By Rose Ragsdale
For Mining News 

Chamber signs MOU with two First Nations

Pact outlines future collaboration to promote responsible mining; Na-cho Nyak Dun and Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in share views with industry


Last updated 12/25/2011 at Noon

The Yukon Chamber of Mines recently signed a memorandum of understanding with the First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun and the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in to create a framework within which the industry and aboriginal groups will work together for their respective goals.

The First Nations said they seek to preserve a way of life that is based upon an economic and spiritual relationship with the land, while the Chamber of Mines said it aims to promote a vibrant, healthy, safe and responsible mining and exploration industry in the Yukon.

The MOU, unveiled Nov. 20 during the Chamber's annual Yukon Geoscience Forum in Whitehorse, formalized a collaboration that the Na-cho Nyak Dun and the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in began earlier this year with the Yukon Chamber of Mines.

From those efforts, the Chamber and the First Nations developed a "Quick Reference Guide to Effective Respectful Engagement Practices with Yukon First Nations and Communities, released Aug. 18.

The MOU commits the parties to form a steering committee that will meet three times a year in collaboration aimed at enhancing communications and improving the relationship between Yukon First Nations and the Yukon mining industry. The steering committee will identify priorities for each fiscal year (April 1 to March 31), from which a working group will develop an annual plan to achieve those priorities that will be approved by the steering committee.

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Specifically, the MOU commits the parties to:

• To work together to leave a positive legacy for future generations and ensure that the essential characteristics and productive capacity of the land in Yukon remains substantially unchanged;

• To respect land use planning processes and work to ensure that social, cultural, economic and environmental policies are applied to the management, protection and use of land, water and resources in an integrated and coordinated manner so as to ensure sustainable development;

• To support each other in protecting and advancing their respective rights and interests;

• To work collaboratively to identify issues arising from applicable legislation and regulatory processes, and where appropriate, recommend solutions;

• To encourage proactive and transparent consultation between Yukon First Nations and the mining industry, as soon as practicable after a miner decides to explore for minerals in the First Nations' traditional territories;

• To do their best to encourage the application of this MOU to all mining activity in Yukon and all interaction between miners and Yukon First Nations, recognizing that the Chamber cannot bind its members, nor can the two First Nations bind other Yukon First Nations;

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• To encourage increased partnerships between the mining industry and Yukon First Nation communities and businesses, investigate and increase investment potential, establish and foster procurement practices that benefit Yukon First Nations, and enhance human resources development and labor force development activities with Yukon First Nation communities and people;

• To encourage open and transparent communications and to develop a communications protocol between the Parties which embraces principles such as timely and frank exchange of information and a commitment to converse prior to contentious or difficult matters becoming public;

• To develop a dispute resolution process; and,

• To endeavor to develop and advocate a common position in respect of the resource royalty regime in Yukon.

Claire Derome, outgoing Yukon Chamber of Mines president, said the MOU reflects a new willingness among the parties to have a dialogue that "is not going to make the front page of the newspaper."

"We hope to discuss things over the coming year that we have not been able to discuss before," Derome said during a panel presentation on social responsibility Nov. 20. "I think we will address issues of concern to the Na-cho Nyak Dun and the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in that will not be in the media, and we will learn to work together better. We will also promote mutual understanding and cooperation for benefit of everybody in the community," she added.

Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in Chief Eddie Taylor said, "Our people have been involved in mining since the Gold Rush and continue to support responsible mining that does not compromise the environment, our culture or the exercise of TH aboriginal rights. It is sustainable, respects settlement lands, does not affect the productive capacity of the land, does not have negative social effects and does not take place in special places that have high cultural, spiritual or environmental values like the Peel River Watershed. So stay the heck out of there!"

As First Nations, the Na-cho Nyak Dun and others "have come from being approached by whiskey traders to being viewed as independent governments," Chief Simon Mervyn told the forum participants. "If we can do it, other First Nations can do it as well."

Because there are no legal requirements, Mervyn said it is important for mining companies to build trust with Yukon aboriginal groups that either own land or have traditional territory where the companies want to work.

"Cooperative agreements are smart for everyone," he said.

However, developing such agreements with companies like Victoria Gold Corp., Alexco Resource Corp. and ATAC Resources Ltd. have evolved over time. "While Alexco is a wonderful partner, we didn't always know what we needed," Mervyn said.

In 2008, the Na-cho Nyak Dun established guiding principles to mining within its traditional territory and a cooperative engagement process for economic activities within its traditional territory.

"However, we soon realized we needed a far more in-depth statement of our requirements regarding proponent engagement with Na-cho Nyak Dun," Mervyn said.

In 2011, the First Nation developed a new guide designed to promote true partnerships with project proponents. "It sets out expectations and objectives of resource agreements and provides for application of a strategic approach that will be applied in a consistent and coordinated manner with respect to various activities," Mervyn explained.

While Na-cho Nyak Dun has developed increasingly beneficial relationships with Victoria, which is working to build a mine at the Eagle Gold Project on its Dublin Gulch Property, and with Alexco, which recently began production in 2011 at its Bellekeno silver, lead and zinc mine, Mervyn said the First Nation "didn't expect too much" from agreements inked with mining explorers.

"Atac taught us differently," he observed.

Na-cho Nyak Dun received equity participation in the highly prospective Rackla gold project a recent exploration agreement with Atac. "We became real partners because we both realized what we could do," Mervyn added.


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