by Greg Klein | June 26, 2014
While the June 26 Supreme Court of Canada land claims ruling has been described as a setback for some resource projects, one British Columbia mining company welcomes it. Taseko Mines TSX:TKO says the decision removes “any doubt about aboriginal title in the area” of its New Prosperity copper-gold project.
New Prosperity is the only proposed mine in B.C. that people know for sure is not in an area of aboriginal title.—Taseko Mines president/CEO
The proposed mine has been bitterly opposed by leaders of the six-band Tsilhqot’in National Government, the beneficiaries of what’s been described as Canada’s most important native rights case. The decision grants the Tsihqot’in title to 1,750 square kilometres in central B.C. But, according to a statement from Taseko president/CEO Russell Hallbauer, the ruling confirms that his company’s proposal “is located in an area where aboriginal title does not exist. As such, New Prosperity is the only proposed mine in B.C. that people know for sure is not in an area of aboriginal title.”
“Now that these matters have been settled, the opportunity exists for a constructive and mutually beneficial way forward for the New Prosperity project,” he added. “We welcome and look forward to the opportunity to re-establish a positive dialogue with the six Tsilhqot’in bands represented by the Tsilhqot’in National Government about New Prosperity and its potential to assist them with advancing community priorities.”
In the past Tsilhqot’in leaders have said the company has not consulted them properly, while Taseko countered that the chiefs were unwilling to talk. Last February the federal government rejected the $1.1-billion proposal following a negative environmental review. Taseko then requested a federal judicial review, claiming the environmental panel studied a tailings model that differed radically from that proposed by the company.
The rejection was Taseko’s second. The company’s original mine plan met federal rejection in November 2010. Taseko returned with a $300-million revision that would prevent draining the 118-hectare Fish Lake, the focus of native opposition.
North of New Prosperity, Taseko operates the Gibraltar copper-molybdenum mine, the second-largest copper open pit in Canada and the largest employer in B.C.’s Cariboo region.
While the Supreme Court ruling gives the Tsilhqot’in greater control over their 1,750-square-kilometre territory, the natives lack absolute power to reject resource projects that show “a compelling and substantial public interest,” according to the decision. The Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia emphasized the decision “confirmed that provincial laws and regulations will continue to apply in the Tsilhqot’in Nation aboriginal title area, subject to section 35 of the Constitution Act.” AME BC called the ruling “a complex and precedent-setting case that will require further review.”
Likewise the Mining Association of B.C. said it’s reviewing the decision, which “provides certainty and clarification around aboriginal title and the application of provincial law and regulation on the land base.”
Pointing out that mining comprises B.C.’s largest private sector employer of natives, MABC president/CEO Karina Briño added that “numerous aboriginal-owned suppliers and contractors work collaboratively with, and benefit from, the mining industry. In addition to employment opportunities, the mining industry also recognizes the importance of revenue sharing agreements between the provincial government and aboriginal communities.”
Other commentators have suggested, however, that the ruling can bolster native opposition to development.