Demands by a northern native band that the government cancel the Kemess North gold and copper mine project are premature, says the government.
The Takla Lake First Nation and the Carrier Sekani Tribal Council used the Natural Resources Forum to kick off their campaign to stop the proposed mine project.
“Our people need more information,” said Takla chief Janet West at a news conference Wednesday.
The band sent a letter to the Environmental Assessment Office the day before requesting the cancellation of the Kemess project.
But it is probably too early to say what the government will do, said Graham Currie, spokesperson for the Ministry of Sustainable Development.
The project is actually only at the “pre-application” stage, he said. That means the EAO has not even received an application it can cancel.
Northgate Exploration, owners of the Kemess South mine, announced in September they would complete a feasibility study on a new Kemess North mine by early 2004.
As part of the pre-application process, all stakeholders, including First Nations, will be consulted, said Sustainable Resources Minister Stan Hagen.
“Government is trying very hard to carry out the necessary consultation and accommodation on all fronts,” he said.
CSTC tribal chief Harry Pierre said Thursday the band is concerned about the environmental impacts of another mine in what he says is Takla traditional territory.
There have been concerns from band members that pollutants from the Kemess South mine’s tailing pond have found there way into plants and wildlife the Takla depend on for sustenance, he said. The band wants to ensure the same thing doesn’t happen with a new mine.
The Kemess North project, if it goes ahead, is expected to extend the life of the mine by 10 or 11 years, according to company information.
It is also expected to dwarf Kemess South’s reserves of 2.5 million ounces of gold and 564 million pounds of copper.
Early indications are that the Kemess North deposit, located five kilometres from the south mine, holds mineable reserves of an estimated 6.6 million ounces of gold and 2.4 billion pounds of copper.
Officials from Northgate, which sponsored the Thursday luncheon at the Natural Resources Forum, were noticeably absent following the CSTC protest.
Russell Hallbauer, chairperson of the Mining Association of B.C. and keynote speaker Thursday, was not willing to comment specifically on the Kemess issue.
But in his speech, he noted that unresolved land claims continue to be a “problem” that needs to be addressed. The mining association supports business partnerships with first Nations.
“Each company has to decide on the best way they’re going to enter into specific agreements with whoever the ultimate stakeholders may be,” he said.
Ed John, who spoke at Friday morning’s breakfast, was also unavailable to comment specifically on the issue. He has supported the CSTC’s other protest, against the province’s forest policy legislation.
In his speech, he agreed with Hallbauer that the province needs to get to a point where First Nations are “not seen as obstacles, but are seen as legitimate partners in what goes on in our territories.”
But he also warned that, if legitimate consultation is not undertaken, First Nations will take whatever action they see as necessary.
“There’s a point when First Nations say they can’t find solutions through negotiation – so we’ll make decisions about how to use the resources in our territories.”