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3. Aboriginal Relations & Engagement:
As per AME BC’s Strategic Plan, aboriginal relations and engagement continues to be a top priority area for our membership. AME BC hosted the third annual Gathering Place at the Mineral Exploration Roundup 2015 conference and the Aboriginal Engagement Guidebook released in January 2014 was updated and reprinted in May 2015 by popular demand. Industry continues to build and maintain positive relationships with many Aboriginal communities in most regions of the province, but in the absence of clear government policy and clarity on consultation requirements, industry’s efforts do not yield the level of success that could be possible.
AME BC continues to work to strengthen relationships with aboriginal communities, leaders, and organizations. Specifically, AME BC has taken the lead and engaged in very positive and mutually respectful discussions with representatives from the BC First Nations Energy and Mining Council (BC FNEMC). In fact, AME BC signed a memorandum of understanding with the BC FNEMC in July 2015. AME BC also maintains strong business relationships with the Industry Council for Aboriginal Business. Similarly, continuous government-to-government engagement and relationship-building between the federal and provincial governments and First Nations is required to advance reconciliation through agreements and treaties and build certainty for the industry. Both industry and government alike need to engage aboriginal communities early in regards to issues related to shared land access and use, but it is the government’s duty to consult aboriginal communities on all permitting, land access and land use planning initiatives.
Although industry is still challenged by the slow pace of the consultation process between aboriginal communities and government, a growing number of agreements and business partnerships have been struck and serve as models for other jurisdictions. In fact, BC is leading the way internationally with examples of resource revenue sharing agreements (known as Economic & Community Development Agreements) with aboriginal communities that entail the re-distribution of mineral tax revenues between the BC government and aboriginal communities, and AME BC fully supports the certainty and shared prosperity that these agreements bring to everyone.
On June 26, 2014, a Supreme Court of Canada judgment confirmed aboriginal title over a parcel of the land area as defined by the Tsilhqot’in Nation. AME BC notes that government mapping still does not show the area of Aboriginal Title land nor has government announced any policy direction in response to the Court decision. AME BC recognizes that important reconciliation work is underway between the Tsilhqot’in and the BC government and understands the reluctance of the government to prematurely announce any directive. However, the lack of response from government creates a policy vacuum, which in turn feeds negative perceptions of BC. Furthermore, in the fall of 2014, the Tsilhqot’in declared the creation of a tribal park covering approximately 310,000 hectares in the Chilcotin area that largely overlaps the 175,000 hectares of Tsilhqot’in aboriginal title land. AME BC estimates that the tribal park encompasses approximately 195,000 hectares of mineral tenures and a mining lease, but we are not aware of any notice provided to tenure holders impacted by the aboriginal title land or by the proposed tribal park. A recent declaration of Tsilhqot’in law on March 20, 2015 over title land further feeds uncertainty regarding mineral exploration and development in the area.
The Supreme Court of Canada’s decision, however, confirms that provincial laws and regulations will continue to apply in the Tsilhqot’in aboriginal title land (175,000 hectares), subject to section 35 of the Constitution Act and the guidelines set down by the Court. An important reminder is that sub-surface minerals and coal resources are generally owned and administered by the Crown and managed in the public's socioeconomic and strategic interest, for the greater good of all BC citizens, aboriginal and non-aboriginal. While this is a complex and precedent-setting case, the path forward is for the federal and provincial governments to continue their duty to consult work with the Tsilhqot’in Nation and all First Nations. The outcome of such consultation by government should be enhanced certainty that will support further investment from the mineral exploration and development industry and create jobs and shared economic opportunity for all British Columbians, including the people of the Tsilhqot’in Nation.
AME BC believes it is essential that a balanced and fully informed discussion take place as the Province of British Columbia moves forward in advancing its reconciliation goals with First Nations. As well, AME BC believes it is equally important that all parties recognize that the Supreme Court of Canada's decisions in Tsilhqot’in and other cases are intended to provide a balanced path forward, one which respects both aboriginal rights and title interests and broader societal interests. AME BC accepts that legal decisions alone will not be sufficient to achieve reconciliation. But AME BC also believes that acknowledging and working within the relevant law is a precondition to achieving success through mutual understanding, trust and respect.
• AME BC recommends that the BC and Canadian governments uphold their duty to consult with aboriginal communities to create certainty regarding security of mineral tenure and investment;
• AME BC recommends that the BC government reaffirm the Supreme Court of Canada’s judgment that provincial laws and regulations apply throughout British Columbia, including in Tsilhqot’in title lands;
• AME BC recommends that the BC and federal governments engage in government-to-government discussions to build relationships, advance reconciliation and arrive at settled treaties with aboriginal communities; and
• AME BC recommends that the BC government continue to implement a predictable and transparent framework for sharing mineral tax revenues through Economic & Community Development Agreements with aboriginal communities.
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