A major hurdle to a major gold mine was cleared on Thursday - in fact three hurdles.
The Tsay Keh Dene, Takla Lake and Kwadacha First Nations all announced their support for the Kemess Underground Mine and a revenue deal with the provincial government to prove it.
As municipalities collect annual income from industrial activities within their town borders, these three First Nations will receive regular income from this proposed mine. It was considered one of the final obstacles to getting the Kemess project to the starting line.
The three, who share the unceded traditional territory on which the mine would be built, worked together under the collective title of Tse Keh Nay during negotiations with the provincial government.
"Our agreements and collaboration with Tse Keh Nay underscore B.C.'s commitment to find innovative ways to partner with First Nations on economic development," said John Rustad, the Minister of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation for the province.
"These partnerships create better projects, ensure First Nations benefit from development in their traditional territories and helps provide industry the confidence to invest and create jobs."
The mine was initially blocked by the Tse Keh Nay when an open pit design was presented by the mining company of the day.
The environmental impacts of that proposal were such that the aboriginal users of the land refused to allow it to go ahead.
A new mining company proposed a new plan, a rare (in northern B.C.) underground extraction plan to get the gold and copper. AuRico Metals Ltd. took the proposal to the Tse Keh Nay first for their feedback before actively engaging the provincial government on the exhaustive licensing process. The environmental protections of the underground system were acceptable to the indigenous caretakers.
"These agreements will provide the First Nations a share of mineral tax revenues from the mine after it begins production, and a commitment for ongoing collaboration and engagement on the long-term permitting requirements and operation of the mine," said Rustad.
"This partnership reflects the province's commitment to ensuring First Nations benefit from resource development in their traditional territories, and have opportunities for meaningful input into how projects are planned, developed and operated."
He added that the province and Tse Keh Nay "have also committed to work together through a government-to-government agreement" to help address other Tse Keh Nay interests related to the proposed Kemess Underground Mine, including collaborating on potential land management measures for culturally important areas near the mine; helping to identify training programs to help prepare Tse Keh Nay members for jobs at the mine; and involving the Tse Keh Nay in the safety, management and monitoring of the access road to the mine site.
Chief John French of the Takla Lake First Nation said that for his people "this is about translating our title and rights into: No. 1 strength among Tsay Keh Nay Nations; No. 2 good First Nation-Crown governance and No. 3 getting our share of the wealth from resource development in our Territories. We will use these agreements as incremental and empowering step to further our prosperous Nation."
Chief Donny Van Somer of the Kwadacha Nation agreed.
"We are pleased that we have reached an agreement with the Province of British Columbia to share in the mineral tax benefits from the Kemess Underground project," he said. "It is important that we continue to work on a government-to-government basis with respect to any proposed developments in lands that our people have traditionally occupied and used since time immemorial."
The Kemess Underground project is located about 430 kilometres northwest of Prince George in the Peace River Regional District. It is about six kilometres from a previous mine site known as Kemess South that ceased operations in 2011.
After a five-year development phase, the $684-million project is expected to produce approximately 25,000 tonnes of ore per day over a 13-year period.