We’re holding an olympic blog series these couple of weeks focussing on gold, silver and copper mining in resource rich countries as well as on gold, silver and copper mining companies.
Following Canada’s first medal of the games – a bronze in synchronised diving – PWYP Canada have written this blog exploring the relationship between First Nations People and mining companies, particularly in the context of the Copper-Gold Prosperity Mine in British Colombia.
Visit PWYP Canada’s website to find out more about their work.
After starting the Beijing Olympics with a seven day medal drought, Canada won its first medal on day two of the London Olympics. With a bronze in our pockets for Women’s Synchronized Springboard Diving, Canadians are hopeful that this medal will be the first of many. The question is: will Canada, a country rich in metals, also be rich in medals? For this we must wait and see.
Canada is home to 60% of the world’s mining companies, and is an important resource producer – leading the world in the production of uranium and potash, with significant global production of titanium, aluminum, platinum, diamonds, asbestos, zinc, and molybdenum. Over the last decade, Canada has undergone a mining boom, with capital spending on the mining sector (excluding oil and gas) increasing from 2 billion in 2000 to 16 billion in 2012. Leading the way are investments in gold, copper, nickel and zinc. Like many regions around the world, those most impacted by Canada’s surging resource investment are the First Nations people of Canada’s north. From remote corners of B.C., Ontario, and Quebec to the northern territories of Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon, Canada’s First Nations people are on the front line of most mining investment in Canada today.
Much of the discussion in Canada has focused on the growing co-operation between First Nations people and mining companies, which is underpinned by a vast number of Impact Benefit Agreements (IBAs). IBAs are best understood as private agreements that document the benefits a community can expect from the development of a local resource in exchange for its support and cooperation. Nevertheless, Canada’s First Nations communities have not given the green light to all resource extraction projects.
The Copper-Gold Prosperity Mine in B.C. is one such project. Owned by Taseko Mines, the Prosperity Mine has come under heavy fire by local First Nations who oppose the mine because the original plans involved moving a culturally significant lake. Following a federal government environmental review in 2010 wherein the original project was deemed unacceptable, the company was granted a second review based upon changes to the mine’s design plans. However, even with the redesign, the Tsilhqot’in claim that the mine will kill Fish Lake, preventing access to a place of spiritual importance. To demonstrate solidarity, in 2011 the Canadian Assembly of First Nations’ Chiefs in Assembly reaffirmed its support for the Tsilhqot’in’s fight to defend their land from the mine. Facing continued opposition, in recent months, Taseko Mines submitted a letter to the Ministry of Environment asking that they NOT give aboriginal interests special consideration in the federal environmental review panel. The company specified that the government should NOT appoint an aboriginal member to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency review panel, should NOT start hearings with drumming or aboriginal prayer ceremonies, and should NOT consider the spirituality of a place as an aboriginal right. Some claim that the letter has damaged relations beyond repair.
Relationships between Canada’s First Nations people and mining companies have changed dramatically over the last decade, with a web of complex agreements forming the basis of improved access to opportunities for communities across Canada’s North. Yet, like the experiences of indigenous communities across Latin America, Africa and the Asia Pacific, when a Canadian community finds itself in opposition to a mining company’s development plans, the very basis of its spiritual and cultural rights can come into question.
As we cheer on our hardworking, courageous athletes at London 2012, we must remember that not all struggles are fought abroad.