Rural communities must ready themselves — and particularly their young people — for the long-term impacts of mines, a lawyer told a First Nations forum Thursday.
“The strategy has to come from you, but it also has to go to young people,” Dawn Mills said at a cultural use resource forum at the Coast Kamloops Hotel. “They’ll be the ones who actually need this information.”
Mills is the inaugural Finning resident scholar for mining and communities at UBC’s Norman B. Keevil Institute of Mining Engineering. Her job is to reach out to rural communities to provide background expertise on mining proposals as part of an institute program to address social, economic and environmental issues facing the industry.
She outlined half a dozen pending projects in the region as well as New Gold’s operational mine west of Kamloops. Water is key, since its use is extensive when mineral processing is required, she said.
The Ajax proposal lacks the water cache of New Gold, so it would need additional supply earlier in its development, she said.
“I would suggest this is the point where there needs to be a critical examination by the Secwepemc community and also by the City of Kamloops on the impact of drawing down water from Kamloops Lake,” Mills said.
The Harper Creek project near Vavenby will require special management of a high-elevation tailings pond for rock that doesn’t make the copper grade.
“This is another concern that is important — that these protective dams need to be maintained immemorial after construction.”
Mills said her role is to serve as a resource for First Nation communities wanting to become engaged with mining that dovetails with aboriginal rights and title.
That’s what Chief Nelson Leon of Adams Lake Indian Band hopes to see in the Harper Creek proposal. Leon and Simpcw Chief Rita Matthew have signed a pact to press for more time and preparation before Yellowhead Mining Inc. is given the green light.
“The company has played each community off each other,” he said. “This agreement signals a turning point instead of divide and conquer. I just hope it doesn’t get to the point where we’re on the ground demonstrating.”
Streamlining of environmental assessments and changes in the Fisheries Act have raised new concerns about the regulatory process, leading people to question whether projects are being fast-tracked at the expense of the environment.
“It’s a multi-faceted conundrum we find ourselves in,” said Leon, who wasn’t at Thursday’s forum. “It’s not like we’re saying no. We’re saying we need to be more involved in the scope of the work and in setting the terms of the environmental assessment. We’ve been basically shut out from any discussions like that.”
The cumulative impact of pine beetle and forest fires in the corridor has left communities hungry for economic development and employment, he said.
“We are going to be living with this for the next 200 or 300 years. I think there is a way to move the project forward with a high level of caution.”