By the time Jeanette Jules was elected as a band councillor for the Tk’emlúps Indian Band in 2009, she’d already spent about 30 years in and around band business, including time on education and economic development committees.
So she was not daunted by having to get up to speed on a participation agreement the band had signed in 2008 in relation to the New Afton mine, located about 10 kilometres outside of Kamloops.
She was, however, very methodical.
“I started by reading it through,” Ms. Jules said. “And then reading it again. Until I could quote sections of it by heart.”
As she studied the agreement, she also dug into how it was being implemented, finding in some cases that deadlines for training programs had been missed. The pact, between Vancouver-based New Gold and the Tk’emlúps and Skeetchestn bands, is designed to make the bands – together, called the Stk’emlupsemc te Secwepemc Nation, or SSN – economic partners in the $765-million mine through initiatives such as training and employment programs and contracting opportunities.
“When the relationship with New Gold was in its infancy, Jeanette took on a significant leadership role to ensure there were measurable benefits for her community,” said Laurie Sterritt, executive director of the B.C. Aboriginal Mine Training Association. “She didn’t necessarily have experience managing legal agreements, but she devoted herself to the greater mission and learned everything she could about the economic opportunity.”
The agreement has a fixed target of 20-per-cent aboriginal employment at the gold mine, which began production in June and is expected to operate for 12 years. Currently, the employment rate for aboriginals sits at 23.5 per cent, Ms. Jules said.
Ms. Jules took a similarly methodical approach to a 2010 deal that provides for tax revenue from the mine to be shared between the province and the SSN.
The tax-sharing agreement, the first of its kind in B.C., is part of a revamped approach to resource development by the province, and is expected to generate millions of dollars for the SSN.
Ms. Jules is part of a group of members from both bands that has worked for years to plan, implement and fine-tune the two agreements, Skeetchestn chief Rick Deneault said.
“We’ve learned things that we could have done better,” Mr. Deneault said. “But so far, things are working very well.”
Asked what she sees as the biggest impact of the agreements, Ms. Jules talks about education and new opportunities, citing a band member who was headed for law school before an internship at the mine set her on a new path in human relations, and another who’s gone through an underground mine training program and is now “doing exceptionally well for himself.”
As other bands contemplate resource projects, many are looking to SSN’s agreements as benchmarks. Ms. Jules would encourage them to take their time.
“It can be a benefit. But you have to move through it very slowly, starting right at the beginning,” Ms. Jules said.
That’s true even though corporate and financial changes on the proponent’s side might bring new faces to the negotiating table, she added.
“The company involved may change five or six times but [the project] is still in the same place.”