Imperial Metals and the Tahltan First Nation signed a co-management agreement for the Red Chris copper-gold mine in Tahltan territory in northwestern B.C., the Nation announced in April.
The impacts and benefits co-management agreement was signed after about 28 months of negotiations. It promises Tahltan oversight of Red Chris’s environmental issues, training and careers for Tahltan people and a revenue-sharing agreement between the Nation and the company.
The Tahltan voted on the agreement in an April referendum, with 87 per cent in favour and 13 per cent against.
“It’s beyond excellent,” said Steve Robertson, Imperial Metals’ vice-president of corporate affairs. “I thought it was unattainable, quite frankly. It was a tremendous result.”
Imperial had a series of 11 community meetings with the Tahltan that focused on the agreement after talks were finished, Robertson said. “We held so many community meetings and educated the community so thoroughly,” he continued. “I think that’s what gave everybody so much comfort to give it such a strong endorsement.”
Talks surrounding a co-management agreement initially began 10 years ago between the Tahltan and B.C. Metals, the company Imperial Metals took over to acquire the Red Chris project. Once the purchase was complete, negotiations were halted until Imperial had a mine development permit in place.
The co-management agreement had been fully negotiated last summer, but after the tailings pond breach at Imperial’s Mount Polley mine the two parties “went back to the drawing board,” said Chad Day, president of the Tahltan Central Council. “We made sure that we had a lot more provisions to beef up our oversight and co-management powers around the environmental issues, particularly around the tailings pond.”
The signed agreement allows for regular independent reviews of the mine by Tahltan-chosen consultants; one review was already conducted a couple of months ago on the Red Chris tailings pond. The majority of the environmental coordinators employed at the mine will also be Tahltan, and environmental committees have been set up. Under the agreement, environmental personnel at the mine will monitor the air quality at Red Chris and in the nearby community of Iskut.
“We have a very robust regime set up where we have information sharing on the environmental data,” Day said. “If there’s anything that our environmental team or our leadership team feels should be flagged...we have the ability to go in and make sure that things are dealt with properly.”
Day said the Tahltan has what he called “master regulatory power.” The Nation reserves the right to get an injunction from the courts if Imperial Metals is not following environmental legislation. “That’s another big piece of this agreement that’s important to us,” he said.
The agreement also includes funding for training programs for the whole supply chain and specific employment targets for Tahltan people. Currently, 30 per cent of Red Chris employees are aboriginal, the vast majority of which are Tahltan. Day said he expects 40 per cent First Nation employment within the next couple of years, and “there’s no reason why the Tahltan shouldn’t be 50 per cent of the employees at the site” within a decade.
Day said the Tahltan are creating a database of Tahltan people in British Columbia and throughout the country to ensure they will know when people are available and looking for work, and be able to connect them with Red Chris.
Contracts are also a large part of the agreement, Robertson added. “We’re going to have certain provisions to make sure that we give Tahltan businesses ample opportunity to get involved in the mine development and mine operation,” he said, “so they can build capacity within their community to be more involved on an ongoing basis.”
Red Chris currently has contracts in place with the Tahltan for dam construction, fuel supply, air transport and catering, as well as smaller contracts for road maintenance, telecommunication and soils testing.
The third part of the agreement is its revenue-sharing component. The Tahltan will share revenue with both Imperial Metals and the province. “The price of copper and gold is going to dictate the amount of funds that we get from that project,” Day said. “But the percentage is pretty substantial compared to other mining agreements in the past.”
Co-management has effectively begun, but Imperial Metals still needs to put together an implementation plan to deal with a few aspects of the agreement that have not yet been enacted, including the hiring of certain positions specified in the contract.
The company has similar co-management agreements with First Nations at its Mount Polley and Huckleberry mines.
“We’re excited about the opportunity to put such a modern agreement into effect,” Robertson said. “And we’re very excited about our partnership with the Tahltan as we move forward.”
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