Tk'emlups and Skeetchestn Indian Bands expect to see revenue-sharing and training agreements reached with KGHM Ajax Mining (KAM) that equal or better those already in place with New Gold.
The mine site lies within the asserted traditional territory of the Secwepemc Nation. With First Nations consultation as a new standard in the industry, KAM has been consulting with the bands since the earliest stages of the project three years ago.
"I think they're open to the idea of working with us," said Tk'emlups Chief Shane Gottfriedson. "It's a $535-million construction project. You're talking a lot of concentrate and product coming out of that site."
Chief Rick Deneault said they toured the mine site Thursday with the proponents. While there have been several meetings with company officials, negotiations are a long way off, the chiefs said.
"We're going through the whole process of looking at the impact study, of looking at the feasibility study, and we're looking at areas of interest where they're developing," Gottfriedson said.
The historic deal signed a year ago with the provincial government for New Gold would provide the two bands with a 37.5 per cent share of tax revenues. That would be the equivalent of about $2.5 million a year split equally between the two. That agreement is touted as a template for others across the province.
"That's the highest it's ever been," Deneault noted. "We still believe in the Laurier Memorial - 50-50. Back in 1910 they agreed to 50-50 and haven't lived up to the deal yet."
In addition, they have an agreement with New Gold guaranteeing them three per cent of smelter revenues.
The revenue stream won't begin until New Gold becomes fully operational, which is expected next year. At that point, the bands intend to plow the funds into economic development, health care and education for band members. In the meantime, members of both bands have undergone training jointly provided by TRU and the Association for Mineral Exploration British Columbia and are already employed at New Gold.
"We've got a 90 per cent success rate for people going through the program," Gottfriedson said. "We're encouraging more of our members to get involved in mining."
Ajax, on the other hand, would be another four or five years down the road if it clears regulatory hurdles. Yet it has a projected life roughly twice that of New Gold, meaning benefits could potentially be far greater.
The bands have identified concerns about project design details, environmental safeguards and economic opportunities.
"There are definitely some issues we're concerned with," Gottfriedson said. "Archeological issues around there that are very sensitive and that's one of our main issues."
Gottfriedson said Ske'emlupsemc te Secwepemc (STS) - the division of the Shuswap Nation that includes Tk'emlups and Skeetchestn - is looking at contracting an independent environmental assessment of the Ajax project. He was reluctant to discuss details, though.
"We don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves here. We're quite a ways away from looking at this. I think the environmental assessment is probably the make-or-break of that project since they'd have to look at the permitting."
After their site tour, Deneault doesn't see the proximity to the City of Kamloops as a major issue.
"Not really because the city boundaries are only in one part. It's not like it's next door to somebody's house."
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