There is little doubt that the issues surrounding Avanti Kitsault Mine Ltd.’s proposed redevelopment of the historic Kitsault mine are complex in a number of ways.
However, in his letter posted Aug. 28, 2013, (“Nisga’a Need Avanti Mine”), Mr. Gregg Cavagnaro ignored these complexities, asserting that Nisga’a Lisims Government should simply take a heads down/hands off approach with respect to the proposed mine.
Mr. Cavagnaro’s letter not only over-simplifies matters, but it is based on a number of misconceptions which I hope to clarify.
Avanti has proposed redeveloping the Kitsault Mine, an open-pit molybdenum mine which has operated off-and-on since 1911.
This project triggers environmental assessment obligations on both British Columbia and Canada under the Nisga’a Final Agreement, as the proposed operations may have negative environmental, social, economic and cultural effects on Nisga’a people.
British Columbia failed to complete the assessments required by the Nisga’a Treaty, and despite these breaches of the Nisga’a Final Agreement, issued an environmental assessment certificate for the project last March.
The Nisga’a Nation, though not necessarily opposed to the mine itself, has commenced court proceedings to require British Columbia to perform the assessments required by the treaty.
Mr. Cavagnaro states the Nisga’a Lisims Government’s approach is improper, because: 1.) the Nisga’a Nation should just trust that it is not in a mining company’s “best interest to carry out shoddy environmental practices”; and 2.) British Columbia has approved the proposed project, and since Nisga’a citizens are British Columbia residents, they should respect the laws of the province.
These points overlook the history of the Kitsault mine, where former mine operators, permitted by federal regulations, dumped the mine’s tailings and waste rock directly into Alice Arm.
This discharge by previous mine operators was approved by the federal and provincial governments. It has resulted in elevated levels of metals, including arsenic and cadmium, and the degradation of the marine and freshwater environment in Lime Creek and Alice Arm to this day.
It would not be an overstatement to say that the Kitsault mine is one of the, if not the, black stains on Canada’s environmental protection record.
This historical pollution caused the Nisga’a Tribal Council to demand that the Nisga’a Final Agreement include specific environmental obligations, which both the federal and provincial governments must comply with whenever a proposed project may affect residents of Nisga’a treaty lands.
These environmental protection obligations are today set out in the treaty.
In specific response to Mr. Cavagnaro’s statement that Nisga’a citizens should “respect the laws of this province”, he should be aware that the Nisga’a Final Agreement is given the force of law under both the provincial and federal legislation which brought the treaty into force.
The Nisga’a Nation is, therefore, showing respect for provincial laws when they demand that British Columbia comply with the legal obligations set out in the environmental assessment portions of the Nisga’a Final Agreement-part of the “laws of this province”.
Given the above, Mr. Cavagnaro’s opinion that Nisga’a Lisims Government is being overly cautious and disregarding provincial laws both ignores the history of the mine at issue and incorrectly states what the laws of this province are.
Nisga’a Lisims Government has set job creation and economic development as one of its primary goals, and the Nisga’a Nation has supported a number of projects in recent years which benefit this region of British Columbia.
Indeed, just last month, Seabridge Gold Inc. praised the Nisga’a Nation’s reasonableness and cooperation in negotiations respecting their proposed gold mine-a project with the potential to create a number of jobs in the area. Nisga’a Lisims Government has repeatedly stated it is open for business and seeks to work with proponents willing to undertake the assessments required by the Treaty.
Projects like the proposed Seabridge mine show Nisga’a Lisims Government’s commitment to this goal.
That said, Nisga’a Lisims Government will not allow the federal and provincial government to disregard their obligations under the Nisga’a Final Agreement.
Mr. Cavagnaro has asked the Nisga’a Nation to “get down to business”. In seeking to create jobs while respecting the terms of the Nisga’a Final Agreement, I believe Nisga’a Lisims Government is doing precisely this.
Nisga’a Lisims Government,
Gitlaxt’aamiks (New Aiyansh), BC