Two First Nations in the vicinity of a proposed open-pit mine in the North Thompson watershed say they've not been given adequate time or resources to assess the project.
Simpcw First Nation and Adams Lake Indian Band released a joint statement Wednesday outlining concerns about two sacred sites in the mine area, long-term impacts on renewable resources and a lack of economic benefits.
The bands said they are not against the project, but have signed an agreement to work together on concerns.
"It's a working-out process, but we feel it's been disjointed," said Simpcw Chief Rita Matthew. "We feel, if we were to agree, we'd want to make sure some things are covered, and if that takes more time, we want that leeway."
Yellowhead Mining Inc. (YMI) is in the process of filing an environmental assessment application for the project, which is located in the upper Harper Creek watershed at a high elevation near Vavenby. Harper Creek is a tributary of the Barriere River and the North Thompson River.
"They have a responsibility to work with us and provide funds to do research and identify risks and the assessments that need to be done," she said. "Since I came on as chief (last April) we've had some initial meetings."
The Vancouver-based mining company has signed general service agreements with both communities. A company representative could not be reached for comment. According to its website, YMI plans to continue consulting with local First Nations this year while proceeding with financing and strategic partnership discussions.
A feasibility study completed last year estimates 1,000 to 1,200 jobs will be created in surrounding communities and elsewhere in the province to support the project.
Matthew said the company provided the bands with funding for baseline fieldwork assessments, but these proved more time consuming and costly than expected, exceeding allocated funds.
"This is fairly new to us as a community," she said. "We're a small community and we don't have enough resources to do it."
The bands also hope to work out agreements with Yellowhead on training, employment and revenue sharing. They're using the agreement between New Gold and Stk'emlupsemc te Secwepemc Nation (Tk'emlups and Skeetchestn) as a baseline for such a deal. The participation agreement is considered a model.
While they favour sustainable resource development for the economic benefit of all communities, they don't want resource extraction at any price or any level of risk.
"The shareholders of YMI stand to make many millions over the 28-year lifespan of this project, but none of them live here," said Chief Nelson Leon, with the Adams Lake Band.
"Our great grandchildren will be left with a giant hole in the ground, and possibly a much improverished and at-risk natural environment long after the mine is closed."
MLA Kevin Krueger, who formerly held the mines portfolio and represented the riding for 15 years, said he hadn't heard about the concerns until contacted by The Daily News.
"If they feel that way, we will certainly take up their cause," said "They're welcome to contact me."
The province has a legal obligation to consult with First Nations on matters affecting their traditional lands, he noted.
"I think most people in the North Thompson valley are very excited about it," he said of the copper, gold and silver project. "We will find out what's gone wrong here."