By Jake Cardinal
(ANNews) – In an effort to proactively reclaim sovereignty over their territories in British Columbia, the BC First Nations Energy and Mining Council (FNEMC) released a new report — supported by the Union of BC Indian Chiefs and the BC Assembly of First Nations — demanding the right to exercise sovereignty and consent in relation to mining activities in the province.
The Indigenous Sovereignty: Implementing Consent for Mining on Indigenous Lands report sets out 25 recommendations which, if implemented, would compel mining companies and prospectors to secure the approval of First Nation governments in order to obtain consent-based access to First Nations’ lands.
They would further be required to agree and abide by conditions set by those First Nations governments.
The report is, in part, a response to the province’s lack of progress on implementing the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act since its enactment in 2019.
The Declaration Act requires the province, in consultation and collaboration with Indigenous peoples, to align all provincial laws with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which includes: Free, Prior and Informed Consent for activity on First Nations land.
However, to date, the Province has not reformed any of its mining laws to be consistent with the Declaration Act, and it continues “business as usual.”
The report says that First Nations continues to rely on costly legal processes to protect their rights and to address non-sanctioned mining operations in their territories — which is contrary to the Declaration Act and the province’s commitments to First Nations.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs, said, “At the time of its passing, we welcomed the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act and praised the provincial government for its bold leadership.
“We thought the recognition of the sovereignty and self-determination of Indigenous Nations was finally being actioned and that First Nations’ consent would be the basis of all prospecting and mining on our lands and we could ensure the protection of our lands and waters.”
“But, more than two years on, no action has been taken to align provincial laws. Exploration and mining activities persist as if the Declaration Act does not exist,” said Stewart.
All 25 recommendations are consistent with the legal certainty that will exist once mining laws are aligned with the Declaration Act, offering near-term practical options for First Nations to exercise sovereignty and consent in relation to mining activities.
In the absence of provincial government action, the Report recommends that First Nations move ahead with the development of their own mining regimes based on their Indigenous laws and legal orders and exercise of their right of consent for all existing and future mining operations.
Lydia Hwitsum, Political Executive at the First Nations Summit, said of the report, “We are entering a new era that will sweep away colonial-style mining laws that do not recognize and are incompatible with our title and rights.”
“The future of mining on First Nations lands in this province will respect First Nation rights and laws. First Nation consent means legal certainty for mining companies, better environmental stewardship, safer mines and an improved global reputation for the B.C. mining sector.”