NEWLY-NAMED provincial aboriginal affairs minister John Rustad hopes direct negotiations with the Nisga’a Lisims Government will help overcome its opposition to a proposed molybdenum mine at Kitsault.
Rustad, who spent four days in the region this month, didn’t speak with Nisga’a leaders in the Nass Valley because of time constraints, but said the provincial and the Nisga’a Lisims Government have been working on a way to avoid court action such as the one filed by the Nisga’a over the proposed molybdenum mine.
The BC Supreme Court suit alleges the environmental assessment, which led to provincial approval of the open pit plan by Avanti Mines, was unsatisfactory and didn’t fit requirements contained within the 2000 Nisga’a land claims treaty.
“We’re hoping that we will be able to resolve this issue fairly quick,” Rustad said.
“We actually have been working with Nisga’a around the interpretation of the treaty and how the government-to-government should interact,” Rustad said. “We are hopeful that we now have a mechanism that we can use going forward to avoid this kind of situation.”
Although the Kitsault area is not part of the Nisga’a core lands outlined in the treaty with the federal and provincial governments, it is within Nisga’a traditional territory.
Avanti officials have been clear all along they’re prepared to defend their interests at Kitsault, saying provincial environmental approval, received this spring, took into account Nisga’a interests.
“We’re very confident of the environmental approval process,” said Avanti official Mark Premo.
He also said the company remains committed to building a relationship with the Nisga’a Lisims Government, one that would include an agreement outlining benefits that would flow from the mine to the Nisga’a.
In the meantime, the federal government has opened up to public comment what it is calling a comprehensive study type environmental assessment for the mine project.
Written public comment closes Sept. 22.
In other northwestern aboriginal events, Rustad is looking forward to progress on the Kitsumkalum and Kitselas treaty negotiations.
Both approved of respective treaty agreements in principle earlier this year as did the provincial government.
“We’ve signed onto the agreement in principles and the First Nations have as well. The feds are currently reviewing it and we’re hopeful they will be signing on very shortly,” said Rustad.
Once all parties have approved of an agreement in principle, negotiations toward final treaties are expected to take two years.
Rustad went on to say that aspects of the Kitselas and Kitsumkalum agreements could be realized sooner than that.
“To help support economic development and opportunities for the First Nations, we’ve actually signed interim treaty agreements so land can be transferred and there can be opportunities they can take in advance of getting to final treaty. So our relationship with them is good and I am optimistic we will be getting to treaty once the feds sign on,” said Rustad.
LNG development and the prospect of aboriginal benefits flowing from the industry were also high on Rustad’s agenda during his tour of the region.