A First Nation that claims as its traditional territory an area the size of the United Kingdom is writing a new "resource law" to govern how and where industry operates in northern B.C., southeast Yukon and in the southwest corner of the Northwest Territories.
The rugged area occupied by the Kaska Nation, which has about 3,000 members in five bands, is rich in copper, gold and other minerals, as well as oil, gas and timber.
Chief Brian Ladue, a spokesman for the Kaska Nation, said the resource law is being developed to give aboriginal communities more power, but claimed the changes should also make it easier, not harder for resource companies to launch major projects.
"We're asserting our government and establishing a law and a set of guidelines and a policy around how industry will get our consent to move forward on projects," said Mr. Ladue, who heads the Ross River Dena Council.
"I think this will really help with certainty."
Mr. Ladue, interviewed while in Vancouver attending Mineral Exploration Roundup, a major resource conference, said the Kaska Nation will work with industry in drafting the new regulations.
"I've met with a few companies that are operating in our traditional territory or hope to operate there. We had this conversation with them about what we hoped to do with the resource law and we had unanimous support from industry. Every one of them said … what companies really need is certainty – a set of rules they need to abide by and to follow through on to ensure their project will go forward," he said.
"They want to assist in developing some of these laws. And it's perfect to have industry involved in developing these guidelines."
Aboriginal engagement is one of the themes at the mining conference, but Jonathan Buchanan, director of communications for the Association for Mineral Exploration BC, declined comment Wednesday, saying officials have not yet had a chance to review the Kaska declaration.
In an e-mail, John Rustad, Aboriginal Relations Minister for B.C., said the government has a strong relationship with the Kaska, and has "a Strategic Engagement Agreement (SEA), which will encourage a positive and respectful government-to-government relationship, while strengthening B.C.'s investment climate."
Mr. Rustad said B.C. is negotiating a treaty with the Kaska Nation and "we look forward to discussing their resource law as it develops."
Mr. Ladue said the Tsilhqot'in decision by the Supreme Court of Canada last year, which confirmed aboriginal rights and title over land, spurred the Kaska Nation to develop its own resource regulations.
"The Kaska leaders got together and decided [this is] the next step forward in governing our traditional territory and having the proper involvement in what's going on in our territory," he said. "We've always stated we're not anti-development here, we just need to be treated as a government. We need to be at the table deciding whether or not a project will go forward."
The Kaska, who in the past have objected to logging and oil and gas projects in their traditional territory, said the resource law will be passed by the Kaska General Assembly next summer, but detailed regulations won't be in place for another two years.
"It'll cover mineral resources, forestry, oil and gas and there's much more to be added on," Mr. Ladue said. "Eventually, we have to have a law around water resources, wildlife resources… Wherever a third party can come into our territory and withdraw some of those resources, that's what we want to govern."
In its declaration, the Kaska Nation said its new resource law is meant to supplement, not challenge existing federal, territorial and provincial regulations.