First Nations reject Gibraltar economic development agreement

The Tsilhqot’in National Government and ?Esdilagh First Nation have declined to sign an EDCA with the province for the Gibraltar Mine.

by  Carole Rooney

100 Mile House Free Press

The Tsilhqot’in National Government (TNG), along with ?Esdilagh First Nation, have declined to sign an Economic Community Development Agreement (EDCA) with the province of British Columbia for the Gibraltar Mine.

A TNG releases states the provincial status quo for revenue sharing agreements with First Nations is not acceptable in the wake of the recent federal Tsilhqot’in title decision and Mount Polley Mine disaster.

Noting Gibraltar Mine is located less than one kilometre from ?Esdilagh reserve lands, these groups say they won’t budge on an agreement until the province “fundamentally changes its approach” to engagement and benefit-sharing with First Nations on major projects.

Taseko president and CEO Russell Hallbauer says he does not understand why they won’t approve a deal with the province that gives them a share in revenues from Taseko’s Gibraltar Mine.

“I have no idea why the TNG and ?Esdilagh won’t sign and agree to it; but they ‘march to their own pipers’.

“My understanding is that Soda Creek [Indian Band] just recently got a $125,000 cheque from the provincial government as part of their revenue sharing agreement with them on Gibraltar.”

The TNG/?- Esdilagh release cites reasons that include “extremely low amounts of revenue sharing often resulting from the terms of the ECDAs” such as “the unfortunate $4,500” that the Williams Lake Indian Band received in a total annual payment from their ECDA for Mount Polley Mine.

Hallbauer adds Mount Polley is owned by Imperial Metals, so is not one of Taseko’s mines. However, as Mount Polley is a much smaller mine than Gibraltar, this may explain a $4,500 payment that doesn’t reflect other, larger government payouts.

“It means that Mount Polley is not making much money. For them to pay revenue shares, they have to have revenue that they can share.”

These agreements are typically based on mines paying capital back to lenders first, before the government – or anyone else – gets a portion of revenues, Hallbauer notes.

He adds that, signed or unsigned, the revenue sharing agreement with First Nations doesn’t affect Taseko or Gibraltar financially.

“It’s their issue if they don’t want to accept the revenue … why would they not want to do it? It’s basically a gift from the provincial government for helping move things forward.”

In their reasoning, TNG and ?Esdilagh also point to “extensive” releases that First Nations are required to sign which diminish their right to pursue compensation for any damages mining does to the land, such as from the Mount Polley Mine disaster.