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Gitxaała Nation launches mineral rights legal challenge against B.C. government

The First Nation said the first-of-its-kind challenge leads to the root of the Mineral Tenure Act
Wanting to stop mining and mineral claims on Banks Island, elected chief councillor of the Gitxaała Nation, Linda Innes made the announcement on Oct. 26, the First Nation filed a legal challenge against the B.C. government on Oct. 25. (Photo: screenshot)

A legal challenge, to prevent more mining claims and revoke already issued claims on Banks Island, has been filed in the B.C. Supreme Court by the Gitxaała Nation (Kitkatla) it announced, in press conference, on Oct. 26.

Elected chief councillor of the Gitxaała Nation, Linda Innes, said the legal case was filed on Oct. 25, “against the B.C. government’s free entry and mineral staking regime.”

“The case, which is the first of its kind in B.C., seeks to overturn multiple mineral claims granted by the province between 2018 and 2020 on Banks Island, which is in the heart of Gitxaała territory, on the north coast of B.C. These mineral claims occurred without consent, consultation, or even notification to the Gitxaała,” Innes said.

She said for too long, anyone with a computer and $34 has been able to acquire rights to the traditional territory. There are currently more than 41 claims for mining rights on Banks Island.

“This can be done legally with no requirement for consultation or consent from the Gitxaała. It is a complete disregard of our own laws and governance and in violation of both the government’s constitutional requirements and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, (UNDRIP) which B.C. has committed to implement,” Innes said.

“BC can’t meet its commitment to implement UNDRIP while its mineral claim process is stuck in the gold rush era,” Hereditary Chief Elmer Moody, said. “If BC is serious about upholding UNDRIP then it needs to prioritize new mineral tenure laws that respect our Indigenous jurisdiction and meet BC’s own constitutional obligations.”

While the legal claim is not directly about Banks Island, the action leads to the root of the Mineral Tenure Act, and the way claims are granted, Innes said, with it also being a way to prevent future problems.

Bad mining practices, prospecting camps, and mining operations have been polluting lakes and salmon streams that the Kitkatla island population relies on and has impacted the natural resources, medicines, and people for generations, the chief councillor said.

“A horrendous example occurred in 2015 with the illegal discharge of tailings from the Yellow Giant Goldmine, a project that Gitxaała said from the beginning, they did not want. It devastated Banks Island salmon-rich creeks and near shores. The company quickly went bankrupt and left a mess within the Gitxaała Nation territory. A mess that remains to this day — a mess so bad that it’s been listed as B.C.’s top polluting and risky mine sites by the B.C. mining law reform organization,”.

Chief Moody added that he hopes Gitxaała’s case serves as a wake-up call for the BC government, “I challenge anyone from the B.C. government to look us in the eye and say that it’s appropriate for them to grant mineral claims in Gitxaała territory without even telling us about it, let alone getting our consent. What BC is doing is obviously wrong, and we are going to court to stop it.”

The First Nation has repeatedly called on the B.C. government for an end to the mining activities on Banks Island she said, but the government still grants mineral claims with “total disregard for Indigenous Nations.”

“Today, I stand here … to tell the government of British Columbia that the free entry mineral claims staking needs to change, and that under their own laws, they have the obligation to set aside all existing mineral claims that are part of the court proceeding and to suspend claim staking in Gitxaała territory until they can fulfill their commitments to both their own constitutional duties and the promises made by their commitment to reconciliation and the declaration of Indigenous people,” Innes said.

READ MORE: Court assesses $15,000 penalty in Banks Island Mine case

READ MORE: Ex-CEO of Banks Island Gold Mine acquitted of obstruction charge

 K-J Millar | Journalist 
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