Skip to main content

B.C.'s mining minister, Randy Hawes, is dismissing a report from an International Human Rights Clinic of the Harvard Law School, as the province's three major political First Nations groups call on the Liberal government to heed the findings.

The 143-page report, Bearing the Burden: The Effects of Mining on First Nations in British Columbia, concluded that special rights guaranteed to First Nations receive inadequate attention in the province compared to mining interests.

"To be blunt, I think the report is hogwash," said Mr. Hawes, questioning why Harvard doesn't look in its own backyard or concentrate elsewhere in the world where there are egregious impacts on indigenous people.

Mr. Hawes called the report, released last week, a "completely flawed document."

The minister of state for mining argued that the province is making "great strides" with First Nations, having recently introduced revenue sharing on mining projects and major expansions. He also noted that mines provide revenue that pays for services like health and roads that benefit all British Columbians, including Aboriginal citizens.

While he noted that some First Nations reject mining for a more traditional lifestyle, he also said traditional ways are linked to lower birth weights, higher birth rate deaths and lower life spans. The way to improve those outcomes is to share in the wealth and jobs that come from mining, he said.

Following the report's release, B.C.'s First Nations leaders called on the government to make mining legislation and policy reforms a priority.

They said it is time B.C. legislation matched Canadian laws or the United Nations declaration of rights for indigenous people.

Among the groups that signed on to the joint statement sent to Premier Gordon Campbell, were the First Nations Summit, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, and the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council in north-central B.C.

Dozens of individual First Nation leaders also signed the joint statement.

While First Nations have not formally had any discussions with the province on the Harvard report, they've heard what has been said, observed Carrier Sekani Tribal Council vice-chief Terry Teegee. At the very minimum, the province should adopt the UN declaration of rights, which includes a call for free, prior and informed consent by First Nations before natural resource development proceeds on their traditional lands.

Mr. Teegee noted that First Nations in the Carrier Sekani region are being overwhelmed by mineral rights claims.

It's not the first time First Nations have called for mining reform.

In 2008, following a mining summit in Prince George, First Nations requested an end to the free-entry mineral-staking system so companies could enter First Nations' territories only after they received consent.

However, Mr. Hawes said the government is not interested in changing its more-than-100-year-old free-entry system, which also allows companies to stake tenures online. He noted that if a mechanized disturbance occurs on the land during exploration - including cutting down trees - a permit is required that triggers some First Nations consultation.