Golden Triangle of Northern BC ESG mining
First Nations helping with E and S; G is up to the company Mining Explorers 2023 - January 18, 2024
Last updated 2/20/2024 at 3pm
Lying just deep enough into the mining frontier that value of its world-class deposits copper, gold, silver, nickel, and other metals has not been fully realized, yet home to the industrial-grade hydropower, road access, and Pacific Rim ports needed to unlock its vast mineral potential, Northern BC is well-positioned to be a major source of precious, base, and critical metals in the 21st century.
This particularly mineral-rich section of the Canadian Cordillera also happens to offer several environmental, social, and guidance advantages for mineral exploration and mining companies seeking to discover and deliver the metals needed and wanted by a world transitioning to clean energy.
High on the list of ESG benefits is the Northwest Transmission Line, which delivers industrial-grade hydroelectricity deep into the heart of Northern BC's famed Golden Triangle. This means mines developed in this world-class district best known for its copper and gold can plug into an affordable, reliable, and low-carbon power grid – a major advantage in terms of costs and ESG credentials.
The biggest ESG benefit the Northern BC mining district brings to the table, however, is on the social front – sophisticated and well-organized First Nations that are well-versed in mining.
The Tahltan Nation, whose homeland covers 70% of what is now known as the Golden Triangle, has been supportive of mineral exploration and mining in this mineral-rich region as long as its sovereignty is recognized, and the values of its people are respected.
The traditional territory of Nisga'a Nation, Tahltan's neighbor to the south, covers most of the rest of the Golden Triangle. These First Nations, which have been proactive when it comes to both mining and protecting cultural heritage within their respective territories, forged a partnership that further strengthens them as industry leaders in mining and exploration.
"Through our partnership, we are creating a circle of certainty in the Golden Triangle that will attract investors to work with us in our territories," said Nisga'a Lisims Government President Eva Clayton.
Responsible mineral exploration and mining companies that respectfully engage with Nisga'a and Tahltan First Nations find themselves with strong partners that can help streamline permitting and put a capital "S" in ESG.
The most successful Northern BC mineral exploration companies have developed strong working relationships with these allied First Nations.
Golden Triangle partnership
An alliance between Skeena Resources Ltd. and Tahltan is amongst the strongest partnerships between mining company and First Nation in BC and likely all of Canada.
This mineral exploration company and First Nation partnership began to take shape in 2017, which is about the same time as Skeena optioned the past producing Snip and Eskay Creek gold mines from Barrick Gold Corp.
Over the ensuing six years, Skeena has been working toward permitting and developing a new era of mining at Eskay Creek, at the same time building a strong bond with the Tahltan Nation.
The strong partnership between Skeena and the Tahltan has gone beyond the typical benefits and impacts agreements that often serve as the framework for responsible development of resources on aboriginal lands that maximizes the benefits to the regions original people.
For its part, Skeena relinquished some of its mineral properties to facilitate the formation of a nature conservancy over an area sacred to the Tahltan people.
In turn, the Tahltan Central Government invested C$5 million in the junior mining company.
"In partnering with Skeena, the Tahltan Nation is evolving and taking significant steps forward by becoming meaningful equity partners in these projects," said Tahltan Central Government President Chad Norman Day. "Ownership provides the Tahltan Nation with a strong seat at the table as we continue our pursuit towards capacity building and economic independence for the Tahltan people."
While this investment by the Tahltan Nation's governing sent a strong signal of support for Skeena and its plans at Eskay Creek, a historic pact signed in mid-2022 has even wider implications for the gold-silver project and mine permitting in BC.
Under the agreement, Eskay Creek will be the first mine in BC to have permits authorized by an indigenous government, marking a significant step toward incorporating the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, commonly referred to by the acronym UNDRIP, into the environmental assessment process.
"Reconciliation is not achieved with just one step. It requires ongoing innovation, collaboration and leaning into discomfort," said Day. "For the Tahltan people, strengthening and preserving our culture, values and independence is why we keep pushing forward on this journey."
Working alongside its First Nation partners, Skeena is advancing plans to establish a new era of mining at both Eskay Creek and Snip.
This work culminated in a bankable feasibility study finalized in November that details a financially robust open pit mine at Eskay Creek, and a processing plant that will likely process ore from both of Skeena's high-grade gold assets in the Tahltan Territory.
"As an already developed mine site with existing road access, waste management facilities, nearby access to green power, and robust economics, gaining consent from the Tahltan Nation on whose unceded land Eskay Creek is located, is a crucial step in an efficient approval process for the project," said Skeena Resources Senior Vice President of External Affairs and Sustainability Justin Himmelright.
Premier Nisga'a alliance
Skeena is not the only company that has forged strong bonds with Northern BC First Nations as it advances a new era of mining in the Golden Triangle.
Ascot Resources Ltd., which is ramping up to commercial production at the Premier gold-silver mine, has forged a strong alliance with the Nisga'a Nation.
"As I look back at how far we have come in just a few short years, our partnership and relationship with Nisga'a Nation has been instrumental in the advancement of the projects," Ascot Resources President and CEO Derek White said upon the signing of an updated and comprehensive benefits agreement with the First Nation.
Last operated in the 1990s, the Premier mine near the town of Stewart already had much of the major infrastructure in place required to resume operations.
A feasibility study completed for Ascot in 2020 envisions four underground mines – Big Missouri, Silver Coin, Premier, and Red Mountain – feeding ore to an updated version of the existing mill expected to recover roughly 1.1 million oz of gold and 3 million oz of silver over the first eight years of operations.
With the parameters of the mine outlined and a new era of Premier gold-silver production on the way, Ascot and Nisga'a renewed their benefits and impact agreement in 2021.
"Since the beginning, our relationship has been one based on the principle of mutual respect and a commitment to improving the quality of life of Nisg̱a'a citizens," Nisga'a Lisims Government President Eva Clayton said upon signing the renewed pact with Ascot.
Under the terms of this comprehensive benefits agreement, Nisga'a Nation will provide ongoing support and continued consultation for mining operations at Premier and Red Mountain, emphasizing respect for the land, protection of the environment, understanding of cultural use and knowledge, as well as health and safety, on and off the worksite.
"As I look back at how far we have come in just a few short years, our partnership and relationship with Nisga'a Nation has been instrumental in the advancement of the project," said Ascot Resources President and CEO Derek White.
Early last year, Ascot closed a financing package that included a US$110 million (approximately C$149 million) deposit on gold and silver streaming agreements, plus a C$50 million strategic equity investment.
Upon closing the financing, Ascot remobilized contractors to finish development of the new Premier gold mine to begin operations early this year.
Central mill in Nisga'a Nation
The Nisga'a Nation is also keeping tabs on preliminary plans by a group of mineral exploration companies with projects in BC and Southeast Alaska to build a centralized mill complex on New Moly's Kitsault project that could process ore from multiple sources.
Located approximately 65 kilometers (40 miles) southeast of Stewart, BC, Kitsault is the site of a historical mining operation that produced roughly 30 million pounds of molybdenum during intermittent mining from 1968 to 1982.
Kitsault still hosts one of the largest and highest-grade primary molybdenum deposits in the world. Because this property is home to legacy mining, a mill could be built there with fewer new disturbances to the environment.
And New Moly has already been issued key federal and provincial permits for a new era of mining at Kitsault, including a mill on the past-producing molybdenum property.
Blackwolf Copper and Gold President and CEO Robert McLeod, a lifelong resident of Stewart, spearheaded an initiative to look into establishing a centralized mill at Kitsault, which included early talks with Nisga'a Lisims First Nation about the idea.
"Nisga'a Lisims Government has had initial discussions with the company on the concept of a hub and spoke mill at the site of the Kitsault project," said Charles Morven, secretary and treasurer for Nisga'a Lisims Government.
Blackwolf is considering the potential of processing ore from Niblack, a volcanogenic massive sulfide deposit in Southeast Alaska that has limited room for a mill to process the high-grade copper-gold-silver-zinc resources found there.
Dolly Varden's Kitsault Valley project just north of New Moly's property hosts high-grade silver and gold deposits; Coast Copper is exploring the Empire Mine project on northern Vancouver Island; and Goliath is outlining high-grade gold-silver deposits on its Golddigger property a few miles northeast of Kitsault.
"We look forward to working with this collaboration of companies to study the potential synergies that include reduced respective capital, processing costs as well as reduce permitting timelines and risks by using a permitted site located on tidewater," said Rosmus.
The companies are jointly sharing the costs of an initial assessment of the technical viability of a Kitsault Polymetallic Mill being carried out by Fuse Advisors Inc.
"We look forward to further consultation on this and other natural resource opportunities within the Nass Area which is subject to the Nisga'a Final Agreement where we have constitutionally protected title and rights," said Morven.
As influential as the Tahltan and Nisga'a nations are over mining in their respective territories, a new alliance forged between these Golden Triangle neighbors is strengthening their sway over, and maximizing benefits from, the increased mineral exploration across all of Northern BC.
Unveiled during the 2023 Association for Minerals Exploration Roundup in Vancouver, this partnership was primarily established to optimize the neighboring First Nations' participation in Seabridge Gold Inc.'s world-class KSM copper-gold-silver mine project.
To maximize the benefits for both nations and their people, Nisga'a and Tahltan have created the Treaty Creek Limited Partnership, an alliance that strengthens their leadership when it comes to mineral exploration and mining.
"There is so much potential to increase capacity with both Nations. Working together can only optimize participation in the industry while ensuring we are providing those capable with the support and tools to ensure they can build sustainable, lifetime careers in the industry," said Andrew Robinson, director appointed to the Treaty Creek Partnership by the Nisga'a Nation.
The centuries-long relationship between these neighboring First Nations includes putting their differences aside and coming to a mutual understanding on the boundaries of their traditional territories, which was acknowledged and settled at Treaty Creek in 1898.
Over the ensuing 125 years, the Tahltan and Nisga'a nations have continued to reaffirm and solidify their allegiance.
Under a 2016 memorandum of understanding, the neighboring nations agreed to elevate their enduring relationship, which was achieved with the creation of the Treaty Creek Partnership.
"Today we are bringing life to our long-standing relationship and historical memorandum of understanding by implementing those very provisions of the MOU that are intended to improve the quality of life of our Nisg̱a'a and Tahltan people," said Clayton.
The Treaty Creek Partnership has been established through an alliance between the Tahltan Nation Development Corp. and Nisga'a Growth Corp., the economic development arms of each nation.
"On behalf of both the Nisga'a Nation and the Tahltan Nation, I would like to acknowledge Seabridge for their support and encouragement for the creation of our Treaty Creek Limited Partnership, and their willingness to actively engage and work with our partnership on their KSM project, the world 's largest undeveloped gold project," said TNDC Chair Carol Danielson.
Shared success at KSM
A mine at KSM has the potential to offer multi-generational economic benefits to the people that have called this area home for millennia.
A mid-2022 prefeasibility study detailed plans for developing an open pit mining operation at KSM capable of producing more than 1 million oz of gold, 3 million oz of silver, 178 million pounds of copper and 4.2 million lb of molybdenum annually for 33 years.
While this would be a world-class mine in its own right, this study does not even consider an underground-focused mine capable of producing another 14.3 million oz of gold, 14.3 billion lb of copper, 68.2 million oz of silver, and 13.8 million lb of molybdenum over 39 years.
If mined in sequence, this extraordinary project on the border of the Nisga'a and Tahltan territories would operate for roughly seven decades based on current resources.
"Our KSM project in the Golden Triangle of British Columbia has benefited greatly from the participation, advice, and support of the Tahltan and Nisga'a Nations," said Seabridge Gold Chairman and CEO Rudi Fronk. "We look forward to continued shared success as the project moves forward."
So far, Seabridge has invested nearly C$1 billion to prepare for the development of an environmentally responsible mine at KSM.
Over the past two years, the company raised US$375 million toward the completion of early-stage construction that will elevate KSM to the "substantially started" status, which will ensure the longevity of the environmental assessment certificate for the project.
Gaining the substantially started designation and securing the environmental certificate for the life of the project would further de-risk and enhance the value of KSM as Seabridge negotiates with potential joint venture partners for developing a mine at the world-class project. The tasks completed to achieve this status would also shorten the mine development timeline once a partner is secured and the decision to initiate full-scale construction is made.
A high priority on Seabridge task list is connecting KSM to BC Hydro's Northern Transmission Line.
"Access to this green energy will substantially enhance KSM's sustainability and carbon profile," said Fronk. "Proceeds from the royalty agreement will also allow us to continue providing significant work for companies owned and managed by our Indigenous partners in the KSM project, an important ESG objective."
Since the precedent setting decision-making agreement at Eskay Creek, the Tahltan Nation is taking an increasingly active role in mine permitting within its territory.
In November, Newmont Corp. closed its acquisition of Newcrest Mining Ltd., operator of the only two large mines in Tahltan Territory – Red Chris and Brucejack.
In the days leading up to Newmont becoming the new owner of these Golden Triangle mines, Tahltan Central Government signed a historic agreement with BC outlines consent-based decision-making for the review of any substantial changes proposed by the mine operator to the Red Chris.
Under the agreement, Tahltan and BC will collaboratively assessment processes to inform their separate decisions on whether any substantial changes to the existing Red Chris environmental-assessment certificate should be approved, including those required to transition to underground block cave mining.
"With this agreement, we ensure that amendments involving substantial changes to Red Chris can only proceed with our consent, highlighting our commitment to environmental stewardship and a sustainable future," said Day.
BC and the Tahltan Nation say the consent decision-making process outlined in the agreement demonstrates that reconciliation and economic development go hand-in-hand and set the stage for investors who are committed to strong ESG standards that recognize and respect Tahltan jurisdiction in land-management decisions.
The provincial and First Nation governments are already collaborating on the future joint decision-making process for Galore Creek, a larger copper-gold mine project being advanced by Newmont and Teck Resources Ltd.
A prefeasibility study completed in 2011 envisioned a mine at Galore Creek producing 6.2 million lb of copper, 4 million oz of gold, and 65.8 million oz of silver over an 18-year span.
The Galore Creek Mining Corp. JV is working on an updated prefeasibility study slated for finalization this year.
"Galore Creek has a long history of collaboration with the Tahltan Nation, and is very pleased to see the Province moving forward with negotiating an agreement to position Tahltan in a consent-based role for the Galore Creek Project," Galore Creek Mining wrote in a post on its LinkedIn page. "We look forward to continuing to work closely with Tahltan and BC in establishing a regulatory process that lays out clear expectations of all parties and creates a sustainable, predictable, and efficient path forward for First Nations, communities, governments and industry to work together."
Putting the G in ESG
The Treaty Creek Partnership and consent based permitting process established by BC and the Tahltan Nation lays out a clear path for mineral exploration and mining companies doing business in the Golden Triangle.
In addition to Eskay Creek, KSM, Premier, and Galore Creek, a number of Northern BC mineral projects are being advanced toward the permitting and development stages. This includes Teck and Copper Fox Metals Inc.'s Shaft Creek copper-gold, Coeur Mining Inc.'s Silvertip silver-zinc-lead, Giga Metals Corp.'s Turnagain nickel-cobalt, and Thesis Gold Inc.'s Lawyers gold-silver projects in Tahltan Territory; as well as Hecla Mining Company's Kinskuch silver-gold, Dolly Varden's Kitsault Valley silver-gold, New Moly's Kitsault molybdenum, and Goliath Resources' Golddigger gold-silver projects in Nisga'a Territory.
These are being followed by dozens of Golden Triangle exploration projects enriched with the minerals and metals essential to the transition to green energy and the economy.
These and future companies advancing mineral exploration, development, and mining projects in Northern BC have the pieces in place to tout strong ESG credentials – a Canadian jurisdiction wired with clean, industrial hydropower is a great start on the environmental front and having sophisticated First Nations that work alongside responsible and respectful mining companies goes a long way toward showing the societal benefits.
Taking full advantage of the Northern BC "E" and the "S" benefits, and garnering the support and respect of the Golden Triangle's First People, would be good indications that the board and management are taking care of the "G."