Chinese mining companies should have met with First Nations: chiefs

Following a recent visit by influential Chinese mining players to the Yukon, Jim Kenyon is flying to Asia Monday.

Following a recent visit by influential Chinese mining players to the Yukon, Jim Kenyon is flying to Asia Monday.

The Economic Development minister will mingle with former presidents and prime ministers from Europe and Asia at a major business conference in northeast China, and will also attend a Canadian mining meeting in Beijing during his week-long trip.

This is Kenyon’s fifth visit to China in five years, a time span that also includes two stops in Japan and Korea.

And while the government’s overseas business junkets are paying off, say Yukon mining companies, the exclusion of First Nation governments at another international meeting has chiefs wondering whether it’s about time they should be part of the jet-set.

“We strive to build a good collaborative relationship with the government,” said Grand Chief Andy Carvill, who represents 14 First Nations. “But when it comes to these little adventures and these business-seeking missions, we’re left out of the loop.”

Despite Kenyon’s multiple trips to the Pacific Rim, a First Nation representative has never been on board.

“We’re not called, we’re not contacted,” said Carvill.

First Nations were also excluded when a 12-person delegation of private and state-owned mining companies from China met with local mining companies in Whitehorse three weeks ago.

The businessmen attended a workshop organized by Economic Development and met with a dozen local mining firms.

The government then took the delegates for a flyby of Selwyn Resources’ exploration site at Howard’s Pass near the Northwest Territories border.

The Economic Development Department isn’t against including First Nations in the international mining scene.

That just wasn’t the point of the Chinese delegations’ visit.

“They were interested in meeting with those that had mining properties that were seeking investment, so that was the focus,” said Terry Hayden, assistant deputy minister.

While the visitors were interested in how the companies work with First Nations, it’s not the host department’s role to arrange a meeting, said Hayden.

“We’re looking to facilitate discussions between those that are looking to invest and those that are seeking investment,” he said. “That’s the level we’re at right now.”

Meetings with First Nations might be down the road, he said.

“Certainly as talks and things progress, there is a need for the facilitation of meetings of that kind,” he said. “But in this case it’s kind of a business-to-business discussion.”

It should be an obligation to meet with First Nations whenever resources on traditional land are at stake, said Tr’ondek Hwech’in Chief Eddie Taylor.

“Any time they’re referencing our traditional territory or planning, negotiating or signing away any of our resources to foreign investors, you bet we need to be a part of that,” said Taylor.

The Tr’ondek and the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyak Dun are embroiled in a dispute with the Yukon government over whether a current land-use plan for the Peel River Watershed—a region the size of Scotland that straddles both nations’ traditional territory—panders to the mining industry.

Having First Nations involved in the outreach part of the mining-investment process would alleviate disagreements downstream, said Na-Cho Chief Simon Mervyn in a recent interview.

While in the Yukon, Chinese officials met with 11 mining companies with properties at different levels of development.

There is support in industry for more First Nation involvement, according to Western Copper vice-president Claire Derome, who attended the workshop on August 6 in Whitehorse.

“It would have been a good idea to make that happen,” said Derome. “But if you look at the schedule, there would have been no time.”

Each company could only fit a five-minute presentation during the workshop, she said.

“A suggestion is for First Nations to attend an event in China,” said Derome in a recent interview. “I think they’ve been invited in the past, so it’s a matter of linkage happening, especially if First Nations are saying it should happen.”

Carvill had no knowledge of First Nation chiefs being invited to overseas trips or visits by foreign investors.

Companies invited to the August 6 workshop believe Chinese investment in the Yukon will likely increase.

The Yukon government’s trips to China have been part of a larger effort by the federal Natural Resources Department—which signed a memorandum of understanding with its counterpart in China five years ago—to increase ties in the mining industry, said Derome.

“What’s new now is that there was a visit by a high-level department from China to Canada, including Yukon,” said Derome.

Whitehorse was the last stop for the delegation after visits to Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Ontario, Alberta and BC, said Hayden.

On board was the metals director of the National Development Reform Commission, China’s main social and economic planning agency. Other companies included a subsidiary of the China Aluminum Corporation, one of the world’s largest, and China Gold Group.

The purchase of Yukon Zinc, which owns the Wolverine mine near Ross River, by two major Chinese molybdenum producers, has added buzz to the Yukon’s reputation in China, said Derome.

“Canada is the number one place in terms of exploration, mineral title and the government opening their arms up to Chinese investment,” said John Anderson, head of corporate development at Northern Freegold, who also attended the workshop.

“The Yukon has gone one step further because they’ve gone out and chased it and had success at it,” said Anderson.

China has been stockpiling copper in the last year, according to the China Post, a Taiwan daily. Copper prices have also remained higher than expected during the global economic slowdown because of China’s massive $638-billion stimulus program, which focused on copper-intensive industries like electrical infrastructure.

And while the country’s hunger for copper might be slowing, according to the Post, the mining companies that visited the Yukon likely envision a long-term plan to make sure metals can continuously flow into the country, said Sue Craig, president of Northern Freegold.

“These folks from China are probably looking for more advanced projects,” said Craig. “But because of the market these days, you’ll get companies that will have projects in the pipeline, which means they’ll have something in minor production while something is coming in.”

The visit was a sign the Yukon, despite its size and location, is making its way on the world stage.

“My understanding is that in China there’s a lot of money ready for investment,” said Craig.

“I applaud the government for organizing this.”

Contact James Munson at