Canadian Tribes First Gain Control Of Their Mineral Rights

Canadian Tribes First Gain Control Of Their Mineral Rights

Author: Marc Choyt | Thursday, August 14, 2014

Because of this ruling, FIrst Nation People will have much greater control of the mineral rights in their traditional territories. 


On June 26th, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled in unanimously in favor of the Tsilhqot'in Nation. For the first time in history, the court granted title to their entire traditional lands. This decision went further in favor of First Nation groups than anyone ever anticipated. Mining companies are stunned and first nations are, according to the CBC, “ecstatic” over the decision. 

A bit of background first. The northern territories of Canada have massive amounts of resources on land that was part of First Nation territories. The Harper government has been on a crusade to exploit these as quickly as possible. In Canadian first nation “reserves” are often very small. The court case determines that territories go far beyond reserves, into traditional nomadic grounds and hunting grounds. 

Though it will take some time for the full impact of this decision to be felt, the new law upends the traditional licensing process which takes place in providences and gives control to first nation leadership. It also has implications for Canadian mining companies operating overseas. The law may allow international groups for which Canadian companies are violating environmental and social laws to sue in Canada.

Meanwhile, in the grassroots, there have been groups working to build up a knowledge base that would allow first nation groups to mine responsibly. Amy Crook at Fair Mining Canada, has been working for decades to develop new standards for responsible mining in BC. Another important advocacy and educational group is First Nation Woman Advocating Responsible Mining (FNWARM).

FNWARM is interested in potentially working with ethical mining companies that actually provide real economic development and responsible mining for their communities. One the most common unfulfilled promises that mining companies make to indigenous communities worldwide is the offer of jobs. Almost always, the jobs do not materialize. Even when they do, they are low paying. FNWARM is also searching for ways to deal with waste rock tailing which pollute yet still have viable mineral content.

Why are these things important from a market perspective? It seems that there is plenty of gold being mined. Yet there are some large companies that are buying gold that is not traceable to source and therefore they are out of Dodd Frank compliance. Ethically mined gold from indigenous communities may be able to be marketed as a boutique gold product that can be associated with jewelry brands and ultimately gain some social premium that goes back to the community. This gold may also be desirable from tech companies or investors looking to have metals as part of their portfolio.

Even as a small jeweler of conflict free and fair trade designer wedding and engagement rings, I want traceability and transparency in my sourcing of precious metals. Canadian mines operated by indigenous communities could be a potential source for materials that my ethically oriented customers would be interested in.

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