential mining area, located near Lac la Hache, B.C. In recent months, the company announced intentions to resume exploratory drilling that had been suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic, after they said they found visible gold in bedrock at its Cariboo mineral property.
WLFN Chief Willie Sellars said as gold and copper prices recover, they have started to see an increase in the number of companies pursuing exploration that could lead up to the establishment of a mine within their territory.
“This is not something we take lightly,” Sellars told Black Press Media on Aug. 26 after WLFN issued a news release announcing it will be more aggressively monitoring mining and exploration activity in its stewardship area to ensure companies performing such activities are not negatively affecting the environment or causing damage.
“We pride ourselves on engagement and engaging early with proponents that are working in the traditional territory. If there’s no uptake from those proponents to come sit at the table with us and put together a relationship then we don’t have any support for them working in the traditional territory — the stewardship area.”
Sellars said WLFN has not seen evidence of EnGold being committed to engagement or the environment.
Responding to the release, EnGold President and CEO, David Brett disagreed with Sellars’ assessment of the company and noted there is ‘ample evidence of EnGold’s commitment to engagement and the environment.’
“EnGold has been proactively, regularly, meaningfully and transparently engaging with local First Nations in the region for some time,” Brett said in an email Aug. 26 to Black Press Media.
“I am quite mystified and saddened by the disparaging comments directed at the company” by WLFN this week.
Brett joined EnGold, formerly GWR Resources, in October of 2014 when the company had went through an extended period of inactivity at the Lac La Hache property.
“Although the company had been exploring in the area since 1987, very little engagement with local First Nations had occurred,” Brett admitted. “I decided to change that and made it a top priority to engage with the Williams Lake First Nation, the Canim Lake Band, as well as Alkali Lake.”
WLFN is one of four Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw (NStQ) communities whose traditional territory is around the Williams Lake area in the central Cariboo, stretching from Valemount and McBride in the northeast, to south of Clinton and west of the Fraser River, noted the Northern Shuswap Tribal Council.
WLFN traditional territory overlaps the other NStQ communities of Tsq’escen’ (Canim Lake), Stswecem’c/Xgat’tem (Canoe Creek /Dog Creek) and Xats’ull/ Cmetem’ (Soda Creek) as well as many other First Nation communities.
Brett said a cordial introduction between himself and the WLFN was followed up with a site visit to the property on Sept. 1, 2016 after which other meetings to provide briefings and updates on the project took place at the WLFN band office.
“Members of the Canim Lake Band also visited the Lac La Hache Property in August of 2016, as did members from Alkali Lake. Myself and our VP of exploration have visited Canim Lake numerous times, and when in person meetings were not possible, conference calls we arranged,” Brett said, noting their First Nations engagement practices were recognized as a “success story’ when Association for Mineral Exploration BC Indigenous Relations strategist Lana Eagle reached out to EnGold to speak about their experiences at the 2018 Exploration Roundup in Vancouver.
“EnGold has also had the opportunity meet with local First Nations representatives in Vancouver from time to time,” he added.
Sellars, however, maintains in every discussion they had with the company, EnGold has not shown an interest in building a relationship with WLFN as have other companies such as Imperial Metals, Taseko Mines and Barkerville Gold Mines Ltd.
“The history of mining in this territory — the engagement piece has been few and far between historically, but in this day and age it doesn’t work anymore,” Sellars said. “You need the First Nation support to make sure you have a successful project and by involving us you have that much better of a chance of having a successful project.”
A government to government agreement establishing new approaches to land and resource management and economic development in NStQ territory was signed by B.C. and the four NStQ communities in 2018.
Black Press Media has reached out to to the Ministry of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation for further comment.
Black Press Media has also reached out to Canim Lake Band Chief Helen Henderson and Esk’etemc (Alkali Lake) First Nation Chief Fred Robbins for comment.