The First Nation could contest the proposed British Columbia coal mine as part of a unique deal with the developer

A coal company and British Columbia’s First Nation struck a rare deal to give the community veto power over a proposed mining project, which could set a precedent for how natural resource projects can be developed in Canada.

NWP Coal Canada and Yaq̓it ʔa knuqⱡi’it (YQT), also known as the Tobacco Plains Indian Band, calls the agreement unique and says it will give the first country the ability to act as an “arranger and reviewer” of the company’s proposed Crown Mountain coal mine. worth $400 million near Ilkford, in the southeastern part of the county.

The mine will produce coke, which is mostly used in the steel industry. The project was first proposed in 2010, and construction could begin as early as 2025. Federal and conservative regulators are currently reviewing the project’s potential environmental impacts.

In order for the mine to continue, the project would not only need federal and provincial approval, it would now require YQT permission.

“For too long, Indigenous peoples have not been brought to the negotiating table in making decisions that directly affect our rights and interests,” YQT Chair Heidi Gravel said in a statement.

“We look forward to working with the NWP and regulators as we exercise our full seat at the table as the decision maker in our territory.”

Relationships developed

Natural resource companies are required to consult indigenous communities about large-scale development projects, but this deal could be groundbreaking because it gives the local community veto power to reject the proposal outright.

“The industry often acts as if indigenous peoples have veto power, and what we think is if they are the holders of their ancestral bonds, if they are the people with the most rights in the area, we should treat them like the government,” said Dave Baines, director of Project development at NWP Coal Canada.

“Yeah, it’s scary, but we’re brave enough to say we think we can earn a ‘yes’, and we’ll work with you to get a ‘yes’.”

Chimneys emitting fumes at a coal mining facility, a medium distance away.  Mountains with snow patches appear in the background.
A coal mining operation in Sparwood, British Columbia, was demonstrated in 2016. In the past several years, Canadian regulators and courts have called for more consultation with Indigenous communities, giving more power to those communities over natural resource development. (Jeff Macintosh / The Canadian Press)

The relationship between industry and indigenous communities has evolved in recent decades. Companies often enter into benefit agreements that can provide jobs, training, contracts, and housing for the community, among other measures.

Baines, who previously worked at oilpatch, described in an interview with CBC News how these benefit agreements are similar to a First Nation support purchase, in that compensation is awarded only if the First Nation offers its support.

Essentially, he said, the companies are asking the community to “bury their fears.”

Baines described how in the past consulting Aboriginal people was usually summed up in the final chapter of an organizational application about a new project and he would say “we talked to them”.

The agreement with YQT is different, he said, because “we invite them to the table and say we want you at that table, we want your input, we want you to say yes or no.”

“It’s a big change,” Baines said, “and so we know it’s going to put pressure on their peers in the industry. I hope I don’t get too much hate mail.”

‘I think it might set a precedent’

NWP is owned by Australia-based Jameson Resources and New Zealand-based Bathurst Resources. If the deal goes ahead, the company can also sign a benefit or equity agreement with YQT in the future. The company also consults with other First Nations and Métis communities in the area.

“I think it’s important,” said Dale Swampy, a member of the Samson Cree Nation in Alberta and president of the National Coalition of Chiefs, a group that promotes Indigenous people’s involvement in resource development.

“I think that could set a precedent,” he said.

Dale Swampy, president of the National Coalition of Presidents, says Canada’s consultation process is not clearly defined and there is no set way to determine which communities will be affected by a proposed project. (Livia Manyonds/CBC)

Swampy said Canada’s consultation process is not clearly defined, nor is there even a set way to determine which communities will be affected by a proposed project.

Elevating the First State to regulator status is a unique opportunity, said Anne Harding, owner of Forum Community Relations, a Calgary-based consulting firm focused on Indigenous relations.

“Such oversight on an ongoing basis is something the UN has been looking for for a very long time, and I’ve never seen it before,” she said.

The veto power over a proposed bill also has “enormous potential,” Harding said. “It’s really exciting because it recognizes indigenous rights on the front end.”

watch | What does it mean for indigenous communities to have veto power:

What does it mean for indigenous communities to have veto power?

Allowing communities to make decisions about development in their area and to act as regulators of resource projects offers new opportunities, says Ann Harding, Indigenous Relations Consultant.

In the past several years, Canadian regulators and courts have called for more consultation with Indigenous communities, giving more power to those communities over natural resource development.

In 2018, a federal appeals court ruled Halt construction of the Trans Mountain Pipeline project Because of the concerns, the federal government’s consultations have been very negative and are not meaningful engagement to understand the concerns.

In 2021, the BC Supreme Court ruling Upheld the First Nation’s claim in northeastern BC That too much development in the area was affecting their right to hunt, fish and trap without interference. Blueberry River officials said the ruling was given to the community decision-making power on the ground Regarding future development.

In recent years, some large natural resource companies have I offered an ownership stake In projects with Indigenous groups. Some community leaders say it is an important step towards achieving economic self-sufficiency.

NWP’s Baines described “huge challenges” in consulting in recent years with YQT, which is part of the much larger Ktunaxa Nation, because the trust needed to be rebuilt.

In 2021, Ktunaxa asked the provincial and federal governments to halt all new projects and proposed expansions in the area because the impacts of current mining “exceed acceptable levels” for community rights and cultural practices.

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