Chinese mining investors are new to the Yukon. And they don’t understand First Nation rights, says Chief Liard McMillan.
“I see a lot of naivete in the mining industry with companies that might be new to operating in Canada,” said McMillan, chief of the Watson Lake-based Liard First Nation.
“Especially when some of these junior companies are bringing in Chinese partners, and we’re just wondering whether or not these Chinese partners are a little bit naive to First Nation issues and the legal obligations,” said McMillan.
There are currently two major mines with Chinese backers in the First Nations’ traditional territory.
The Wolverine mine, slated to open this June, is owned by Jinduicheng Molybdenum Group Company Limited and Northwest Nonferrous International Investment Company Limited of China.
Selwyn Resources, which also runs a massive exploration project on the First Nations’ traditional territory, announced a partnership with Yunnan Chihong Zinc and Germanium Company Limited last month.
“And First Nations aren’t even on the radar screen as far as these deals are concerned,” said McMillan.
The Yukon government has aggressively lured Chinese investment to the territory in the last several years, including sending Economic Development Minister Jim Kenyon to the Middle Kingdom six times in five years.
“I personally can speak more Chinese than some of those government officials,” said McMillan.
He represents one of several Yukon First Nations attending the Mineral Exploration Roundup in Vancouver this week, an annual get-together of politicians and miners.
And he’s not the only one crashing the party.
First Nation women in BC released scathing ads this week to bring attention to the mining industry’s poor environmental and social records.
“Attention BC AME Roundup attendees—are you a Prince Charming? First Nations women seek sensitive, mining companies for meaningful long-term relationships,” say the ads, stylized like newspaper personals.
“Must be good listeners, willing to share decision-making, and environmentally, socially and culturally aware. Must clean up after themselves. Money-grubbing gold-diggers need not apply: Contact First Nations Women Seeking Responsible Mining.”
McMillan has met with seven mining companies operating on Kaska traditional territory to sort out grievances.
The First Nation doesn’t have the money or staff to be a real player in the mining regulatory process, he said.
The recent push by the Yukon government to get mining money in the territory hasn’t been matched with funds for First Nations to deal with the increased influx.
“A company sends a 400- or 500-page report and we’re expected to write back in as little as two weeks or sometimes even the same week,” said McMillan.
“For the Liard First Nation to reconcile that against any potential or existing infringements on our existing rights and title, it becomes fairly difficult,” he said.
“Even though we want to respond, we can’t. And that’s why the consultation process is failing.”
Companies aren’t eager to side with First Nations and help get the territorial and federal governments to increase their strength.
“They say, ‘Its government’s responsibility, not our responsibility,’ to address the capacity issue,” said McMillan.
“Our response to that is, ‘Yes that’s true, but companies can help us approach Canada and share that message.’”
There are around 15 to 20 exploration projects in the Kaska traditional territory in the Yukon, he said.
And they don’t do a good job of communicating with the First Nation.
“Typically these companies say they’re just smaller operations and that they haven’t put together all their resources yet and that it’s early in the exploration stage,” said McMillan. “Or that it’s going to be hard to justify to their investors.”
But assuring good relations with the local population should be part of good business, he said.
“The companies should consider stepping up to the plate financially because it makes good sense to their investors because having good political stability and good dialogue with First Nations results in certainty in investment,” he said.
Contact James Munson at