Canada markets closed
  • S&P/TSX

    19,507.05
    +32.40 (+0.17%)
     
  • S&P 500

    4,127.83
    -35.46 (-0.85%)
     
  • DOW

    34,060.66
    -267.13 (-0.78%)
     
  • CAD/USD

    0.8288
    -0.0002 (-0.02%)
     
  • CRUDE OIL

    65.33
    -0.16 (-0.24%)
     
  • BTC-CAD

    51,678.82
    -853.53 (-1.62%)
     
  • CMC Crypto 200

    1,206.81
    -46.33 (-3.70%)
     
  • GOLD FUTURES

    1,869.50
    +1.50 (+0.08%)
     
  • RUSSELL 2000

    2,210.88
    -16.24 (-0.73%)
     
  • 10-Yr Bond

    1.6420
    +0.0020 (+0.12%)
     
  • NASDAQ futures

    13,216.50
    +4.50 (+0.03%)
     
  • VOLATILITY

    21.34
    +1.62 (+8.22%)
     
  • FTSE

    7,034.24
    +1.39 (+0.02%)
     
  • NIKKEI 225

    28,406.84
    +582.01 (+2.09%)
     
  • CAD/EUR

    0.6779
    0.0000 (0.00%)
     

Canadian First Nation, with rare sway over mining, puts Newmont on notice

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Jeff Lewis
·4 min read
In western Canada, the Tahltan First Nation calls the mining shots
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

By Jeff Lewis

TORONTO (Reuters) - A First Nation group in Canada's British Columbia province has put top gold miner Newmont Corp on notice that it is unlikely to gain buy-in for a gold and copper project, amid concern that mining will encroach on a local town.

The pushback by the Tahltan First Nation carries extra weight due to the group's outsized influence in its territory, in contrast to similar groups who oppose mining elsewhere.

That authority may complicate efforts by U.S.-based Newmont to develop its early-stage Tatogga project, acquired in March in a $311 million buyout of GT Gold.

"It's going to be a sensitive discussion with the nation," Tahltan Central Government President Chad Day told Reuters.

Residents of nearby Iskut, about 1,600 kilometers north of Vancouver, worry the Newmont project will limit their ability to hunt caribou and bring more industry to an area that already includes Newcrest Mining's Red Chris copper and gold mine.

The Tahltan nation has unique powers due to a combination of land rights, legal clout, financial heft and the ability to conduct their own economic and environmental assessments on projects in their territory.

Miners from Teck to Rio Tinto have signed consent agreements with the nation, whose business arm spans aviation to mining.

"There’s no doubt that they have a very powerful say in whether or not projects proceed in their territory," said Merle Alexander, principal at with the indigenous law group at Miller Titerle and a hereditary chief of the Kitasoo Xai’xais First Nation.

Tahltan territory covers about 11% of the Pacific province and sits on an estimated 50.6 million ounces of gold and 12.5 billion pounds of copper, according to data mapping provider DigiGeoData.

Like some other British Columbian groups, the Tahltan Nation never ceded territory to European settlers, in contrast to groups elsewhere who ended up relinquishing title to their lands through treaties.

Aboriginal claims to traditional territories in British Columbia were bolstered by a landmark 2014 Supreme Court ruling.

Newmont owns stakes in other undeveloped mineral deposits in Tahltan territory, which remain years from development.

"Clearly, if the community does not want the resource development, we're not going to be there," Newmont spokesman Nick Cotts said, adding the U.S. miner is committed to working with the Tahltan to address concerns.

NO 'CULTURAL SACRIFICES'

The Tahltan nation has not shied away from using its power in the past.

In 2012, the nation opposed a coalbed methane project proposed by oil major Royal Dutch Shell, prompting the company to relinquish land tenures.

Three years later, Fortune Minerals sold coal leases in the territory, after the group threatened the miner with expulsion.

Such clout is in sharp contrast to the experience of indigenous groups elsewhere. Last year, Rio Tinto destroyed Aboriginal cave sites, with the affected indigenous population having little recourse to block it.

To be sure, the nation, who historically mined obsidian for weaponry and tools, support some mining provided it is on their terms.

Exploration spending last year in the territory topped C$200 million ($162.40 million) with production from three active mines valued at more than C$1.2 billion, according to the nation. Many Tahltan work in the industry and the nation has revenue-sharing agreements with the government for projects.

That economic heft makes it difficult for other indigenous groups to emulate Tahltan's assertive approach to development, lawyers and First Nation leaders said.

"We don't have to make huge cultural sacrifices to have a thriving economic environment in our territory," Day said.

Last month the nation vowed "all actions necessary" to stop exploration by junior miner Doubleview Gold Corp on ancestral lands.

The dispute reflects long-standing grievances with the provincial government which grants mineral claims over the internet.

Legal experts said that approach is inconsistent with principles around getting First Nations consent. A similar approach in Yukon was found to breach the government's legal duty to consult indigenous groups.

British Columbia consults at a later stage of mine development, a spokesman for the provincial mines minister said.

Doubleview says it has valid permits but takes local concerns seriously. A study it commissioned found exploration would occur in an area of "low archaeological potential."

Day said the Tahltan are crafting a land-use plan to prohibit exploration in ecologically and culturally sensitive areas, giving the nation greater control over who can stake mineral claims and where.

"All of those resources belong to Tahltan," said elder Allen Edzerza, who leads efforts by the BC First Nations Energy and Mining Council advocacy group to reform the province's mining laws.

"It’s not (the province's) right to give those away.”

(Reporting by Jeff Lewis in Toronto; Editing by Matthew Lewis)